Hot Topics, 1943-44

We recently (and quite unexpectedly) received a pretty good sized batch of correspondence that had belonged to Dr. Floyd Lear of the History Department. I haven’t had a chance to look at most of it, but one of my colleagues in the Woodson pointed out these two short notes. Both were sent to Lear by H.A. Wilson, Rice’s first head of Physics, proposing lecture topics for meetings that Wilson had already agreed to address. Both are quite interesting, as Wilson searches for topics that a general audience might enjoy. This first one, for a talk to the Houston Philosophical Society in December, 1943 proposes the arresting topic of “Bomb Dropping:”

HA Wilson topic proposal 2

The second, sent only two months later, suggests that the recent release of a movie about Marie Curie might provide fodder for a talk to Phi Beta Kappa about radium:

HA Wilson topic proposal 1

I made good use of my time over Christmas break and watched the movie he must be talking about. I don’t know if the science makes any sense but I thought it was pretty good. Greer Garson–I’m a big fan.


Bonus: I just had a thought–Wilson’s notes seem to have been sent through some early version of campus mail. Like everything else, this must have a history too. I just wonder how much of it might be recoverable . . .

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7 Responses to Hot Topics, 1943-44

  1. almadenmike says:

    The 1942-43 Rice General Announcements gives this syllablus for Rice’s Physics 330a: “Particle Dynamics. Planetary orbits. Vibrating systems. Coupled oscillators. Rigid dynamics.
    Exterior ballistics. Bomb dropping. Internal ballistics.” ( … on p 78 or 79)

    In 1946, Rice prof. C.W. Heaps published “A Laboratory Experiment on Bomb Dropping,” American Journal of Physics, XIV, No. 3 (May-June, 1946), 210–211. (Graduate Announcements for 1948-49, p. 67

    Predicting ballistic trajectories was one of the top research efforts for the U.S. military in the WWII timeframe (along with radar and the atom bomb). It was the first task given the women programmers of the ENIAC, the first general purpose electronic computer. (

    Maybe Peter Almond (see comments to has more info on this subject.

  2. mjthannisch says:

    I think I need to watch the movie too.

  3. George Webb '88, '91 says:

    “It’s the Curies! We must flee!”

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