University of Texas
Charles Winters Scherr
March 19, 1926–April 15, 2005

 

 

Charles Winters Scherr,
receiving a retirement gift from Chair Roy Schwitters.

 

Acknowledgement: (Helpful sources and a number of photos generously provided by David Macomber)

Charles Winters Scherr, Professor Emeritus of Physics, died on April 15, 2005. He was 79.

Charles Winters Scherr was born in 1926 in Lansdale Borough, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania to Edmond Samuel and Ruth Ettelson Scherr. Edmond Samuel, a Russian Jew, born 1886 in Kovno, Russia (later Lithuania) had immigrated to the US with his parents, Samuel and Ida Scherr, three brothers and a sister in 1896. Samuel, Charles' father, worked as a carpenter and later became a successful poultry dealer.

Charles was expected to join the family business when his father died in 1947. However, he had just returned from a two-year WWII stint in the U. S. Navy where he served in the Pacific as a radar repairman (Aviation Radio Technician, Third Class, on the sea plane tender, USS Norton Sound (AV-11). He had joined this ship in December 1945.

Charles was anxious to pursue an education in physics. He briefly attended Cornell but completed his BS at the University of Pennsylvania. He applied and was accepted to the graduate physics program at the University of Chicago where he earned an MS in 1951 and his PhD.in 1954. His research focused on numerical analysis problems requiring high accuracy, and theoretical spectroscopy related to simple systems like the helium atom. While a student he publish an important series of papers, Free-Electron Network Model for Conjugated Systems, 1, 2, 3, 4,with Klaus Ruedenberg.

For his PhD dissertation, Scherr, a student of Roothaan, completed the first all-electron computation for a molecule larger than H2, namely for N2. Here is a quote from Robert S. Mulliken about Scherr’s work,

“The first all-electron calculation at Chicago was done by C. W. Scherr for his PhD thesis published in 1955. It was a Roothaan-type LCAO-SCF (Linear Combination of Atomic Orbitals—self-consistent-field method) calculation on the nitrogen molecule using, however, what might be called a skeleton crew of AO’s in his LCAO expressions, a so-called minimal basis set. This calculation done by Scherr on desk computers with the help of two assistants took him two years. The same computation could now be repeated in about two minutes with the largest computers now available (1967)—provided, of course, that the preliminary work of writing the machine program had been done.”

 

 

Another reference to Scherr’s graduate work appeared in an article entitled “The Hyperbola of Quantum Chemistry: the Changing Practice and Identity of a Scientific Discipline in the Early Years of Electronic Digital Computers, 1945–1965, by Buhm Soon Park in Annals of Science, 60, (2003), 219-247. Park writes, “Despite the limited supply of electronic digital computers, the ab initio study of quantum chemistry took off in the mid-1950s. The work done by the Chicago group was particularly impressive. P. I. Merryman completed a program for the computation of exchange integrals on the Whirlwind computer (The Whirlwind computer was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1951. It was the first real-time, high-speed, digital computer using random-access, magnetic-core memory that took three years to build.), and Charles W. Scherr developed another program on the Remington Rand 1103 for all the two-centre integrals except the exchange ones. (The UNIVAC 1103 or ERA 1103, a successor to the UNIVAC 1101, was a computer system designed by Engineering Research Associates and built by the Remington Rand corporation in October 1953. It was the first computer for which Seymour Cray was credited with design work.) The experience gained from these two programs aided the completion of a powerful program, which featured automatic input and output for the computation of two-centre integrals.“

Professor Scherr came to UT in 1956, and his career spanned 48 years. At UT, he taught all levels of courses from introductory physics to advanced graduate level. His publications include 39 articles in refereed journals, two volumes of problems, and Free-Electron Theory of Conjugated Molecules, A Source Book, a book he co-authored with K. Ruedenberg, NS Ham, H. Labhart, and W. Lichten, (Wiley. New York, 1964) (papers of the Chicago group 1949-1961.) Charles wrote a number of articles for the American Journal of Physics, a journal dedicated to the improvement of college level physics instruction.

Between 1962-1963, Charles and his student, Robert E. Knight, wrote two paper entitled Two-Electron Atoms I and II. A Perturbation Study of Some Excited States. The first was published in Phys. Rev. 128, 2675 (1962) and the second in Revs. of Mod. Phys. 35, No. 3, July 1963. Charles gave an invited paper at the Alberta Symposium on Quantum Chemisty, Auguest 23–27 qt University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The paper was entitled Higher-Order Perturbation Theory for Excited States. The paper was based on the work of Scherr, Dr. Robert E. McKnight (special instructor) and graduate student, Frank Sanders.

In the 1980s, Charles conceived and developed a computerized, homework-grading program for use by the physics faculty. It was the first such use of the computer at Texas to individualize assignments. It was used in large, lower division classes for a number of years. Fred Moore further developed the idea, and it became the highly successful UT Homework Service.

Charles spoke fluent German and read Italian and Spanish with ease. He was a regular member of the weekly UT Stammtisch where German speakers of all levels came together for an hour of conversation and camaraderie. Charles translated and suggested publication of an article by Max Born on the “Blessings and Evils of Space Travel”. It was was published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Oct, 1966.

Charles first married Estelle Roman in 1952, and they had one child, Eve Susan Scherr. They were divorced in 1970 and he married Susie Lightfoot who had two daughters, Pamela Gail Nevison and Alaina Beth Bailey from a previous marriage. Charles and Susie had one son, Paul Nathaniel Scherr.

Charles retired from UT in 1997. Though he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that same year, he continued to consult for a number of years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Winters Scherr Photo Album

Charles W. Scherr, seaman 1945–1947
Charles W. Scherr, at work
Charles W. Scherr
Charles W. Scherr

 

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