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Carl Accardo, 85; geophysicist did key research on LEDs

Carl Accardo, shown on the rocks of Kennebunkport, Maine, also served as an liaison between MIT and Japan.

family photo

Carl Accardo, shown on the rocks of Kennebunkport, Maine, also served as an liaison between MIT and Japan.

When Carl Accardo was a boy in Torrington, Conn., the wonders of science unfolded while he worked with his father, a photographer who used a mahogany 8-by-10 view camera to capture images of brides and grooms and then conjured prints at home in a bathtub filled with developing chemicals.

A geophysicist whose career took him from the Army to high-tech companies and academia, Mr. Accardo was only in his early 20s when he published pioneering research about the solid-state phenomenon of electroluminescence, which is used in the bulbs of energy-efficient LEDs, or light-emitting diodes.

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At the beginning of the 1960s, he moved to Greater Boston to work for Geophysics Corp. of America and Epsilon Laboratories, both Bedford-based research and development companies.

Then, in 1986, he took what he thought would be a brief pre-retirement job with the Industrial Liaison Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which he had attended as an undergraduate. His success creating a network of research exchanges between MIT and Japanese companies prompted the Japanese government to award him the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Rosette, in 2002.

“Carl’s legacy has had a lasting impact on the relationship between Japan and the United States, and especially between Japan and the Greater Boston area,” Akira Muto, consul general of Japan in Boston, wrote in a March 28 letter to Mr. Accardo’s widow, Edna.

Mr. Accardo, who had lived in Winchester for many years, died at home March 22 of heart failure. He was 85.

“He was first and foremost a fairly serious individual,” said his son Tom of Winchester.

So much so that at times acquaintances misread his focused demeanor. There were many jokes “about the high school yearbook photo where he was voted the most pessimistic, which is a very odd superlative,” Tom said. “He took a lot of ribbing for that over the years.”

The oldest of seven children, Carl Anthony Accardo was a son of Sicilian immigrants. Along with holding the flash for his father’s photography assignments as a boy, he worked at an uncle’s fruit stand. “When I put that crisp, white apron on, I felt like a king,” he told his children years later.

“He often described the years of the Great Depression as among the happiest of his life,” Mr. Accardo’s son Peter of Lynnfield wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Accardo graduated from Torrington High School in 1945 and studied physics at MIT, finishing with a bachelor’s degree three years later. He moved to New Jersey, where he was a physicist at the Army Signal Corps research and development laboratory at Fort Monmouth. In 1951, his family said, Mr. Accardo and two colleagues published their electroluminescence research in the journal Physical Review. That same year he graduated from New York University with a master’s in physics.

During the Korean War he was a second lieutenant, stationed in Germany with the Signal Corps, and served until 1955. Assigned to classified work, he used seismographic equipment to help monitor the Soviet Union’s development of a hydrogen bomb, and his facility with languages came in handy when he traveled through Europe.

On leave in Rome “he utilized his fluent Italian to fend off an Italian police officer while one of his Army pals tried to chisel off a piece of the Colosseum as a souvenir,” his son Peter wrote.

Returning to New Jersey after his military service ended, Mr. Accardo was in a car when he spotted Edna Ertle, a kindergarten teacher from Red Bank, N.J., walking along a street. They met later when both were at the same restaurant, and they married in 1956.

The couple moved to Woburn before settling in Winchester. At Geophysics Corp. of America, Mr. Accardo’s work included Cold War defense projects involving rockets and studying atmospheric changes during solar eclipses.

In the early 1970s, his family said, he and two colleagues launched Epsilon Laboratories, which Mr. Accardo served as president. His family said he helped the company develop an instrument carried on the second mission of the space shuttle Columbia. The equipment monitored contaminants, created by the spacecraft, which might hamper on-board infrared imaging systems.

At MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program, Mr. Accardo became director of Asian operations. The Order of the Sacred Treasure he received in 2002 had previously been awarded to Paul E. Gray and Jerome B. Weisner, both former MIT presidents.

“Distinguished company, I must say,” Mr. Accardo told the MIT News that year.

His work took him to Japan regularly as he organized seminars for companies there and helped establish the annual MIT in Japan symposium, which provided “platforms for discussing future trends of research and technology and collaboration that has benefited our global society,” Muto wrote to Mr. Accardo’s widow.

Muto added that Mr. Accardo’s “warm and kind personality made him a joy to work with and spend time with. This loss is keenly felt not only by the consulate and MIT, but also by the greater Japanese community of Massachusetts.”

A service has been held for Mr. Accardo, who in addition to his wife, Edna, and sons Tom and Peter leaves two other sons, Carl of Derry, N.H., and James of Winchester; two daughters, Edna Accardo-Walls of Winchester and Laura Norquist of Paradise Valley, Ariz.; three sisters, Anne Horvitz of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Theresa Sloane and Arlene LaMere, both of Torrington, Conn.; and seven grandchildren.

While living in Winchester, Mr. Accardo coached Little League baseball, and “when it came time to draft players for his team,” his son Tom recalled, “very often he would subordinate talent to just letting a kid play who wanted to play.”

Mr. Accardo also enjoyed attending dinners, as a guest, of the Speckled Band of Boston, a Sherlock Holmes society, and he collected Eskimo art and rare books.

“At his first book auction in New York, he became so carried away after successfully bidding on the one book he wanted, he had a difficult time keeping his bidder’s paddle down,” his son Peter wrote in an e-mail, “and ultimately came home with a carton full of rare books.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@ globe.com.
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