Vic Mansfield, a longtime professor of physics and astronomy who helped lead an insightful workshop during the recent campus visit by the Dalai Lama, died Tuesday after a two-year battle with lymphoma. He was 67.
Mansfield joined the Colgate faculty in 1973, armed with a doctorate in theoretical astrophysics from Cornell University and burning interests in cosmology, computational methods, and the conjunction of science and spirituality.
In his 35 years at Colgate, he lectured in physics, astronomy, numerical analysis, and in all components of the core curriculum, inspiring students with his eloquence, enthusiasm, expertise and high expectations.
Students consistently described his classes as rigorous and challenging yet always a joy to attend. Mansfield had a keen appreciation of the beauty and subtlety of modern physics, and could convey these to his students with clarity and insight.
His Core: Tibet course was a perennial favorite with students, who called it transformative while citing his passion, humor, and spontaneity. In April 2008 he was the co-recipient of the Sidney J. and Florence Felten French Prize for inspirational teaching.
Mansfield co-founded a successful computer software company in 1982, and then, working with Colgate faculty and students, developed and published a numerical methods “toolkit” for the programming language Pascal.
Recognizing the enormous impact that personal computers would have on science and education, he originated a unique course in computational physics, and lobbied successfully for a dedicated state-of-the-art classroom in which to teach his course.
For two decades, he maintained the technical integrity of that classroom, and taught his computational physics course with high approval ratings from students.
A deep interest in Tibetan Buddhism launched him on a scholarly quest to harmonize scientific thought with Buddhist teaching. His many years of study resulted in numerous published articles as well as three highly regarded books.
The latest, Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Science (2008, Templeton Foundation Press), was graced by an introduction written by the Dalai Lama.
An ill Mansfield gave the book to His Holiness in an emotional presentation while the Dalai Lama was on campus in April, providing a culmination of Mansfield’s scholarly endeavors and perhaps the most poignant moment of his intellectual life.
Mansfield is survived by his wife, Elaine, two sons David and Anthony, and his mother, Virginia Pepitone A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies, 5801 Route 414, Hector, NY.