Ames Lab Changing Scene, Vol. 9 No. 6 / June 1983
Mal Iles is Irreplaceable
Malvern Iles's death on May 19 at the age of 28 shocked everyone.
Iles was a familiar figure around the Laboratory, though few knew him intimately. His intense absorption in his work, the broad range of his interests, his brilliance, and his manic style, all contributed to a 'mad scientist' image he relished and fostered.
"I guess you could say he was my protégé," say chemist Art D'Silva. "I hired him back in 1975 while he was still an undergraduate." Money was scarce at the time, yet D'Silva and his group wanted to build lasers. He heard someone mention Iles, a physics undergraduate who was fascinated by and knowledgeable about lasers.
D'Silva hired Iles to work part time and summers. Once Iles graduated, he came to work at the Ames Laboratory full time.
The research using lasers built by Iles prospered; the lasers helped detect pollutants created in energy-generating technologies. Iles's expertise was such that Los Alamos National Laboratory sought his advice with their laser research. "He consulted with them two or three times," D'Silva recalls. "he'd go there for a week and help them build a laser with some special characteristics they wanted."
Just a few months ago, Iles's promotion to associate physicist went through. "He was finally back in graduate school, working towards a higher degree." D'Silve recalls. Iles had taken a number of graduate courses previously, but didn't like fulfilling conventional requirements.
Iles was born in Cedar Rapids. He held a B.S. degree in physics from Iowa State University. He was a member and advisor of the L-5 (space colonization) Society at ISU, was an avid mountain climber, and in the 1981 special election for State Representative he ran as the Libertarian candidate for District 42. In the spring of 1982, he traveled to Cap Canaveral to observe and report on the launch of Columbia, the first space shuttle flight. Iles wrote a vivid and memorable account of the event for the Iowa State Daily.
"I don't think we can replace him," says D'Silve, "that would be practically impossible." Memorail contributions can be made to the Epilepsy Foundation, 410 East 4th Street, Indianola, Iowa 50125.