In memoriam: Marjorie Corcoran

The following message announcing the unexpected and tragic death of physicist Marjorie Corcoran was sent earlier today to the Rice University community by President David Leebron and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. Marjorie was a long-time Fermilab user and dear friend to many at the lab and in the physics community, and will be greatly missed. 

Dear Rice Community,

We write to share the very sad news that a beloved member of our faculty, Marjorie Corcoran, was killed today when a light-rail train struck her while she was bicycling across the tracks on Fannin Street.

Marjorie was a much-admired longtime professor of physics and astronomy, who worked tirelessly on behalf of her students, Rice, and STEM education. She served as the first speaker of Rice’s Faculty Senate when it was formed in 2005.

Marjorie studied experimental particle physics to better understand the most elementary constituents of matter. In an article in Rice Magazine in 2010, Marjorie said, “My field of research picked me. I became interested in particle physics when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. I was reading about it and said, ‘Wow! This is so amazing.’ It went on from there.”

Marjorie came to Rice in 1980, but she had already begun her research at Fermilab while a graduate student at Indiana University. In earlier work at Fermilab, she was part of the KTeV experiment, which searched for an explanation to the matter-antimatter asymmetry of the universe. In the B-Physics group she continued the theme of seeking an understanding to this asymmetry.

In recent years, she and her students were major contributors to the discovery of a pair of Z bosons, subatomic particles that are extremely difficult to detect, at the Fermilab particle accelerator in Illinois. The discovery required analyzing trillions of proton-antiproton collisions in the lab’s Tevatron and was an essential step in the search for the elusive Higgs boson, the particle physicists say will help explain the origin of mass in the universe. She was a co-convener of the Fermilab physics group that studies particles containing the b-quark. She wanted to know more about the physics that lies beyond the Standard Model that has been successful in describing all known experimental results, including a new initiative, the Mu2e experiment. She will be missed by the entire particle physics community.

In 2012, Marjorie was among the faculty members who received a grant from the Rice Faculty Initiatives Fund. Her proposal was to introduce students to medical physics through a collaboration with MD Anderson Cancer Center. The grant supported a summer internship program that allowed Rice students to gain hands-on experience in the rapidly growing field of medical physics, particularly in proton therapy for cancer patients.

An advocate for women in science, Marjorie supervised a number of our graduate students’ theses and dissertations. She was a fellow of the American Physical Society and served on its Division of Particles and Fields Executive Committee. She convened the sessions on heavy quark properties at the 2010 International Conference of High Energy Physics in Paris. Marjorie received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the University of Wisconsin Physics Department.

Our hearts go out to Marjorie’s husband and their three children, one of whom received his degree at Rice, and to the students and faculty members who studied and worked with her. We have lost a truly gifted and dear member of the Rice community.

We will share information about a memorial service when it becomes available.