Brian R. Judd, groundbreaking Johns Hopkins physicist and professor, dies

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Brian R. Judd was a member of a chamber quartet with friends.

Brian R. Judd, a well-dressed professor and groundbreaking physicist with a mind for math and an ear for music, died of pneumonia April 8. He was 92.

Mr. Judd, professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University, was born Feb. 13, 1931, in Chelmsford, England, to Harry and Edith Judd. His father was an auctioneer who sold cattle, sheep and horses at the Chelmsford cattle market every Friday while his mother raised him and his brother, Colin.


“Our parents did their best to ensure we had a good education,” Colin Judd said.

As a boy, Mr. Judd learned how to play the piano, among other things.


“In Chelmsford, we collected lots of the old 78 rpm records of the works of Chopin to play on an ancient record player that our grandmother gave us and which Brian did a lot of work on to make the playing more effective. When the war ended I went with him to several war surplus dumps where he picked up lots of valves and other radio parts so that he could make his own radios. He was a man of very many skills,” Colin said.

Mr. Judd graduated in 1949 with degrees in math and physics from Brasenose College, Oxford, where he became fascinated by rare earth elements and quantum physics.

“They were just a big mystery,” Mr. Judd told a Johns Hopkins magazine in 2012.

In 1957, Mr. Judd took a year’s leave of absence from a research fellowship at Magdalen College Oxford to teach at the University of Chicago, where he met his future wife, Josephine Anne Gridley.

In 1962 when Mr. Judd was 31 years old at the University of California, Berkeley, he published a paper titled “Optical Absorption Intensities of Rare-Earth Ions.” Unbeknownst to each other, on the same day, George Ofelt, then a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, published research on the same topic. Their work became known as the Judd-Ofelt Theory, and it eventually led to massive technological advances in fiber-optic communication.

The theory’s citation rate accelerated sharply in the early 1990s as long-range fiber-optic communications expanded.

“Sixty years down the line here, looking back now at the importance of the work, it was a major advancement in how one can use mathematics to explain how atoms behave,” current Johns Hopkins Physics Department Chair Robert Leheny said.


Ofelt went on to teach at Old Dominion University. In August 2012, Mr. Judd and Ofelt, who died in 2014, were honored at a conference in Udine, Italy, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of their work.

“When I wrote the article it was strictly calculations with the idea of describing only what an experimentalist would find useful,” Mr. Judd told Johns Hopkins at the time of the conference.

Mr. Judd moved to Baltimore in 1966 to join the faculty at Johns Hopkins. Ms. Gridley said Mr. Judd’s favorite place in the world was the university’s Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. Mr. Judd continued working with postgraduate researchers after receiving emeritus status in 1997.

In the physics department, Mr. Judd was known for being the best-dressed professor, in a suit and tie, with an organized, spotless office.

In his free time, Mr. Judd played piano and sang. He was a member of a chamber quartet with friends from Hopkins.

“He could pick up the most difficult sheet music and play it flawlessly the first time,” Ms. Gridley said.


The couple married Nov. 16, 2000, in Annapolis. In Baltimore, they lived on 39th Street and later in the Ruxton and Blakehurst communities in Baltimore County. They enjoyed theater and driving to the Eastern Shore to watch migratory birds.

Mr. Judd is survived by his wife, Josephine Anne Gridley, and his brother Colin Judd, of Yorkshire, England.