Walker symposium to cover numerous scientific topics

The Robert M. Walker Symposium will be held March 6-7 in Crow Hall, Room 201.

The symposium will consist of invited talks and contributed posters, covering a wide array of scientific topics. The posters will be available for viewing in Compton Hall, rooms 241 and 245, throughout the meeting.

The symposium’s name honors Walker, Ph.D., professor of physics in Arts & Sciences.

“The aim is not only to pay tribute to Professor Walker’s past achievements — considerable as they are — but to focus on the foundation he has laid through the establishment of the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, the unique atmosphere of the Compton Hall ‘fourth floor’ and the guidance and direction he has provided for countless students, postdocs and other colleagues,” said symposium co-chair Christine Floss, Ph.D., senior research scientist in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences.

The more than 20 presentations at the symposium will feature current and former members of the McDonnell Center and will emphasize the diverse research directions taken by those who have worked with Walker.

A small booklet will be published with the symposium program, as well as stories and photos about Walker and life in his lab.

In addition, a special commemorative issue of Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta will be dedicated to Walker. This issue will be published in late summer or fall.

Walker was the first director of the McDonnell Center, which was established at the University in 1975 through a gift from the late James S. McDonnell.

Walker built an interdisciplinary center for the space sciences and astrophysics that spans several departments and involves more than 80 faculty members, research scientists and students. He also helped revitalize the geology department, now the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

“With the institution of the McDonnell Center, Dr. Walker has created a lasting legacy for the space sciences at Washington University,” said the center’s present director, Roger Phillips, Ph.D., geophysics professor in the earth and planetary sciences department. “It is my hope that we may continue to encourage and support the high quality research in the space sciences that Dr. Walker so ably fostered.”

Prior to joining the University as the McDonnell Professor of Physics in 1966, Walker spent 12 years as a research physicist at the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y.

He has held visiting positions at the University of Paris (1962-63); Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1964-65); California Institute of Technology (1972); the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, India (1980); and Institut d’Astrophysique in Paris (1981).

His work in the late 1950s on defects in irradiated copper still is regarded as the final word in that area. In the early 1960s, Walker’s discovery of fossil nuclear particle tracks in minerals led to new developments in geochronology and cosmic ray physics.

In particular, his discovery of tracks from nuclei heavier than iron opened a new frontier of cosmic ray physics. He subsequently pioneered the use of plastics to measure such nuclei in cosmic ray balloon flights.

Walker was a member of the NASA committee that allocated samples of the first returned lunar materials. His laboratory at Washington University played an important role in the samples’ initial study, using the moon rocks to measure the past history of solar radiation and cosmic rays.

Long interested in the application of science to international development, Walker was a founder and the first president of Volunteers in Technical Assistance, a volunteer organization of more than 5,000 engineers and scientists who work on practical problems relevant to developing countries.

His recent achievements include the design of micrometeorite capture cells that were flown aboard NASA’s Long Duration Exposure Facility; the verification of the extraterrestrial origin of stratospheric dust particles; and the successful search for in situ interstellar grains in meteorites.