Kim Strohbehn, who turned a childhood interest in the space program into a longtime career as a senior professional engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, died Sunday from bone cancer at Sinai Hospital.
The Ellicott City resident was 64.
“Kim was an outgoing guy who was happy with what he was doing,” said Andrew A. Mastandrea, supervisor of APL’s Space Science Instrumentation Group. “I often paired young engineers with him. He was open and loved to share his work and loved to teach.”
Dr. Paul W. Howey, founder and semi-retired president of Microwave Telemetry Inc. in Columbia and a longtime friend, said Dr. Strohbehn was “academically brilliant and a very interesting guy to talk to. He was so brilliant that he could figure out very complicated physics problems.”
The son of Dr. Arthur M. Strohbehn, a veterinarian, and Dorothy L. Strohbehn, who worked in her husband’s practice, Kim Strohbehn was born and raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School.
“We both shared rather unconventional childhoods and we often talked about that,” said Dr. Howey, who met Dr. Strohbehn at APL in 1983. “He talked about jumping on freight trains with his mates.”
As a youth growing up in Iowa in the late 1950s and 1960s, he looked to the heavens and embraced the nation’s fascination with space.
“As a kid, he was a big fan of ‘The Outer Limits,’ which was a 1960s TV series about science fiction,” said a daughter, Maria Strohbehn, of New York City. “He loved that show and it was an influence on him.”
He obtained his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1976 from Iowa State University, then a master’s in 1977 and a doctorate in 1979, also from Iowa State in electrical engineering.
Recruited out of graduate school, Dr. Strohbehn joined APL in 1979, and spent his entire career there until his death. In addition to his work at APL, he was a research professor at the Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering.
“Over his career at APL, Kim became an expert in digital and analog integrated circuit design,” Mr. Mastandrea wrote in a profile of his colleague.
“He was a key contributor to the Space Instrumentation Group at APL for the design and fabrication of state-of-the-art instrument electronics for space missions to study the earth, planets and the sun,” he wrote.
In 1995, Dr. Strohbehn was promoted to principal professional staff, the highest engineering level at APL.
“His accomplishments include over 58 major patents and publications. Kim truly enjoyed being challenged to solve complex engineering issues,” Mr. Mastandrea wrote.
At his death, Dr. Strohbehn was the lead engineer for detector electronics for NASA’s Europa Clipper Mission.
“Kim designed the detector electronics for this mission that will fly to one of Jupiter’s largest moons, Europa, to photograph and characterize its icy surface and investigate its habitability,” Mr. Mastandrea wrote.
He wrote that Dr. Strohbehn’s previous work had been on instruments related to missions involving Mars, Mercury and comet exploration, and “many research and development projects for advanced detectors and miniaturization of electronics.”
“His expertise was sensors for deep space research craft and interplanetary spacecraft,” Dr. Howey said. “He was interested in the cameras and optics that provided images.”
“He wrote the software when I started my company in 1990,” noted Dr. Howey, who described Dr. Strohbehn as a close personal friend.
Away from his laboratory, Dr. Strohbehn enjoyed reading and listening to music. Asked what his hobby was for an APL profile, he replied: “Sleep.”
“He loved classic rock ‘n’ roll from the 1960s and 1970s, and was a huge Grateful Dead fan. He was a big Deadhead,” his daughter said. “He also liked classical music — especially Debussy. He loved fugues and tolerated opera.”
Most of all, she said, her father “loved his job.”
“His real hobby was his work. He worked the Thursday before his death on Sunday,” she said.
“I went to see him at the hospital and he wanted to see how he could call in for meetings. He was still making invaluable contributions to the staff,” Mr. Mastandrea said.
Dr. Strohbehn had been married 42 years to the former Rosa Maria Alvarez.
“They met on a bus in Mexico and he learned Spanish in order to date her,” Ms. Strohbehn said.
Dr. Strohbehn was a communicant of St. John’s Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, Ellicott City, where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Jasmine Strohbehn of Ellicott City and Xochitl Strohbehn of New York City, his mother, Dorothy L. Strohbehn of Council Bluffs; two brothers, Karl Strohbehn of Mentor, Ohio, and Jody Strohbehn of Council Bluffs; a sister, Jill Englestad of Council Bluffs; and a granddaughter.