Lowell Jay Burnett

June 15, 1941February 8, 2021

Dr. Lowell J. Burnett of San Diego, CA, passed away on February 8, 2021 surrounded by his loved ones.

Lowell was born in Portland, Oregon to Jay Duffy and Barbara Montana Burnett. Lowell is survived by his brother Larry of Portland, Oregon, and sons, David and Craig of San Diego, California, nephew, Thomas of Portland, Oregon, and two grandchildren, Wesley and Emily of San Diego, California.

At an early age, Lowell developed a love for electronics, science, and math. Lowell became an amateur radio enthusiast and enjoyed communicating with others all over the world. Lowell suffered the loss of his father during high school. Recently, Lowell’s childhood friend remarked that following the loss of his dad, that he had never seen anyone so driven and focused. Lowell married his high school sweetheart Joan Merk in 1961. Joan preceded him in death in 2005 after 44 years of marriage. Together, they raised three sons in Laramie, Wyoming, Los Alamos, New Mexico and San Diego, California. Their son, Billy, preceded them in death in 1965. Lowell graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics and Mathematics in 1964. He then attended graduate school at the University of Wyoming and received a Master’s Degree in 1967 and a Ph.D. in 1971, both in Physics.

Upon graduation from the University of Wyoming, Lowell accepted an appointment as a Presidential Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1970.

In 1972, Lowell and Joan moved to San Diego, CA following Lowell’s acceptance of a teaching position at San Diego State University. Lowell was the author and co-author on numerous journal articles, technical reports, and conference presentations. Lowell served as the Physics Department Chairman from 1979 to 1988. Lowell mentored, inspired, and educated students for 29 years. Lowell retired as Professor Emeritus in 2001.

In 1987, Lowell co-founded Quantum Magnetics, Inc., a high-technology R&D company specializing in the development of advanced systems for the detection of explosives, narcotics, and concealed weapons. Applications for Quantum Magnetics’ technologies include aviation security, military force protection, and mine detection. As CEO, he guided the company through a period of sustained growth, with revenues expanding at a compounded rate in excess of 25% per year. In 1997, Quantum Magnetics became a wholly owned subsidiary of InVision Technologies, a world leader in aviation security. In December 2004, General Electric purchased both companies.

Since leaving Quantum Magnetics in early 2005, Lowell served as CEO and CTO of QUASAR Federal Systems, Inc., where he oversaw and advised on the development, construction and implementation of the company’s innovative electromagnetic sensing systems.

Throughout his career, Lowell was published widely and served as principal investigator on numerous grants and contracts. He served as a consultant to the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, and was invited to address the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military R&D. Lowell’s time at both companies was not only remembered for his leadership qualities but his hard-working, enthusiasm, respect for others, and compassion for all he worked with.

In 2006, Lowell founded the Burnett Family Charitable Foundation to assist students with scholarships, local environmental causes, and scientific research. Lowell was an avid reader and enjoyed traveling, dining and the theater in his “retirement”. He spent this time with his partner Jiraporn (Nui) Rehfuss of 8 years. Nui was a constant companion to Lowell who provided him with warmth and love.

Lowell enjoyed spending time with his family and friends and he will be greatly missed. We will miss the pen and the extendable pointer that doubled as a cat toy that was always in his pocket or that you could always guarantee at any meal, he would order the soup.

Recently, Lowell’s friends and colleagues have best described him as a good man and friend, respected and admired, a rare mix of super high intelligence, kindness, and integrity, and that he positively impacted the lives of many scientists and engineers.

At Lowell’s request, his ashes will be interred with his wife, Joan, at Singing Hills Memorial Park in El Cajon.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date due to the current COVID restrictions.

In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested donations be sent to Parkinson’s Research at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.


  • Visitation

    Saturday, February 20, 2021


Lowell Jay Burnett

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Deborah and Tracy Lothrop

February 24, 2021

One minute you're young and fun. Then all too soon, you're turning down the radio to see better...

Lowell was a kind, thoughtful, gracious friend to my husband and me.  His strength of character could always be felt while sharing in his quiet presence. I will not forget how he would chuckle at the corny science jokes that I told him.

We enjoyed our time with him and Nui- dressed up for our annual community holiday party, meeting to dine at various restaurants, the parties they hosted, the dinners that my husband made, the desserts we shared, and just sharing some quiet camaraderie. Nui took great care of him and I won't forget the tenderness in her voice whenever she called him, darling.

Lowell may have gotten older, but didn't stop having fun. He lived an incredible life. It was a pleasure to know him.  He definitely won't be forgotten because he will always be in our hearts.

Our deepest, most heartfelt condolences go out to Nui and all of Lowell's family.

Elaine Kelly

February 22, 2021

I worked with Lowell at Quantum Magnetics. He was a great person to work with at QM. He was always at his best whether it was business or pleasure. He will be missed.

Jim Means

February 17, 2021

Very sorry to hear that Lowell is no longer with us, he was a great guy. I first met him more than 40 years ago, when I took classical mechanics from him at San Diego State. He was a very organized and enthusiastic teacher, and he definitely had a sense of humor. I remember when he was teaching us about the rotation of objects, and the "inertia ellipsoid". There is some obscure jargon that goes along with the subject that leads to a very Jabberwockian phrase, he told it to us one day, saying "If you remember nothing else from this class, remember this: the polhode rolls without slipping on the herpolhode, lying in the invariable plane." And I've never forgotten it, I'll miss you Dr. Burnett.