Ronald Goldner, Tufts professor worked on conserving energy; 77

Dr. Ronald Goldner worked on “smart” windows that could let varying amounts of light or heat into a building.
Tufts University
Dr. Ronald Goldner worked on “smart” windows that could let varying amounts of light or heat into a building.

A longtime professor at Tufts University, Ronald B. Goldner created innovative ways to conserve energy and turned intricate scientific ideas into lessons students could grasp.

“He had the ability to make complex things simple, while maintaining their complexity,” said Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, one of Dr. Goldner’s former students who is now editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“When you couldn’t understand it, he would explain it a different way,” Drazen said. “He very much wanted to be sure that his students understood the concepts.”


Dr. Goldner, who taught at Tufts from 1964 until a heart attack in 2004 and a series of strokes prompted him to retire, died Jan. 3 at the Hebrew SeniorLife nursing home in Roslindale of complications from vascular dementia. He was 77 and lived in Lexington.

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In the early 1980s, Dr. Goldner began working on a design for electrochromic windows in the Tufts Electro-Optics Technology Center, which he helped found.

“My father’s dream in all of this was to really promote renewable and sustainable energy practices,” said his son Mark of Jamaica Plain.

Dr. Goldner’s so-called “smart” windows could be quickly adjusted to let varying amounts of light or heat into a building, which would conserve energy and lower heating and cooling costs.

“When we first started out 10 years ago, it was just a dream,” Dr. Goldner told States News Service in 1993. “Now the biggest obstacle is the reluctance of manufacturers to take the risk of really doing it.”


Dr. Goldner’s work led to dozens of publications and 10 patents. In 2006, Tufts honored him with the Seymour O. Simches Award for distinguished teaching and advising.

His wife, Judith, said he was always dreaming up new ideas. The two were riding in their car one day, she recalled, when “all of sudden he said to me, ‘How many bumps do you think we’ve gone over?’ And I thought he’d lost it.”

At that moment, Dr. Goldner was coming up with an idea for regenerative shock absorbers that would capture energy exerted by vehicles as they drove over bumps. The device would then convert the energy into electricity that could be stored in a battery. He developed the idea and a Connecticut company applied for the rights to commercialize the technology in 2008.

Born in Brooklyn, Dr. Goldner grew up in Amityville, N.Y., where he was the leading scorer on the high school basketball team and the catcher on the baseball team.

He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in engineering.


In 1957, he met Judith Olef on a blind date. He was a graduate student at MIT and she was a junior at Brandeis University. They married in 1959.

Dr. Goldner served in the ­Army as a second lieutenant and spent six months working in a laboratory at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.

In 1962, he earned a doctorate from Purdue University in Indiana. The Goldners lived in Watertown before moving to Lexington.

Their son Mark worked in Dr. Goldner’s lab after graduating from high school, and again while pursuing a graduate degree at Tufts.

“There are always challenging moments when you are the child of a teacher,” Mark said, “but I really enjoyed being in classes with him because he got so incredibly excited about the things he taught.”

Dr. Goldner, who had been awarded a Fulbright scholarship, enjoyed discussing his work with his family, but also supported their interests. His wife is a pianist, and he was always in the audience whenever she took the stage. When she practiced in their living room for an upcoming recital, Dr. Goldner often took his work ­into the room to listen.

“That was a wonderful feeling, that he was interested in what I was doing,” she said.

Dr. Goldner’s interest in energy conservation was as much a part of his home life as it was his research. His wife said he took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra quite literally. He wouldn’t throw away functioning appliances, and add waste to the world, just to get a fancy new one.

Also, a major rule in the household was that “when you leave the room, turn off the lights,” she said. “It wasn’t to save money. It was to save energy, a resource.”

Dr. Goldner enjoyed hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing, and was an avid runner who competed in more than 25 marathons, his son said.

His wife said Dr. Goldner also “loved sailing, and he loved just being on the water, canoeing and rowing.” He liked to explore the outdoors and spend time surrounded by nature at the family’s cottage in Georgetown, Maine.

“It’s a very simple house, but just an amazing location,” said his daughter, Rachel Goldner Scheff of Newton. “I had never realized when I was young how relaxing and meditative it could be, but now I can see what my Dad loved about it.”

A service has been held for Dr. Goldner, who in addition to his wife, son, and daughter, leaves another son, Eric of Valencia, Calif.; a brother, Leonard of Boynton Beach, Fla.; and seven grandchildren.

Always interested in the lives of others, even when he was ill and hospitalized, Dr. Goldner “would tell us about the nursing staff and the cleaning people, how many children they had, and things like that,” his wife said.

“He could strike up a conversation with anybody, and not by talking about himself or his work, but by asking them questions,” Mark said. “He was genuinely interested in people and what they had to say.”

Melissa M. Werthmann can be reached at