Obituary: James ‘Ely’ Shrauner, professor emeritus of physics, 82


James “Ely” Shrauner, PhD, a theoretical particle physicist, died from complications of Parkinson’s disease Monday, June 1, 2015, in Chesterfield, Mo. He was 82.

Shrauner joined the Department of Physics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis in 1965 and became professor emeritus in 2001. A theoretician who studied particle physics, he co-founded the high-energy theory group that became a major research component of the physics department.

Shrauner did research in many areas of particle physics and field theory, including the pion form factor, multi-quark scattering analysis, vacuum and path-integral representations of the S-matrix and the statistical mechanics, dynamic structure and renormalization of iconic φ4 theories.

He frequently collaborated with physicists from the big “particle factories,” including SLAC, Fermilab, Los Alamos and Lawrence Berkeley, and he served on the central design group for the Superconducting Supercollider.

“His encyclopedic knowledge of many subfields of physics enabled him to teach a broad range of physics courses, including all the standard graduate courses and the advanced courses,” said his colleague John Clark, PhD.

“He had the knack for simplifying difficult physics and making it seem obvious, an important gift,” said his wife, Barbara Shrauner, PhD, whose doctorate is also in physics.

His colleague Mike Ogilvie, PhD, remembers meeting Shrauner when they were both
visiting the theory group at Los Alamos National Laboratory over the
summer. “I was a postdoc just starting my career and Ely was already an
established scientist,” he said. “I was struck by how wide-ranging his research
interests were, and how much time he was willing to spend talking to me.
When I was offered a job at Washington University, our relationship
was an important factor in my decision to accept the appointment.”

“Ely and I walked home together from the university every day for many years,” said his colleague Carl Bender, PhD, with whom Shrauner co-founded the high-energy theory group. “He was not a big guy, but he was a very brisk walker, and keeping up with him was great exercise! We walked and talked about everything from physics to philosophy to poetry to music.

“He was a warm and charming person and had a dry and whimsical sense of humor … he had a way of saying something very funny but not even revealing a wink or a smile to indicate that he was joking. He was really fun to be with. I miss him very much.”

Shrauner earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Kansas in 1956; a master’s degree in physics from Columbia University in 1960; and a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Chicago in 1963. At Chicago, he studied with Yoichiro Nambu, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 2008.

He worked during high school and supported himself through college harvesting crops, writing insurance contracts and working on the railroad.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Wayne Abraham Shrauner, senior professor of electrical and systems engineering in the university’s School of Engineering & Applied Science; a daughter, Elizabeth Ann Caspari (Bill) of Chesterfield; a son, Jay Arthur Shrauner (Cynthia) of San Francisco; a brother, Larry Shrauner (Jan) of La Crosse, Wis.; and four grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Parkinson Disease Association Greater St. Louis Chapter, 1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 150, Chesterfield, Mo., 63017.

Another obituary can be found on the physics department website.