Obituary: Townsend, 82; professor emeritus in physics, alum

Jonathan (Jack) Townsend, Ph.D., professor emeritus of physics in Arts & Sciences and a University alumnus, died Monday, Nov. 29, 2004. He was 82.

Townsend earned a bachelor’ degree in physics in 1943 from the University of Denver and a master’s in 1948 and a doctorate in physics in 1951, both from WUSTL. His doctoral dissertation was on positron studies.

He was named an assistant professor in 1951 and promoted to associate professor in 1957. He retired as professor emeritus in 1987.

Richard E. Norberg, Ph.D., professor of physics in Arts & Sciences, who knew Townsend for more than 50 years, referred to him as “an electronics wizard.”

According to Norberg, Townsend designed electronic instrumentation to meet other people’s research needs around campus, not just in physics.

“He took a very individualistic approach to designing electronics,” Norberg said. “He was a very hard worker and a valued associate. He is often credited in graduate students’ and other faculty’s papers for his contributions to their research.”

He played a major role in the design of electronic instrumentation for the University’s early nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electron spin resonance (ESR) research in the 1950s.

Interdepartmental research on NMR and ESR between George E. Pake, Ph.D., a former professor and chair of physics, and Norberg, with Arts & Sciences’ Samuel I. Weissman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of chemistry, and Barry Commoner, Ph.D., former professor of biology, drew heavily on Townsend’s skills.

“What he really loved was making things work,” Norberg said.

“He was the guy who made things work — electronic devices, mechanical devices. He built the apparatus not only for research but also for teaching purposes.”

After retiring, Townsend continued to work with students in the freshman laboratory.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Patricia Bassford Townsend.

Among the survivors are a daughter, Victoria Townsend Behrens; and a grandson, Michael Robert Behrens.

The interment was private.