Daniel Posin, 93; Explained Space to Masses
By Brenda Warner Rotzall, Staff Reporter Advertisement
May 28, 2003

Daniel Q. Posin fled the Russian Revolution in the bowels of a cattle boat to become a nuclear physicist who could earn the respect of Albert Einstein and explain the universe in terms a child -- or countless thousands of them glued to television sets -- could understand.

When the race to space zoomed into warp drive in the 1950s and '60s, he signed on as scientific consultant and adviser for the CBS radio and television networks. He also put on three television shows and one radio program weekly, appearing on WBBM-TV, WGN-TV and WTTW-TV, as well as WBBM radio.

His face was plastered on the side of CTA buses advertising shows such as Out of This World, Dr. Posin's Universe and On the Shoulders of Giants.

Wow, as Mr. Posin might well have said while dancing energetically around whichever studio was housing him on a given day.

Or as he did say at the start of a talk about space platforms, satellites and the solar system in 1958: "Today we are going to visit the blue star, Vega. Are you set? Ready rockets! Blast off! Brrr, whoosh."

"He was this darling little guy with a mustache like Groucho Marx, dancing around and showing the planets," said his daughter, Kathryn Posin.

Mr. Posin died May 21 at the Woldenberg Village Nursing Home in New Orleans. He was 93.

He was born in 1909 in Russian Turkestan in a village by the Caspian Sea. He was 6 when his family saw the Russian Revolution coming and began its three-year flight to the United States. He and his mother made their way to Mongolia and finally got passage on a ship to San Francisco. He traveled in steerage next to the cows.

Despite arriving with not a word of English he soared through school, sold newspapers and worked in restaurants and camps, won scholarships and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in physics. His father had died young of tuberculosis while working as a janitor.

Mr. Posin charmed Frances "Patsy" Schweitzer, a graduate student in English, away from a friend and they eloped to Las Vegas, the start of a marriage that lasted 68 years until her death last September.

Mr. Posin was a teaching assistant at Berkeley for two years. Then he taught himself Spanish in two weeks and landed a job teaching physics from 1937-41 in Panama, where he wrote textbooks in Spanish. Next he taught at Montana State University and the Montana School of Mines before leaving in 1944 to do research on radar and radioactivity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At MIT he learned the power of the atomic bomb, met Einstein and was urged by him to teach ordinary people about peaceful uses of atomic power.

Mr. Posin gave more than 3,000 lectures in the United States and England on nuclear power and its dangers and benefits. His arguments against using it for war won him six nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

His book I Have Been to the Village, about world-altering decisions starting at the village level, had a forward by Einstein, who wrote: "Dr. Dan Q. Posin's book bears eloquent witness to the sincere and self-sacrificing way in which the ablest among the scientists try to fulfill their duty toward the community."

In 1946 he became chairman of the physics department at North Dakota State College in Fargo, and when television reached town was the local station's weatherman. He found the job had its drawbacks.

"If it rained on the weekends, we got all these really angry calls," his daughter said.

When anti-Communist fever reached North Dakota, Mr. Posin was wrongly accused of "being a Commie" and was fired. He then taught physics at DePaul, and soon started his television career explaining astronomy, physics and space.

In 1967 he started teaching physics at San Francisco State. He taught until he was 87. He and his wife then moved to the New Orleans area to be near their son, Daniel Jr.

Survivors in addition to his daughter and son are three grandchildren. Services were in New Orleans.