George Irving Bell (1926-2000)
Peru, 1954
Photo By Leigh Ortenburger
Masherbrum, 1960
Photo By Nicholas Clinch
circa 1960
LANL Staff Photo
LANL Staff Photo

George Irving Bell died on May 28th, 2000, from leukemia complications following routine hernia surgery. George was born on August 4, 1926 in Evanston, Illinois of George I. Bell (Sr.) and Hazel Seerley Bell. The family shortly moved to Winnetka, Illinois, where he graduated from New Trier High School in 1944. He received a BS in Physics from Harvard University in 1947 and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Cornell University in 1951, where he studied nuclear physics under Hans Bethe.

George moved to New Mexico in 1951, where he was a driving force in the Theoretical Physics Division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for almost 50 years. In the early part of his career, he worked on reactor physics and safety, co-authoring the then definitive text on the subject and winning a distinguished award from the American Nuclear Society.

In the 1960s, George was one of small group of physicists at Los Alamos who began to work seriously in biology. He focussed on immunology, and in 1970 published a seminal paper formulating a quantitative immunological model that could be computationally explored. In 1974, he founded the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics group, and served as group leader until 1990. Through George's work and leadership in attracting younger scientists, this group turned into a leading center for theoretical immunology and cell biology. He was a founder of the Center for Human Genome Studies in 1988, and continued to be actively involved in the Human Genome Project until his death.

George was known as a superb administator, and served as Theoretical Physics Division leader from 1980-1989. He authored three books and hundreds of scientific articles and was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

George was also an avid mountaineer and outdoorsman. His first exposure to technical climbing came during a summer camp to the Tetons while in High School. It quickly developed into a passion and he went on 4 expeditions to the Peruvian Andes in the 50's. He was a member of teams that made the first ascent of Yerupaja in 1950 and of Salcantay in 1952, two of Peru's highest and most difficult peaks.

In 1953, George attempted K2 (then unclimbed) with a well-knit team. They endured a horrific storm for a week at 25,000', and a terrible accident on the way down. The entire team could easily have been lost, but miraculously all but one team member staggered into base camp. This was a pivotal event in the lives of the seven surviving team members, who became as close as brothers. George was carried out from base camp and eventually lost two toes to frostbite. This climb is the subject of the classic mountaineering book: K2 The Savage Mountain. Despite this, his enthusiasm for climbing was undiminished. He went on several more Himalayan expeditions, attempting Lhotse in 1955 on a Norman Dyhrenfurth expedition. In 1960 he was on a team that made the first ascent of Masherbrum (the 25th highest peak in the world). On his expeditions, George did not keep journals, but he was a superb photographer, here is a small gallery of images.

George married Virginia (Ginny) Lotz in 1956. In Ginny he found an enthusiastic life partner and together they enjoyed many outdoor adventures. They had two children: Carolyn (b. 1958) and George Jr. (b. 1960). Family backpacking and climbing trips were the norm. In their later years, George and Ginny enjoyed a dozen treks in the Himalayas, and another dozen to mountain ranges in the rest of the world. Even at age 73, he remained in remarkable physical shape, hiking 14 miles the weekend before his death. A brilliant but unassuming man, he was a great inspiration to his family, his many friends, colleagues and young aspiring mountaineers.

George is survived by his wife, Ginny; his elder sister, Dr. Barbara Bell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; his daughter Carolyn Bell-Prince and grandchildren Kaitlin (b. 1987), Austin (b. 1990) and Derek Prince (b. 1993) of Los Alamos, New Mexico; his son George Irving Bell, Jr., wife Esther Brady and grandchildren Allison (b. 1996) and Henry Bell (b. 1999) of Boulder, Colorado.

A memorial service was held in Los Alamos on Sunday, June 25th. In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations to the American Himalayan Foundation, 909 Montgomery Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94133 or The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 600 Third Avenue New York, NY 10016.

Written by Walter Goad, George Bell Jr., Ginny Bell and Carolyn Bell-Prince.

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