Obituary: Kurt Efraim Nielsen – April 29, 1937 – May 12, 2020

Kurt E. Nielsen

Kurt was born the son of immigrants from Denmark and Sweden, Ejnar and Karin Nielsen, on April 29, 1937.  Kurt, and his brother Ken, grew up on a farm in Long Island, New York.  Kurt would get up at 5 AM every day, a lifelong habit, to help with the crops and animals.  

Kurt’s father died at the age of 44, when Kurt was just 16, and the family farm was sold. 

Kurt earned a scholarship and went to the New York State Teachers College (now State University of New York) in Albany.  Kurt graduated with a BS in Physics in 1959, and an MS in Physics in 1960.  While in Albany, Kurt met and fell in love with Ruth.  “From the moment we met, I knew you were the one I would love forever.”  Dates frequently consisted of long walks in the local Washington Park.  Kurt and Ruth were married on September 5, 1959.   

In 1961 Kurt enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.  There he worked with Professor Raymond (Ray) Herb on accelerators and trying to find quarks for his Graduate Thesis.  While there, Kurt and Ruth had a son David and a daughter Cheryl.  Kurt graduated with a Ph.D. in Experimental Nuclear and Plasma Physics in 1969.  

Upon graduation, Kurt moved his family to California.  This was the start of Kurt’s long and respected career in Pulsed Power.  For the next 28 years Kurt worked at Physics International (PI) and Pulse Sciences Inc. (PSI) on the design of state-of-the-art Pulsed Power equipment for use in weapons research.  Eventually Kurt became a Program Manager and Technical Director.  

Kurt started work at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in 1997.  In this role, he brought his vast experience in Pulsed Power to the LANL technical community.  In 2000, Kurt became a  Team Leader at the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility at LANL.  The DARHT facility uses two independent linear induction accelerators to produce the world’s most intense X-rays for radiographic research.  Axis 1 provides a single pulse, and Axis 2, a much more powerful and complex accelerator, provides four pulses.  

Kurt led the pulsed power team responsible for the successful redesign of the DARHT Axis 2. This included addressing multiple problems.  Kurt directed a design team that consisted of High Voltage Pulsed Power experts from multiple National Laboratories, as well as experts from outside companies.  “The world is definitely a much safer place because of the technologies and capabilities he helped realize.”  DARHT continues to be the envy of the international community.

There is an old saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  Kurt found that job.  “Kurt had a long and extensive career in which he was one of the most well-known, and well-liked members of the global Pulsed Power community.  He gained a lot of respect through his work ethic and knowledge, and for his unselfish nature.  Kurt was always cheerful and more than willing to do what he could to help.  Kurt was tenacious when addressing problems, but at the same time had an easy-going style which brought out the best in his colleagues.”

“Kurt was completely at home in the lab running pulsed power experiments, in the control room checking the high voltage performance of the accelerator, or in his office analyzing data.  Kurt published and peer reviewed for American Physical Society and IEEE.  Kurt was also very generous to give credit to others and never spotlighted himself.  He was a mentor to both young and old alike.”  Kurt was still a full-time employee, having worked at LANL for 22 years, and in Pulsed Power for 50 years, when he passed away.  

Kurt was a great Dad, who loved doing things with his family.  He loved travel, nature, and hiking.  Kurt traveled frequently between his homes in California and New Mexico.  Both homes were close to large parks and long hiking trails.  Over the years, Kurt took his family camping at many State and National Parks.  Frequent destinations included Yosemite, Death Valley, the California Coast, and the Redwood Forests.

Kurt and Ruth were married for 60 years in September 2019.  Kurt passed away on May 12, 2020, due to heart failure and illness.  Kurt is survived by his wife Ruth, his children David and Cheryl, his brother Ken, 5 nephews, 5 nieces, and many grandnieces and grandnephews.  We are comforted by knowing that he is now at home with God.

In lieu of flowers we would like donations to the following groups:

Prostate Cancer Foundation,, American Heart Association,, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research,

Many thanks to those who contributed to Kurt’s eulogies, including Ian Smith, Ray Scarpetti, Ryan Vliestra, Will Waldron, Chris Rose, Trent McCuistian, Carl Ekdahl, Juan Barraza, and Dawn Chavez.

Kurt’s family has entrusted his care to Rivera Family Funerals & Cremations of Los Alamos, located at 1627 A Central Ave., Los Alamos, NM 87544, (505) 663-6880,