Robert Fassnacht

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Robert E. Fassnacht
Born (1937-01-14)January 14, 1937
South Bend, Indiana
Died August 24, 1970(1970-08-24) (aged 33)
Madison, Wisconsin
Occupation Physics researcher
Spouse(s) Stephanie Fassnacht
Children Christopher, Heidi and Karin
Parent(s) Walter Fassnacht[1]

Robert E. Fassnacht ((1937-01-14)January 14, 1937 – August 24, 1970(1970-08-24)) was a physics post-doctoral researcher who was killed by the bombing of Sterling Hall on August 24, 1970, on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus.[2][3]

Fassnacht was a student from South Bend, Indiana who received a Westinghouse scholarship to attend college.[4] He was at the University of Wisconsin–Madison pursuing post-doctoral research in the field of superconductivity, which has potential applications including power distribution and high-speed trains.


On the night of August 23 and into the early morning hours of August 24, 1970, Fassnacht was in the lab taking care of unfinished work because he and his family were slated to leave for a vacation in San Diego, California. His lab was located in the basement of Sterling Hall. He was in the process of cooling down his dewar with liquid nitrogen when the explosion occurred. Rescuers found him face down in about a foot of water. The cause of death, determined from the autopsy, was internal trauma.

As a protest against the Vietnam War, the bomb was intended to destroy the Army Mathematics Research Center, but instead destroyed much of the physics department and severely damaged neighboring buildings.

After the bombing[edit]


Fassnacht was survived by his wife, Stephanie, and their three children, a three-year-old son, Christopher, and twin daughters, Heidi and Karin who turned one a month after their father's death.[2] The family continued to live in Madison in relative quiet and anonymity for many decades after the explosion, often crossing paths with the site of their father/husband's murder. Stephanie Fassnacht completed a long career at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, occupying an office just blocks from the site of her husband's death. Christopher attended Harvard University and Caltech and is now a physics professor at the University of California at Davis. Heidi and Karin both graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Commemorative plaque[edit]

Plaque on the south side of Sterling Hall. Dedicated on May 18, 2007.

On May 18, 2007 the University of Wisconsin–Madison unveiled a plaque on the side of Sterling Hall commemorating the bombing and Robert Fassnacht's death. The event was attended by John D. Wiley, then Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an acquaintance of Robert Fassnacht, by current and former members of the Physics department, including chair Susan Coppersmith, and family and friends of Robert, including his daughters Heidi and Karin.[5]

The plaque reads:


This is the site of the Sterling Hall Bombing, which occurred at 3:40 AM on August 24, 1970. An outstanding research scientist, Dr. Robert Fassnacht, was killed in the bombing while working in his laboratory on a physics experiment studying a basic mechanism for superconductivity in metals. Three others were injured. Dr. Fassnacht was 33 years old, married, and had three young children.

Responsible parties[edit]

Investigators believe that four people were involved in the bombing: brothers Karleton Armstrong and Dwight Armstrong, and accomplices David Fine and Leo Burt. The Armstrongs and Fine served jail time, a combined total of 12 years, and were subsequently paroled. Burt has never been found.[6]


  1. ^ Fathers cope with sons' bomb death, jailing United Press INternational
  2. ^ a b Dillinger, Joseph R. (October 1970). "Obituary: Robert E. Fassnacht". Physics Today. 23 (10): 69. doi:10.1063/1.3021801. 
  3. ^ Ziff, Deborah; Seely, Ron (17 August 2010). "Sterling Hall bombing: 40 years later, family members celebrate physicist's life". Wisconsin State Journal. 
  4. ^ Doug Moe: Chicago's other great columnist by Doug Moe, July 2, 2004, The Capital Times
  5. ^ Memorial Plaque Honors Fassnacht by Katie Dean, The Capital Times
  6. ^ 30 years ago, bomb shattered UW campus by Sharif Durhams and Peter Maller, Journal Sentinel, August 19, 2000

Books and Resources[edit]