George Ioup, a tireless researcher and professor emeritus of physics at the University of New Orleans, died Wednesday of gastric cancer at his home in New Orleans. He was 76.
Ioup specialized in signal and image processing — basically, analyses of the frequencies of a sound wave. The sources of his analyses were wide-ranging: from NASA satellites to pods of whales in the Gulf of Mexico.
He conducted much of his work alongside his lifelong research colleague and wife of 51 years, Juliette Ioup, also a UNO physics professor.
For NASA’s tethered satellites, the Ioups calculated the amount of vibration experienced by the tether as it was being reeled in. For oil companies, they analyzed electromagnetic waves sent from a helicopter, analyzing echoes to determine where pipelines or tanks were located within Louisiana swamps.
Through UNO’s Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center, which he helped to found in 2000, the Ioups and a former student, Natalia Sidorovskaia, sought to create an “audio library” of individual whales living in the Gulf by recording the whales’ short patterns of clicks, called codas, and then identifying, on the computer, the subtle time and frequency differences between each whale’s distinct signature of clicks.
Such an acoustic catalog could be particularly useful in counting pods of beaked, pilot and killer whales, which tend to rest below the surface and are less visible than sperm whales.
Juliette Ioup described how, in studying a group of sperm whales, mostly females and their calves, they identified 43 different signals. “But we found that one whale was clicking much more than the others,” she said. After consulting with whale biologists, they realized that the small calves don’t dive much, but the mothers dive down more than a mile into the Gulf to get meals of squid. “We speculate that the adult female that is clicking more often is acting sort of like a kindergarten teacher, keeping in touch with all the calves on the surface while the others take turns diving to eat,” she said.
Sidorovskaia, who now leads the physics department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said she remembers George Ioup for his humanity as much as his science. He was “an ideal professor” who not only guided his students through the material but taught them to be better people. “He cared about everybody and everything,” she said.
His sister, linguist Georgette Ioup, professor emeritus of English at UNO, said she moved to New Orleans from Seattle 30 years ago because she wanted to raise her son near her kind-hearted brother, who was a year older than she.
As she became the third “Dr. Ioup” on campus, she said, she noticed that her brother was always at least 15 to 30 minutes late returning to his office after classes. She soon realized why. “The students all wanted to talk with him. And he would talk with each of them,” she said. “Whatever people asked him, he would do, especially for young people.”
George Ioup, who was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in physics in 1962 and then enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Florida, where he met his future wife. After they were married, she enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Connecticut while he completed a post-doctoral fellowship there and then taught at the nearby Coast Guard Academy in New London.
He spent more than 45 years at UNO, arriving in 1969 and officially retiring in December 2012, though he still taught a class every semester, continued his research and oversaw graduate students.
“He never stopped,” said Steve Johnson, dean of UNO’s College of Sciences. “He was remarkable. There was no one like George.”
Ioup spent 11 years pushing for the Board of Regents to approve the university’s doctoral program in engineering and applied science, now one of the most successful Ph.D. programs at UNO. He also was director of UNO at Stennis Space Center, which allows employees at the NASA center in Mississippi to earn graduate degrees in physics, engineering, computer science and math.
Kevin Stokes, who now leads UNO’s physics department, first met Ioup when he was a Stennis employee and took a class from Ioup. In addition to his wife and sister, survivors include a brother William Ioup, of Alread, Arkansas.
A wake will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at Schoen Funeral Home, 3827 Canal St., New Orleans. On Tuesday, a short wake will be held at 10:30 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. funeral service at St. Basil Eastern Orthodox Church, 3916 Hudson St., Metairie. Burial will be in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3, followed by a repast at St. Basil.