Walt Gray

Walt Gray joined the UM physics department in 1964 after finishing his PhD at the University of Colorado. First appointed as a research associate, he soon moved to the teaching faculty as instructor (1965), assistant professor (1966) and then to associate professor in 1970,

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gray, together with Robert Tickle and John Bardwick, under the general direction of William Parkinson, developed a high-resolution magnetic spectrometer for use with the University of Michigan’s 82-inch cyclotron that was one of the few accelerators in the world capable of high-resolution nuclear spectroscopy. Gray and his students made a major improvement to the spectrometer by developing a position-sensitive, silicon-diode, focal-plane detector array. This permitted electronic acquisition and analysis of data in experiments that tested the collective model of nuclei proposed by Benjamin Mottelson and Aage Bohr. In particular, Gray and his doctoral student Karl Erb did studies of 205Bi and 207Bi by Proton-Transfer Reactions. (Erb later went on to a distinguished career that included directorship of the NSF program in nuclear physics and then, for many years, directorship of the NSF’s Office of Polar Programs. )

In the early years of nuclear physics, physicists very often did their experiments with accelerators associated with their own university; this was the case at Michigan. But in the mid-1970s the pattern for nuclear physics shifted to one already established by particle physicists in which experiments were more and more often done at national laboratories. Walt was involved in this; in 1980-82 he was on the executive committee of the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility users’ group. But at this time he was also responding more and more strongly to the department’s need for dedicated undergraduate teaching and advising.. Indeed, he and Robert Tickle become the anchors of the introductory physics courses, much as Wally McCormick and Wilbur Peters had been in a previous decade. Walt committed himself to undergraduates with notable success: His book Introduction to Modern Physics was published by Addison Wesley. He received Michigan’s Ruth Sinclair Award for Counseling in 1988 and, quite remarkably, its Excellence in Education Award three years in a row. He remained a strong contributor to the department’s teaching until his retirement at the end of the 2001-2002 academic year.

.                                                                                       JCZ

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