Charles Edwin ROOS
April 23, 1927 – February 20, 2021
Charles E. Roos
April 23, 1927 – February 20, 2021
Charles Edwin Roos was born 93 years ago in Chicago, where his father, Charles F. Roos, was a graduate student in mathematics. He was the only child of professional parents whose careers took the family to live in multiple places: Princeton, NJ; Ithaca, NY; London, England; Washington, D.C.; Colorado Springs, CO; Houston, TX; and New York City. He graduated from Forest Hills High School in Queens and began college at Swarthmore College as a 15-year-old. He transferred to the University of Texas at Austin, where he finished college after a year in the Navy. WWII training in electronics and the new radar technology changed his life’s goal from medicine to physics.
After a year of graduate work in biology at Princeton, he earned his Ph.D. in physics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. His first job as Instructor took him to the brand-new campus of the University of California in Riverside. His interest in high-energy physics drew him into joining experiments on the Cal Tech accelerator in Pasadena.
After five years, Vanderbilt University recruited him in 1959 to broaden the range of research in the physics department. He won the department’s first NSF grant to fund high energy research that allowed him to continue his work at Cal Tech and later at Brookhaven on Long Island, NY. Data that he and his graduate students gathered was brought to Vanderbilt to be analyzed during the academic year. He was put in charge of radiation safety on campus and managed the grants for health physics students. He led the patent and research committees as Vanderbilt University sought to bring more research to the campus. He had great success building up the campus physics machine shop from large inventories of war surplus equipment. His team designed and built a record breaking 11 Tesla magnet that prompted a team of metallurgists to descend on his lab from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to make the first measurements on superconducting wire. Receiving one of the first NATO Senior Fellowships, to work at Werner Heisenberg’s Max Planck Institute in Munich, led to a ten-year research partnership at the Center for European Nuclear Research [CERN] in Geneva, Switzerland. Later, his insights made significant contributions to the DUMAND neutrino detection experiment in the clear waters off the Big Island in Hawaii.
In 1960 he played a central role in negotiating the June compromise resolution of the James Lawson affair that threatened to tear the campus apart, as many senior faculty members disagreed with the board’s expulsion of a student teaching non-violent resistance as the only way to fight segregation. Chancellor Harvie Branscomb subsequently became a great friend and mentor. Charlie was always appreciative that Branscomb “willed” him his place at the biweekly “Old Goats” luncheon meetings, made up of a half dozen retired VU faculty and administrators whom he enjoyed for decades as they invited leading figures in the Nashville community to educate them and join their discussions.
In the late 1960s, Noah Liff, of the Steiner-Liff scrap yard downtown, challenged him over dinner at home to figure out how to sort and save the nonferrous metals out of shredded automobile scrap since magnets could only remove the steel. Charlie applied for a grant and launched the Sorter Project at Vanderbilt after awaking one morning with a dream, “Lenz solves lift”. This led to using Lenz’s law to pop aluminum selectively off a conveyer belt with compressed air jets so it could be recycled. The timing was good because in 1970, Earth Day energized an environmental movement that served to attract several physics graduate students to the research effort. Among them was Ed Sommer who would eventually become president of National Recovery Technologies (NRT), the company Charlie created to do research and development and bring the inventions to the marketplace.
In 1989, after thirty years of teaching at Vanderbilt, Charlie took early retirement as Emeritus Professor to focus on NRT. The company diversified its sorting capabilities to glass and plastic. NRT technology made the automated sorting of recycled plastic possible. By 2010, NRT equipment sorted 70% of plastic bottles recycled worldwide. By 2012, if you were standing on a broadloom carpet anywhere in the world, the odds were 60% it was manufactured with recycled bottles sorted by NRT equipment. Roos led the company as Chairman of the Board until he turned 85. NRT continues to be the research and development arm of Bulk Handling Systems and ships their sorters, made in Nashville, all over the world. That was a source of great satisfaction to Charlie who continued to enjoy visiting the facility.
In 1975, he was subpoenaed to testify against construction of what would have been the world’s largest nuclear power plant. TVA planned it for Hartsville, Tennessee, on the banks of the Cumberland River, Nashville’s water supply. He used the newly emerging capabilities of computers to combine the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s own reports on all of the existing American nuclear plants and a classic nuclear power textbook to demonstrate that the economic justification for Hartsville was fatally flawed. Charlie cared passionately about the American experiment, becoming visibly moved whenever he talked about the Constitution, and he loved being a 14th generation American married to a first-generation Czech immigrant. He enjoyed the stories from his mother’s genealogical research, about his first 17 century American ancestors from the Dutch Reformed Church who farmed for 200 years along the East River in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, NY, and about the later Methodist circuit riders who came down from the Midwest to Texas to bring the gospel to rural churches east of Houston, carting their little portable organs on horse drawn buggies. Pivotal to the family’s stories and his mother’s Texas roots was his grandmother’s grandfather, Edward Hartman. A medical doctor who came from Heidelberg, Germany, with his brother and widowed father to do research on yellow fever in New Orleans, Hartman later moved to East Texas to farm and continue his medical practice. Family legend has it that he rode to Austin to lobby the legislature to require each county to tithe ten percent of its land for a future University of Texas. Ever an adventurous spirit, Hartman took his sons and joined the 49ers Gold Rush.
