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In Memory of Dr. Harry Lee Morrison
Physicist Harry Lee Morrison of the University of California, Berkeley, died suddenly of a heart attack on Monday, Jan. 14, at his home in Berkeley. He was 69. A professor of physics at UC Berkeley for 22 years, he retired from the faculty in 1994 but continued to serve as an assistant dean in the undergraduate advising office of the College of Letters & Science, a position he held for 11 years. In that position, he helped adjudicate student requests for exceptions to various rules and regulations. He was a member of the UCB Special Scholarships Committee. Special Scholarships is an Academic Senate Committee. It is basically the policy arm of PDP (The Professional Development Program) which gained wide publicity under Uri Treisman's leadership in successfully assisting African American students through the barrier math courses in calculus at Berkeley. "Harry was a strong supporter for encouraging minority and women students to pursue math-based majors as undergraduates at UC Berkeley," said Leroy T. Kerth, vice chairman of the Department of Physics. "He contributed greatly to the department through his scientific achievements, through his leadership and through his personal warmth."
As the only African American member of the physics faculty, he was a natural magnet for minority students in the department, and he consulted behind the scenes with many of them. Morrison also was involved in the early planning stages of a program launched in 1970 as Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA). Conceived as a way to boost minority undergraduate enrollment in science and engineering, it has since become a nationally recognized and very successful statewide academic preparation program reaching out to more than 21,000 students throughout California."When I think of Harry, I think of him as devoted to his family, devoted to the practice of Theoretical Physics, the development of scientific talent within the African-American community, and devoted to the life of an intellectual," said Keith Jackson President Elect of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP). I first met Harry Morrison when I was a graduate student at Stanford University in 1978; he invited a group of African-American graduate students to his home. I'll always have an image of the first time I met him and we talked into the night about physics and many other topics. He struck me then as one of the best conversationalists I had ever met. With an ability to tell a story and convey an idea be it in physics or any other topic. He was one of the founding members of the National Society of Black Physicists and one first members to obtain the status of fellow in the organization.
Dr. Charlie Harper also remembers Dr. Morrison. Professor Harry L. Morrison and I spent overlapping years in Washington, D.C. in the late 1950's and early 1960's; He was a graduate student at Catholic University, and I was a graduate student at Howard University. We, however, first met in 1960 at the Summer Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We were drawn to the Summer Institute by the lectures on topics in quantum statistics, and we spent a considerable amount of time discussing topics in quantum statistics and related topics in mathematics during that summer. Also, we participated in the Summer Institute during other summers; the last one was in 1968, the year I came to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Through the years, we had an extremely large number of discussions, in person and on the phone, of topics in physics and mathematics. I could always count on him to provide references on topics that I was researching. Harry would use me as his "sounding board" on many topics in math and physics. In addition, we discussed jazz music and performers and sports. He was a dear friend and colleague, and he will be greatly missed both professionally and socially.
His field of expertise was statistical mechanics and he was one of the world experts in the theoretical study of the properties of superfluid helium. When the temperature is low enough (2.18 Kelvin) Helium becomes a superfluid. At this point Helium is in its ground state and the system exhibits a much higher degree of order than observed at higher temperatures. In this state the system exhibits peculiar quantum properties, such as the ability to flow through extremely small holes, and frictionless flow. He had many collaborators such as Dr. James Lindsey currently a professor at Howard University, Jack Wong and John Garrison, now retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. He was also a strong believer in learning as much math as possible. His passion for this enterprise could only be compared to a 15-year-olds obsession with video games. He was a world class mathematician in his own right and he participated in the 3rd Conference for African-American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences, June 18-20, 1997 at Morgan State University.
Dr. Pete Bragg of Professor emeritus of the Materials Sciences department of the University of California at Berkeley also has many memories of Harry Morrison. Harry and I arrived on the Berkeley campus during the height of the Civil rights movement, and in addition to our Department duties we supported the efforts of the Black Studies Program which was struggling to achieve regularization as an Academic degree-granting department. While serving as members of the Programs' ex-Officio Policy Review Board we noticed that the critical societal role played by Science and Technology and Black contributions to it was nowhere touched on in any of the policy or curricular discussions. With the encouragement of the Program's Coordinator we gave a survey course,"The African American Experience in Science and Technology",to address this issue.It covered the broad fields of Physical and Biological Sciences and Engineering ,( with all Black Experts recruited from the Bay Area as Guest Lecturers). It was a mind blower-the students were amazed that there were so many largely anonymous Black experts in our midst. For the Final Exam each student was given the job of a Minister in the newly created Black Country (California, with its material infrastructure-buildings, roads, factories, farms, etc., - intact, from which all non- Blacks had been removed, and into which all of the African Americans in the U.S.had been moved-no net change in population). Armed with U.S. Department, Bureau of Labor Statistics, on availability in professions and trades by ethnicity, the student (Minister), had to present a plan to staff and run, say, the Department of Agriculture with the available Black labor force. It was a very sobering experience that illustrated in painful detail the problems faced by newly independent African countries.
Born in Arlington, Va., in 1932, Morrison attended Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from which he received a BA in 1955 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry 1960. His thesis advisor was Professor Virginia Griffing, one of the few women to hold a senior faculty position in the sciences in the US. He won a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship at the National Bureau of Standards. At NBS Harry was a member of the Statistical Physics Division which was headed by Melville Green. It was here that he was introduced to theoretical statistical mechanics. He was called to active military service as a 1st Lieutenant at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1961. He served as an assistant professor of physics there until 1964, when he joined the staff of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a theoretical physicist.
In 1972, he was recruited to the physics department at UC Berkeley. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and for many years was on the Committee on Minorities of that organization. He chaired the committee in 1977, and also served on the society,s executive council from 1971 until 1975. He also was a visiting Professor at Howard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.