Respected Director at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Dies of Heart Failure

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Gudmundur Svavar “Bo” Bodvarsson, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth Sciences Division and an enthusiastic athlete, died of heart failure last week. He was 54.

While at the lab, Bodvarsson managed the division’s Nuclear Waste Program, which researched the movement of water within Yucca Mountain in Nevada to determine whether it would be a safe site for nuclear waste.

Bodvarsson’s team installed a variety of sensors on the mountain, recreating it on lab and UC Berkeley computers. The research would determine how long it would take for nuclear waste to leak into the natural environment and whether it would contaminate the water in the area.

“He knew what he wanted, and he wanted to get to that goal in the shortest possible way,” said acting director of the division Ernie Majer.

Co-workers said they enjoyed working with him because he was always lighthearted.

“Even during very serious project negotiations, he really had his own way of being witty,” said deputy program head Yvonne Tsang.

Bodvarsson’s ex-wife Mary Pratt said he relieved work stress through sports, his favorites being volleyball, soccer and golf.

He was one of the best soccer players in the Bay Area, intimidating players with his 6-foot-3-inch build and aggressive playing, said Bodvarsson’s soccer coach Marvin Vinik.

“It wasn’t just a question of skill, he really understood the game,” Vinik said. “He always knew how to get open, where the open man was. When he received the ball, you always knew he would do the right thing.”

Co-workers at the lab learned about his soccer injuries when he joked about them during Monday morning staff meetings.

“That was his way of breaking the ice and getting into the meeting,” Majer said.

Bodvarsson was born on November 11, 1952 in Ljosafoss, Iceland. He came to the United States to attend Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, graduating summa cum laude in 1974. He went on to receive his master’s degree from North Carolina State University in 1976.

Two years after graduating, he moved to Berkeley with Pratt, and he received his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1982.

He worked on geothermal research until the mid-1980s, when he began research on nuclear waste storage.

“He had a brilliant mind, he could ponder five different problems at the same time,” Pratt said.

He is survived by his two sons, Daniel Bodvarsson and Erik Ma, his father Bodvar Stefansson and brothers Reynir and Stefan Bodvarsson.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, donations in Bodvarsson’s memory can be made to the Bo Bodvarsson Memorial Fund, which will support collaborative research for graduate students at the Berkeley lab.


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