Professor Emeritus of Physics Br. Novak passes away


Br. Novak had served on the Iona faculty for over four decades.

Margaret Dougherty, Editor in Chief

Br. Robert Novak, Iona University Professor Emeritus of Physics, has passed away as announced in a campus-wide email on Nov. 14 from President Seamus Carey. 

Br. Novak served as a member of the faculty at Iona for over four decades from 1976 until his retirement in 2018.  He assumed the role of Physics Chairperson in 2002. Br. Novak also served as the faculty moderator of the Iona rowing teams since 1980. 

He earned his BS in physics from Iona in 1972. He then went on to study at Stevens Institute of Technology, earning his MS in physics in 1977, and Columbia University, earning his Ph.D. in 1980. 

In the early 1990s, Br. Novak became heavily involved with “Cosmos and Creation,” a group of active scientists who were also active in their religion. They pursue science in order to obtain a better understanding of God’s Creation, and thus a better understanding of God. In 2008, Br. Novak took an eight-day trip to Beijing, China along with twelve other members of the group. They visited a location where Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, an influential Jesuit paleontologist of the 20th century, lived, worked and wrote.  

Br. Novak’s work with NASA brought him and multiple Iona students to the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii, where they could observe the atmosphere of Mars through NASA’s 120-inch infrared telescope. He took over 20 trips to the observatory and brought over $500,000 in grant money from NASA and the National Science Foundation to Iona. Br. Novak published over 35 articles and presented dozens of papers both nationally and internationally. His discovery of methane on Mars’ atmosphere was one significant finding, leading NASA to put a methane detector on the Mars rover. 

For the past 15 years, Br. Novak had been coordinating a program to support Brothers from other provinces to study at Iona. This fund was established in the 1980s and ten years ago, the Brothers at Iona decided to direct these funds to support the education of Brothers from Africa to attend Iona and receive their bachelor’s and possibly masters degrees. Since then, several Brothers have returned from Africa. 

Br. Novak is survived by his brother Denis, his sister-in-law Cheryl, his nieces Teresa, Elizabeth and Mary, as well as several cousins.