Harold W. Lewis

Harold W. Lewis (1965)
Harold W. Lewis (1965)

Harold Walter Lewis, a nuclear experimental physicist, former Vice Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, was born in Keene, New Hampshire in 1917. He obtained his B.Sc at Middlebury College, Vermont, in 1938, his M.A. at the University of Buffalo in 1940, and then continued graduate studies at Duke University. At the beginning of World War II, he joined the Naval Ordnance Laboratory and the Navy Bureau of Ordnance as an expert on magnetic fields and mine detection, dividing his time between Washington and Pearl Harbor. In 1946 he returned to Duke and obtained his Ph.D. degree in Physics in 1950. In that year he also joined the Physics faculty and became assistant project leader for Duke University's nuclear physics program, directed by H.W.Newson. He became Professor of Physics in 1959.

In 1953 Lewis realized that nuclear accelerators and nuclear physics detection techniques could be used for the first accurate absolute cross section measurements of characteristic atomic x rays produced after inner-shell ionization of high-Z atoms by protons in the MeV range. This work advanced the growth of accelerator-related atomic physics and eventually gave rise to a much-used analytical tool in that field. In a 1958 review in the "Handbuch der Physik" on "X-Ray Production by Heavy Charged Particles", co-authored with his student  E.M.Bernstein, Lewis gave a comprehensive account of the results that he and his students had obtained in a series of benchmark measurements. The atomic x-ray measurements proved to be valuable in the analysis of gamma-ray yields from the early nuclear Coulomb excitation experiments, to which Lewis contributed. He mentored nine graduate students who all continued research after leaving Duke University. A further collaborator at Duke was W. Haeberli, later at the University of Wisconsin. See the list of publications.

In 1960-61 Lewis served as Visiting Professor at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon under a Smith-Mundt Fellowship. In 1961, he was appointed Associate Director of the Nuclear Structure Laboratory, which later became the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL). He was also made Acting Chair of the Physics Department for the 1961-63 period. In 1963, after a very productive period of research in nuclear physics, Lewis was appointed Vice Provost and Dean of Arts and Sciences, and in 1969 was named Dean of the Faculty. He returned to the Physics Department in 1981 as Chairman and was named University Distinguished Service Professor. He was also a trustee of the Southeastern Universities Research Association (SURA) and a councillor of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).

In 1986 after he retired from teaching and university administration, Lewis joined a team of TUNL physicists to construct a new high-intensity polarized ion source using H and D atomic beams. Lewis' efforts centered on the design, fabrication, and testing of a system of electromagnetic sextupoles for this source. In this project he worked closely with several students and young technical staff, always as their patient mentor, who by his example assured that their measurements were carefully made and meticulously logged. He died on October 17, 2000 of cancer.

Lewis was a quiet, but exceedingly effective leader in his field of research,  and contributed significantly to physics even after a long term in university administration. As an experimental physicist, he was very resourceful, hardworking, and as an administrator both at the University and the Physics Department levels, he was a respected and beloved person.

In Hawaii during World War II, he met his future wife, Mary O’Rourke, a WAVE who was serving in the Naval degaussing unit. They were married in 1946 and had two children, Barbara and Rick. The Lewises were generous hosts to many visitors. They loved their retreat  at a lake in New Hampshire where Lewis grew up. He was a relaxed person, and loved telling stories and anecdotes, puffing his pipe, and could occasionally be persuaded to assemble the parts of  his clarinet and play a few tunes of jazz.