Alan Tower Waterman

Alan Tower Waterman bigraphy, stories - American physicist

Alan Tower Waterman : biography

4 June 1892 – 30 November 1967

Waterman is seated at left; to his right are Presidential Press Secretary James Hagerty, Dr. S. Douglas Cornell and Dr. Alan Shapley. Standing: Dr. J. Wallace Joyce and Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus. Announcement of plans for the building and launching of the world’s first man-made satellite, July 29, 1955. (NASA) Alan Tower Waterman (June 4, 1892 – November 30, 1967) was an American physicist.

Born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, he grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. His father was a professor of physics at Smith College. Alan also became a physicist, doing his undergraduate and doctoral work at Princeton University, from which he obtained his Ph.D. in 1916.

He joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, and married Mary Mallon (sister of H. Neil Mallon) there in August 1917. He later became a professor at Yale University, and moved to North Haven, Connecticut in 1929. During World War II, he took leave of absence from Yale to become director of field operations for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and the family moved to Cambridge, MA. He continued his government work and became deputy chief of the Office of Naval Research. In 1950, he was appointed as first director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Waterman was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1960. He served as director until 1963, when he retired and was subsequently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in 1967.

Alan and Mary had six children: Alan Jr., an atmospheric physicist, Neil, Barbara, Anne, Guy, the well-known climber, and Mary.

Besides his scientific talents, he was an accomplished musician and an avid outdoorsman, and eventually became a licensed Maine Guide.

The crater Waterman on the Moon is named after him, as is Mount Waterman in the Hughes Range of Antarctica. Since 1975, the National Science Foundation has annually issued the Alan T. Waterman Award (named in Waterman’s honor) to a promising young researcher.