Palmer W. Carlin

March 20th, 1924May 20th, 2021

Palmer W. Carlin died of natural causes at his home in Boulder, Colorado on May 20th, 2021. He was 97 years old. Palmer was an amiable gentle-man, always curious and considerate, with impeccable integrity. His modest nature belies a lengthy and accomplished scientific career as well as varied personal interests from studying fine wine to little known Colorado history.

He was born in 1924 in Quincy, Illinois to Fred Arthur and Lula Ellen Carlin. He and his younger brother, Paige, grew up on the family's southeastern Colorado farm, outside of the small town of Wiley. Growing up in the Depression instilled in him a sense of frugality. After graduating from Wiley High School in 1942, he enrolled at the University of Colorado and hitched a ride to Boulder on a hog truck. With the United States entry into World War II, Palmer was accepted into CU's Naval Reserve Officer Training Corp (NROTC). This program required attending school year-round with an accelerated graduation after three years.

Palmer graduated at the top of his class in 1945 with a BS in Electrical Engineering and was sent to learn about the new technology of radar at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He completed his active duty with an assignment at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, as the Assistant Ship Superintendent. Once the War concluded with the atom bomb, Palmer realized that physics was the new frontier and used the GI bill to enroll in a doctoral program in physics back at the University of Coloraodo. There he met many intriguing personalities and life-long friends as well as participated actively in Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist campus ministry.

Palmer was a fan of detours and travelled to the South Pacific island country of Fiji to perform measurements on the total solar eclipse just prior to completing his PhD in 1955. He was hired at CU as an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineeering in 1959. He later became a full professor and over the course of his 25 years of teaching, students remember his patience and clarity as an instructor. Other reasearch, visiting professor and consultant positions he held during this era were at Stanford University, Boeing Aircraft, the University of California Radiation Labs in Livermore, Ball Brothers Research Corporation, and John's Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

His wit and humor gained the attention early on of his wife, Lee, after he noticed her teaching humanities to students in CU's Engineering College. The two were married in 1969 and had two daughters. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2019. 

When most people would have considered retirement, Palmer began a second career at what is now known as the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) south of Boulder. His many contributions there included seminal work on energy production from variable speed wind turbines. Knowing that his work could address global warming caused great satisfaction. In his own words, "We're trying to keep the planet's temperature down. Wind is one way to do that."

Beyond his work life, Palmer maintained a diverse array of interests. During a sabbatical year in California, he took an oenology course at UC Davis that spawned a lifelong interest in wine. Once back at CU, he and four other colleagues from the Engineering College started meeting with their spouses for quarterly wine dinners. This "wine group" continued to share food, wine, and good conversation regularly together throughout the next 40 years. He studied star identification, invented a means of telling time from the rotation around Ursa Minor around Polaris, and taught a course titled "Astronomy for Astrologers" at Boulder's Free University in the 1970's. He also loved the ragtime music of his parents' generation and played many Scott Joplin pieces from memory throughout his adult life. In the 1990's and early 2000's, he was an avid supporter of Boulder's Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.

Palmer was aptly remembered by his co-workers as a "witty, erudite, and affable engineer". He is survived by his wife, Lee, and his two daughters, Bridget Carlin (Bob Kanick) and Tanya Olson. He has three grandchildren, Francesca and Tucker Carlin and Lena Olson. We will always remember him in each gust of wind and twinkle of stars.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Palmer's name to KGNU, honoring Jack Rummel, Jim Hightower, and Amy Goodman (4700 Walnut St., Boulder, CO 80301) and TRU Hospice (2594 Trailridge Dr. E., Lafayette, CO 80026).


A celebration of life will be held at a later date. For details and to be notified, contact the family at: [email protected]








Dear Lee and family, We are so sorry to hear of your loss of Palmer. What a wonderful man and how great that you could celebrate over 50 years together. We have fond memories of you and Palmer at the ragtime festival and other concerts at the piano store. He was always engaging, kind and generous to us. May his memory be Eternal and may your days be blessed and comforted by all the wonderful memories of your life together. Chris and Barb