Family always came first to Charlie and he was a devoted and reasonably tolerant father who encouraged “thinking out of the box.” To his four children Charlie was an irrepressible, inventive and at times a pretty outrageous playmate. Their friends, who were always welcome, remember fondly physics demonstrations from birthday parties, like seeing roses dipped in liquid nitrogen and smashed to confetti or the chance to breathe helium and squeak. Family dinners were lively, as Charlie was a splendid storyteller. He brought boundless curiosity, irrepressible humor, and love for the human and natural worlds, his voice catching when talk turned to a surprising discovery or a brave, compassionate action. As his children grew older, he turned into a serious and devoted mentor and champion. He continued to pass on his knowledge of the ways of the world and was eager to involve them in learning useful life skills. He took great joy in family trips, which nourished family ties while exposing his children and later grandchildren to diverse cultures and some of the world’s most beautiful places.
To his wife of almost 69 years, he was a completely trusted, devoted friend who could always make her laugh. He was an ever-supportive husband, starting with the encouragement he gave her to design and build their house 61 years ago, including the unconventional features and unexpected hideaways that made it fun to raise their family and live in all these years. He invariably championed and contributed insights and financial support to her many arts and statewide natural area conservation projects. He could deal with a crisis with a cool efficiency, like changing a flat tire on the interstate on a car loaded with luggage, while rushing to the airport with his wife to catch a plane and making it! He was a walking encyclopedia on science, history, and many other areas of knowledge that she could tap into long before the existence of Google and Siri. She appreciated his reverence for life and the way he treated people with dignity and respect. They had a similar interest in far ranging travel to feed their curiosity about our world. Their first major trip as empty nesters came in 1982 to a just emerging China, traveling with a group of Chinese American families for a month. He could be blunt in his relationships and sometimes irritating, as when he would listen to his broker’s recommendations and decide it was time to do the opposite. But he always made sure deals he made were a win-win for all. Original and sometimes contrarian in his thinking, he was both pragmatic and idealistic and always, always interested in the workings of the world.
Besides his wife, Anne Roos, he leaves four children: Margit Roos-Collins (Richard), Alice Jensen (Brad), Carlton F. Roos, Charles D. Roos (Alisa Lepselter) and six grandchildren: Emma and Byron Roos-Collins, Adam and Maria Joy Jensen and Schuyler and Lily Roos.
The family will plan a virtual celebration of his full life in the coming weeks. If you would like to be notified, please let a family member know.
For those who would like to remember him with a contribution, he would have suggested Planned Parenthood for its broad range of services to women and men that are rarely appreciated enough.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Charles Edwin ROOS
March 4, 2021
My father and I were deeply saddened to hear of Charlie's passing. Dad always had great stories about the times when they were roommates in college. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to get to know Charlie and Anne during my time at Vanderbilt.
My condolences to Anne and the family.
March 3, 2021
What a fabulous and fascinating life you all have had together so sorry for your loss Ann. Julia(lowe(Chloe’s sister.
March 1, 2021
There was a deep magnetism to this extraordinary human. I feel blessed and grateful to have known him, and to know and love the extraordinary family in whose hearts he will always reside. Thank you, Charlie, for sharing your brilliance.
February 27, 2021
Dear Mrs. Roos, Margit, Alice, Carton & Charles D.,
I'm saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Roos. He was certainly the most genuinely intelligent person I have ever met, which frankly was intimidating at times.
How fortunate to have had the companionship and tutelage of his insights, quick wit, depth of knowledge and charm. It is a great loss. Lisa & I send or deepest affections, and sincere condolences.
February 24, 2021
Dear Ann, I am so sorry to hear that Charlie died. We have not been at the Y since the covid crisis started. That is where we saw you the most these days. My prayers and thoughts are with you and your family- Sara and Mike Plummer
February 23, 2021
Your Charlie was an extraordinary man. He was a genius, kind and funny. My heart goes out to you and all your family.
In deepest sympathy, Carol McCoy
February 22, 2021
Charlie was unquestionably the most remarkable man I ever met. Kind, generous, funny, and brilliant. Knowing him has greatly enriched my life. This is a photo of him with another brilliant man, and fellow fan of Shakespeare, Gerry Calhoun.