William & Mary physics professor Henry Krakauer, an award-winning theoretical condensed matter physicist, died on February 9, 2023 at age 75 after living with a rare cancer for over 5 years. He was widely respected as a world expert in developing some of the most advanced computational techniques explaining how electrons behave in solids and chemical compounds. In the early 80’s he developed a new method, still widely used today, that vastly improved the ability of calculations to predict the properties of crystals. In 2001 Professor Krakauer spearheaded the formation of the Center for Piezoelectrics by Design at William & Mary. The Center brought together scientists from several universities and research institutions, and greatly advanced the design of piezoelectric materials. In collaboration with Professor Shiwei Zhang, he made seminal contributions in the early 2000’s that significantly extended the applicability of a novel and powerful numerical approach to treat systems with many interacting electrons. In subsequent years these contributions allowed them to predict with unprecedented accuracy the properties of several condensed matter systems.
Born February 14, 1947 in Regensburg, Germany to Holocaust survivors, Henry emigrated to the U.S. in 1953 with his parents Mark and Sara and his younger sister Mindel (all now deceased). They settled in a close-knit community of survivors in Roselle, NJ. The Holocaust cast a long shadow over Henry’s childhood but engendered a profound sense of empathy and a commitment to learning, mastery, and justice. Henry grew up skeptical of authority and fiercely protective of his family. He found a refuge in physics, literature, and other intellectual pursuits, striving to make sense of and contribute meaningfully to a deeply troubled world.
Supported by his parents’ love and curiosity, his father’s encouragement to explore life’s big scientific and philosophical questions, and his mother’s resourcefulness and capacity to savor
life’s sweet pleasures, Henry pursued the study of physics. After earning a BA at Rutgers (1969), Henry began graduate work at Brandeis University where he met Sarah Gordon. They married in 1971 and their first child, Ilana, was born two years later while Henry completed his PhD (1975). Following a two-year instructorship at West Virginia University in Morgantown, their second child, Mark, was born in 1977 in Evanston, IL, where Henry had just accepted a three-year postdoctoral research position at Northwestern University. Their youngest child, Benjamin, was born in 1981 shortly after Henry joined the faculty at William & Mary (1980).
During Henry’s 42 years as a physics faculty member, his research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, The Office of Naval Research, and The Department of Energy as he enjoyed teaching a broad range of undergraduate and graduate courses. He mentored eleven PhD students and eight grant-funded postdoctoral research associates. A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Henry received awards including the Alan Berman Research Publication Award (Department of the Navy, Naval Research Laboratory) and the Jesse W. Beams Research Award (Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society). Emeritus status was conferred posthumously.
Henry was profoundly gratified as Ilana, Mark, and Ben discovered their own paths in life, forging loving partnerships and fulfilling careers. The four grandchildren have been the delight of the entire family. Henry enjoyed family gatherings and vacations at the beach and in the mountains, which were filled with swimming, hiking, biking and kayaking. Savoring meals, playing games, having leisurely conversations with his children and grandchildren, and listening as the musicians in the family played acoustic music were special pleasures.
Henry was deeply loved by his family and friends. He read voraciously – both fiction and nonfiction with particular interests in ancient and Victorian literature, evolutionary biology, and mythology – and enjoyed discussing books, music, and films. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Sarah; their children Ilana, Mark, and Ben Krakauer; their partners Laura Esler, Maria Gillam Krakauer, and Laura Ogburn; and grandchildren Ariel and Joshua Esler-Krakauer and Madeline and Alex Krakauer. The devoted love, affection, and attentiveness of his wife,
children, and grandchildren – as well as the generous support of dear friends and caregivers – comforted and sustained Henry during his long illness.
Henry’s kindness, groundedness, insight, and broad interests in people, ideas, and experiences enabled him to create rewarding and enduring relationships with family, friends, colleagues,
students, and postdocs. He was drawn to the genuine, to that which opens and illuminates the mind and the heart. His authenticity nurtured authenticity in others. His children are grateful for the freedom this created in them to discover their paths in life emotionally, interpersonally, professionally, and expressively. His legacy of love will continue to guide and inspire.
Donations in Henry’s memory may be made to Temple Beth El of Williamsburg at https://tbewilliamsburg.org/donate or to the Henry Krakauer Physics Award Fund (5267) at
William & Mary at https://impact.wm.edu/Krakauer.
Bucktrout Funeral Home - Directions
4124 Ironbound Road
Williamsburg, VA 23188