Will named McDonnell professor of physics

Clifford M. Will, Ph.D., has been named the James S. McDonnell Professor of Physics in Arts & Sciences, announced Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., executive vice chancellor, dean of Arts & Sciences and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

A installation ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 14 in Holmes Lounge.

Will is known worldwide as one of the leading experts in using experimental and observational data to explain Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Clifford Will
Clifford Will

A theoretical physicist, his research interests encompass the observational and astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, including gravitational radiation, black holes, cosmology and the physics of curved spacetime.

“Cliff does it all,” Macias said. “He has written journal articles and books that are fascinating and important to specialists and nonspecialists.

“His teaching is outstanding, and he has played important leadership roles at the University, including expertly leading the physics department for 10 years. I highly value him as a colleague.”

Will said, “It is a special honor to be named to this professorship because of its association with two individuals who have meant so much to Washington University and to me. The first is James McDonnell, whose generosity and vision made possible the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, of which I am proud to be a member.

“The second is Bob Walker, the first McDonnell professor, whom I liked and greatly admired as a scientist, and who helped convince me to come to Washington University almost 25 years ago.”

Will’s Was Einstein Right? (1986) was reviewed in The New York Times and also made the newspaper’s “Christmas Books” list that year. The book, which focuses on Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the experiments designed to test it, won the highly coveted American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award, which is given annually to the best popular science book.

A second edition was published in 1993, and at last count, it has been translated into 10 languages.

His Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics (1981) is considered the bible of the field. It was revised in 1993.

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences since 2002, Will has received many honors and awards. In 1986, the American Association of Physics Teachers selected Will as its 46th annual Richtmyer Memorial Lecturer.

In 1989, he was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society, and in 1996-97 he was named both a J. William Fulbright Fellow and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow.

Will, who has been referred to as one of the best lecturers in physics, received the 2004 Fellows Award from the Academy of Science of St. Louis for making Einstein’s theory accessible to the public and for making a significant impact on the public understanding of science.

A frequently invited lecturer worldwide, Will has accepted invitations to more than 25 World Year of Physics conferences and outreach activities in 2005, including participating in a 15-event public lecture tour of his native Canada and presenting lectures in Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Japan.

Will is active in many professional organizations and is serving a three-year term as president of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics in 1968 from McMaster University, followed three years later by a doctorate in physics from California Institute of Technology.

Will came to Washington University in 1981 as an associate professor of physics after seven years at Stanford University.

Prior to that, he was an Enrico Fermi Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Chicago for two years.

He became a full professor in 1985 and served two terms as department chair (1991-96; 1997-2002).

The James S. McDonnell Professorship of Physics was established in 1966 to create a chair in space physics. James S. McDonnell, who founded the McDonnell Aircraft Corp. in 1939, was keenly interested in building up the space sciences at the University.

McDonnell served as a member and then as chair of the WUSTL Board of Trustees in the 1960s. McDonnell Aircraft merged with Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1967 to become the McDonnell Douglas Corp.

Walker, Ph.D., was a renowned leader in the laboratory analysis of materials from interplanetary and interstellar space and was the inaugural director of the McDonnell Center. He died Feb. 12, 2004.