Thursday, July 03, 2008

In Memoriam 

Tragic News.
William R. Bennett Jr., 78, a physicist who helped develop one of the first lasers nearly 50 years ago, died Sunday of cancer of the esophagus at his home in Haverford.

In 1960, Mr. Bennett, Ali Javan and Donald Herriott built the first gas laser, which generated a continuous infrared beam from a mixture of helium and neon, at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. Mr. Bennett would go on to develop nearly a dozen additional lasers.

The research helped lead to the widespread use of lasers in modern technology, in things such as CD players, supermarket scanners, surgical tools, and weapons navigation systems. The argon laser helped provide an effective treatment for the prevention of blindness in diabetes and remains widely used.

Mr. Bennett became a tenured professor at Yale University in 1962, was named Charles Baldwin Sawyer professor in applied science and physics in 1972, and spent 38 years at the school, becoming an emeritus professor in 1998 and retiring in 2000. He received a bachelor's degree in physics from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Frances Commins Bennett; a son, Bill; daughters Jean and Nancy; a sister; and five grandchildren. - Associated Press

(more here) It's been my privilege to know Bill for 25 years. In addition to his obvious scientific accomplishments please add inspiring teacher, enthusiastic classical musician (clarinet and piano) and patron of the arts, and endearingly nerdy humourist. I even dressed up as Bill once on Halloween (carrying around a laser pointer and threatening to 'ultraviolate' people).

Bill's family is uniformly amazing. His son is principal oboist with the San Francisco Symphony and his daughter has done breakthrough research in curing blindness. His wife Fran is a beloved teacher of creative writing and his granddaughter is on her way to a career in biology.

Anyway, I miss him terribly. We could all use more Bill Bennetts in our life.


By Blogger Frisky070802, at Thu Jul 03, 11:36:00 AM:

I was in Silliman from 1980-84 and Bill and Fran were fantastic. I kept in touch with them off and on, most recently early this year, when I heard about Bill's cancer. This is a great loss, but Bill lived a long and fulfilling life, and something his family and friends can be proud of.  

By Blogger Jamie Irons, at Thu Jul 03, 07:47:00 PM:

I was in Silliman from 1980-84 ...

I think you mean Sillman !


Although I was at Yale (Branford College) during his time there (I studied molecular biophysics) I regret to say I never encountered Dr. Bennett. I wish I had; he sounds like a wonderful man.

I still remember reading about the first lasers in Scientific American when I was about twelve. Who would have anticipated the multitude of applications?

Jamie Irons  

By Blogger Frisky070802, at Thu Jul 03, 08:45:00 PM:

No, I'm pretty sure I mean Silliman.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Jul 03, 11:37:00 PM:

Back in the day (1963) when you could get a PhD just for making a working laser, a grad student with a lab in the attic of Palmer (now Frist) got his working in the wee hours of the morning. When we frosh came in for our 8:40am* Physics 103 lecture the student had used a set of mirrors on stands to reflect the beam down the stairs from the attic into the huge tiered lecture hall and onto the blackboard. Our professor was his adviser.


* During WW II the University moved the earliest class starting time from 8:00am to 7:40am for wartime efficiency purposes. By the time I got there in 1963 there were almost no classes scheduled for 7:40am. I did have a class scheduled for 8:40am on Saturdays, however. I think the topic was plasmas and it was taught by my adviser, but since I had Orgo lab on Friday afternoon and we would steal reagent grade alcohol from the chem lab on Friday, I can't really remember. The University moved the class starting time back to the top of the hour in relatively recent times.  

By Blogger Andrew Hofer, at Fri Jul 04, 04:25:00 PM:

Definitely Silliman. I was there 1982-1986.  

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