December 15, 1919 ~ January 5, 2010
Nuclear Physicist, Dr. Ernest A. Martinelli, passed away January 5, 2010 at the age of ninety at his home in Manhattan Beach, California. He was born in Lucca, Italy on December 15, 1919, the son of Angelo Martinelli, Professor of Economics, and Adele Martinelli. He came to the United States at the age of three with his mother, father, and brother Raymond Martinelli. He graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1936, and attended the University of California at Berkeley graduating in 1941 with distinction earning a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. He excelled as a student and was a Phi Beta Kappa, a member of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi (for excellence in scientific investigation), and Pi Mu Epsilon (National Math Honor society). During WWII, he worked at the Radiation Laboratory at MIT with top scientists helping with the development of radar. It was there that he first met his future wife, Bette Reece, who was a draftsman at MIT. They were both sent overseas to the British Branch of the Radiation Lab (BBRL) in Malvern outside of London during WWII where Ernest continued helping with the development and implementation of radar technology.
Following the war, Ernest and Betty Martinelli married in 1946 in California. He taught briefly at Stanford University, and received his Ph.D. in Physics from UC Berkeley in 1946. He worked at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory with such luminaries as E.O. Lawrence, Luis Alvarez and Pief Panofsky. Around 1952 Dr. Martinelli began work at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. According to his associate Dr. Harmon Hubbard, among his many activities at the lab, an important one was the management of the design and testing of one of the major cold war weapons that was subsequently stockpiled.
In 1955 he moved to Los Angeles where Dr. Martinelli was deputy chief of the physics department at RAND Corporation. In this role he reviewed and contributed to many of the programs involving the department. A particularly interesting and long lasting program, which he was intimately involved, was the interpretation of debris from foreign nuclear explosions, beginning about 1958. After a nuclear test, the Air Force picked up samples of the debris, and after chemical analysis sent the results to RAND, Los Alamos, and Livermore for interpretation. The final results of this endeavor were produced during a meeting of the "Bethe Panel", a group of experts from RAND, the weapons laboratories, and the Air Force, and chaired by the famous physicist Prof Hans Bethe, wartime head of the Los Alamos theoretical group. Dr. Martinelli played a major role in these discussions. He and Albert Latter later formed R&D Associates (RDA), an influential defense think tank based in Marina del Rey.
He and his wife often vacationed in Aspen, Colorado starting in the early 1960s with their children and continued skiing there until they were in their mid-70s. He loved cooking, was a gifted teacher, a wonderful father and grandfather, and a gentle soul. As his granddaughter, Gina Martinelli says "My grandfather, Ernest Martinelli was a quiet happy genius who happened to have a slide rule used for calculating megadeaths. He was a nuclear physicist who made a mean Italian custard and apparently thought that the Star Wars Defense idea of the 80's was a really bad idea." In an article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in 1986 about the Star Wars Defense, Dr. Martinelli and Dr. Latter are quoted as saying "The lasers can be employed in a manner not contemplated by the Strategic Defense Initiative. Specifically they can be targeted against the same entities they were designed to protect: the cities."
He lived in Manhattan Beach for 38 years. He is survived by his wife, Bette Reece Martinelli, whom he was married to for 64 years; his son Don Martinelli of Philadelphia; his daughter Barbara Martinelli Winton of Berkeley; and his grandchildren Gina Martinelli, Jack Winton, and Kelly Winton. His son Mike Martinelli preceded him in death. He was truly one of a kind. He had a gentle disposition, a great sense of humor, and a brilliant mind. Never has a kinder soul walked this earth. He will be greatly missed.
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