Obituary: Norman C. Ford, Jr., Former Physics Professor

September 13, 2013

Norman C. Ford, Jr., 81, of Amherst, a former professor of physics, died Aug. 25 at Baystate Medical Center, shortly after suffering a stroke.

Born in Springfield, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Syracuse University and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

During the Korean War, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to program a missile defense system to defend Washington D.C. He joined IBM in 1956, where he did basic research on thin films, a technology that has wide relevance to the computer memory, electronics and optical industries.

He arrived in Amherst in 1965 to join the expanding physics department, where he taught for 15 years. In 1971, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he used to conduct research at Oxford University. In 1976, he was an exchange professor at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

Shortly before leaving academia in 1986, Ford and fellow physics professor Kenneth Langley co-founded Langley Ford Instruments (LFI), among the earliest high-tech start-up companies in Amherst. In the 1980s, LFI designed and built precision light-scattering instruments for use in industrial and academic research. Among other applications, these devices are used for blood analysis in hospitals and medical labs across the country.

Ford, whose dozens of patents and inventions were used in processes from cheese making to detecting eye diseases, went on to found two other technology companies, Precision Detectors and Phoenix Instruments. In his retirement he was an adviser to start-up companies in New England.

He leaves his wife of 58 years, Barbara, son David and his spouse Carol of Philadelphia, son Daniel and his partner Emily of New York, daughter Jocelyn of Beijing and to grandchildren.

A memorial is planned for Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3 p.m. on the 11th floor of the Campus Center.

Memorial donations may be made to the Physics Department.