The V. stood for Vermillion and impish students called him Red behind his back. He was a dignified man, calm and thoughtful, and to think of him with such a silly nickname always brings a smile to my face.
After yesterday’s post with pictures of him with Vannevar Bush and J. Robert Oppenheimer I realized that I’d never put up anything about his academic accomplishments, which were significant. As is often the case the best overview of such a career is the National Academy of Science biographical memoir written by his colleagues Kenneth Pitzer and Bud Rohrschach. As a scholar Houston was the real thing, a peer of the most eminent physicists of the era, a member of the National Academy, and decorated by the Navy for his work in undersea warfare during World War II. (Here’s a bunch of them at Cal Tech in an earlier post.)
If you get through this and want more, here’s a link to a 1964 oral history interview he gave at the American Institute of Physics web site. Even if you don’t want to get down in the weeds it’s worth it to skip around until you find the bit about the ping pong matches in Werner Heisenberg’s lab .
Bonus: The name plate on his desk had a tiny torpedo on it.