Marvin Goldman ’49

Alumni, Professionals

Marvin Goldman


February 13, 2015
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology

Marvin Goldman ’49

Alumni, Professionals


Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Professor Emeritus at University of California-Davis; Consultant , NASA, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy

Memorable Faculty: Professors Abelow and Storrer, who taught histology and zoology.

Adelphi in the Family: His cousin Phyllis (Goldman) Katzman ’47 also graduated from Adelphi.

Adelphi Friends: Norman Brunner ’49 and Abe Kotliar ’49, Adelphi classmates, went on to the University of Maryland for graduate school as well.

In the spring of 1986, Marvin Goldman ’49 was preparing to teach another session of an environmental studies course he taught at the University of California-Davis every spring for more than 20 years. “I was about to do the lectures that week on radiation accidents,” he recalled. “It’s Friday night, and I get this news flash that Chernobyl had blown up and it was as though a nuclear war had gone on in the streets of Kiev.” Goldman then prepared a predictive analysis lesson plan on the accident for his class and sent a copy to the Department of Energy (DOE).

A month later, he received a call from DOE, asking him to head up a committee to look at the effect of the accident on populations near and far. Goldman contacted some colleagues and he recruited 20 scientists from ten different U.S. national labs. H organized a research matrix about the accident. They published a 300-page document—the first report on Chernobyl’s global impact.

Goldman is professor emeritus from the University of California, Davis, a scientist specializing in radiation and environmental science who has traveled the world and consulted for the European Commission, the White House, NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“For more than 50 years I have thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the science of the biological and environmental effects of human activities,” he said. But according to Goldman, how he first became a scientist is a story of serendipity.

The first in his family to go to college, he came to Adelphi and declared a major in biology with dreams of becoming a doctor. “I was competing with the entire demobilization of the American Armed Forces at the end of World War II…there were a lot of guys ahead of me in line to get into med school,” he said. After graduating from Adelphi, he enrolled in a master’s program in respiration physiology at the University of Maryland, thinking this would enhance his chances to get into medical school.

During his graduate studies, one of his professors suggested he pursue a job opportunity at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “The NIH was looking for someone with the experience I had in inhalation science,” he said. “I was hired as an NIH biologist to work on a classified project…soon I found myself preparing to be a member of the health effects team destined to perform the very first field tests on the consequences of exposure to the atomic bomb’s fallout.”

His training at NIH was with the nation’s best scientists. “I realized that everything I was doing for the public health service (PHS at NIH) had never been done,” he said. “I asked my supervisor why there were no formal programs to train scientists in this subject and he told me that we were all drafted into this new science from other scientific backgrounds.”

It was during his time at NIH that Goldman, who was working to determine the inhalation pathway and effects in animals of fallout of nuclear weapons, discovered “hot particles” of plutonium in lung tissue. This discovery helped initiate significant research in inhalation toxicology.

Goldman learned that the Medical School at the University of Rochester, which was a part of the wartime Manhattan Project, was starting a graduate program in radiation biology. He applied, was admitted and was also awarded an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) scholarship. “I received a good background in biology at Adelphi and in respiration physiology at Maryland. At Rochester, they filled in my knowledge about physics,” he said. “That launched me on my biophysics career. The program was interesting and taught by scientific giants,” he said. He was proud to graduate as the third person in the United States to get a Ph.D. in radiation biology.

In 1958 he began working for the University of California, Davis, where he embarked on a long-term project of determining the effects of low-level, chronic exposure to strontium-90 (one of the main by-products of nuclear fallout). During his 57 years at UCD, he would become the director of the Davis Radiobiology Laboratory and professor of radiobiology in both the Departments of Radiology, School of Medicine and of Radiological Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Throughout his career, he published more than 100 scientific papers, and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious awards. He received the E.O. Lawrence Memorial Award, presented by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1972, a citation from ERDA for contributions to the Voyager Space Program in 1977, and the 1988 Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award by the Health Physics Society (and was its past president).  He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Goldman, who holds a patent on X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, found that it is being used to determine mineral composition of rocks, a technology now employed in the Mars rover Curiosity that was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011. Additionally, he was a member of the intergovernmental nuclear safety review board that briefs the White House before every plutonium powered space probe launch can be approved. He has held this post for each launch since 1973.

With two advanced degrees, innumerable scientific discoveries and contributions to his field, Goldman still remembers his beginnings at Adelphi fondly. More than 65 years after graduating from Adelphi, he still has his senior class announcement and commencement program, a flyer about senior dinner in College Hall, and notes from his Insights to Music class.

“My Adelphi days opened my eyes to the world around me and that is probably what got me started on what I now think of as my career,” he said. “Adelphi is where I learned to think and to learn, lessons I treasure and use to this day.”

Published February 2015

Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
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