King Walters, 1931-2014

1981 King Walters

I just heard that King Walters, ’53, has died. He was a wonderful man, helpful, gentle, honest and always very kind to me. It wasn’t until his papers arrived in the Woodson, though, that I fully understood how much of himself he put into this university. Here’s the biographical sketch from that collection, which gives you only a rough idea of the devotion that comes through in the papers themselves:

Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1931, G. King Walters moved to Houston at the age of 5, attended public schools, graduating from San Jacinto High School in 1949. Matriculating at Rice University in 1949, he majored in physics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi in 1952. After graduating with honors in 1953, he went to Duke University, where he earned his doctorate in physics in 1956. He remained at Duke until 1957 as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. Between 1957 and 1963, when he was hired by Rice, he distinguished himself as a research scientist with Texas Instruments in Dallas. Walters remained at Rice through retirement in 1999 and beyond, advancing through the professorial ranks to chairman of the physics department, assistant dean of natural sciences, and dean of natural sciences.

Walters’ areas of specialization were atomic, molecular, and condensed matter physics. In the 70’s he conducted pioneering work on excimer lasers that came to be widely used to print semiconductor chips. Experiments he designed and conducted using an atomic accelerator in the now gone Bonner Nuclear Laboratory at Rice formed the basis for very sensitive devices called magnetic anomaly detectors. This technology was used by the U.S. military to detect Soviet nuclear submarines. The devices were also used in space exploration vehicles. In the 80’s some of Walters’ research, sponsored by the Department of Energy and the Houston-based Robert A. Welch Foundation, included studies of the physics of high-power lasers for possible application in power generation by laser fusion, and investigations of solid surfaces important in industrial catalysis. Subsequent research of his has found practical application as an improved MRI device, which can image the lungs when a patient breathes in polarized helium or xenon gas.

In 1977-78 Walters was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which was followed soon after by his election to Fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to authoring a wide range of publications, he has provided editorial leadership for the Journal of Geophysical Research, Case Studies in Atomic Physics, and Reviews of Modern Physics. He served as an elected member of the governing council of the American Physical Society as well as in other positions in national scientific organizations.

In addition to serving as a highly regarded teacher and directing 29 doctoral students, King Walters participated very actively in the structural operations of Rice. His committee work included the Athletic Review Committee and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Retirement. He was a member of three important search committees, for university president in 1984-85, for provost in 1993-94, and for librarian in 1995-96.

A distinctive honor Walters received at the end of his career was the establishment of a one million dollar endowed fund in his name. He directed that awards made from the fund annually are to be used for research innovation in the Rice department of physics.

King was the last of a group that I used to eat lunch with frequently–Franz Brotzen and Bill Gordon were the others. They liked to tease me that I was going to have to give all their eulogies. I teased them back that we would all die together in a car wreck because, gentlemen all, they refused to let me drive when we went off campus even though I was decades younger and in possession of far better reflexes. Looks like they were right. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could have one more of those lunches.

Here’s King in 1953, with the other Phi Beta Kappa initiates. He’s standing, right in the middle. I think they must have been in the Kyle Morrow Room.

King Walters PBK

King Walters, RIP.

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9 Responses to King Walters, 1931-2014

  1. Mr. Estle didn’t get the word to dress up, apparently. According to the Rice Alumni Directory, Mrs. F.L. Worley, Jr. is the former Joan Clutter. Mr. Worley apparently didn’t go to Rice. Interesting that she is listed that way. Are those Edward Lewis and Katherine Drew?

  2. effegee says:

    Another one of the greats is gone. He taught my last physics course where he encouraged me to study other subjects. However, I hold our interactions during the following 3 decades in the highest regard. It is sad to know he is no longer among us.

  3. Keith Cooper says:

    Dean Walters played a critical role in the formation of Rice’s Computer Science Program and later its Computer Science Department. He offered much sage advice and support. He was a wonderful man.

  4. Matt Noall says:

    He taught my first semester freshman physics class. He was very clear in his lectures and patient with us youngsters. I still think about those from time to time.

  5. Sigsby Rusk says:

    I went through 4 years of undergrad physics with King before he left for Duke. After I left the Rice Computer Project to join the Sakowitz Computer lab at Baylor in 1976 I got very busy, and only got back to the campus three or four times before I retired in 1999. I didn’t get to talk to King until a visit about 2009. I regret that I didn’t get back more often. Many others of that small physics group of 1953 are now gone also.

  6. Gina Walters says:

    Many thanks for this touching and informative post about my father. We will all miss him. Can someone let me who wrote this wonderful piece? Thanks so much.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Hi Gina,
      I wrote it. I’m Melissa Kean, the University Historian. I first met your father when I was still a graduate student at Rice, working on the history of desegregation. He was wonderful to me from the very first time I ever bugged him with a bunch of questions, and patiently explained all sorts of things to me about how the university works. I will miss him.
      Melissa

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