University of Texas
John Walter Clark
April 7, 1935–



John Walter Clark

John Walter Clark

John Walter Clark was born April 7, 1935, in Lockhart, TX. He earned a BS 1955, and an MA 1957 in physics at the University of Texas. He received his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis in 1959 under the supervision of Eugene Feenberg. During the years 1959 to 1963 he was successively a NSF Postdoctoral Fellow with Eugene Wigner at Princeton University, an associate research scientist at the Martin Company, Denver, and a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow both at the University of Birmingham, England, and the French nuclear research establishment in Saclay. He joined the Washington University faculty in 1963 as Assistant Professor of Physics and was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1965. He was promoted to associate professor in 1966 and full professor in 1972, and he served as interim chair of the Department of Physics during 1996-1997. In 1987 he was awarded the Eugene Feenberg Medal for Many-Body Physics. Clark was honored by being selected as the Wayman Crow Professor of Physics in 1999. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

Dr. Clark shared some stories about his days in the physics department at the University of Texas.

“Reading about Mather and Romberg brings back memories of what my mother told me about her years as a student at UT (she was the first among four generations of my close Texas relatives to attend college). She stayed in a rooming house for women students run by Mather and his wife (I suppose it was their own very large home). My mother took introductory physics from Romberg; Mather kindly helped her out when she had difficulty.

Oddly, I met Claude Horton (senior) when I was a young boy growing up in Lockhart. Just after WWII, when he came to UT, he rented an apartment either over or next to the neighborhood grocery across the street and down an alley from our house. I remember being invited upstairs during one of my trips to the grocery. He was the first physicist I ever met, and, already fascinated with science, I was duly impressed. I must have been about 11 at the time. I finished high school a year early, and with summer school, I was already a junior when I began my third semester at UT—thus eligible for TA duty. My first assignment was as a grader for Claude. I was a TA from that point until the summer of 1956, when I was an RA with Walter Millett, just before leaving for WU. Since my parents were of moderate means, my TA income certainly made a difference. A very welcome surprise came from then Chair Malcolm Colby, who decided that I should receive the Schlumberger award ($500, an astronomical amount to me) in my senior year. The tuition at UT was $25/semester when I was there 1952-1956.

I had the book by Eugene Feenberg (Texas graduate), Shell Theory of the Nucleus, under my arm when I went to faculty member Joe Grosskreutz for advice about where to go for graduate school. Then a relatively recent PhD from Washington University, he saw the book and strongly recommended that I go there and work with Feenberg. I applied both to WU and Caltech, was accepted to both, but chose WU, primarily because of Feenberg.

After graduating from WU, I was recruited for a faculty position at UT by Harold Hanson, first in 1961 and again around 1966. I often wonder how things would have evolved differently if I had not chosen to stay at WU.

Several of my contemporaries chose to work at Los Alamos on completing their PhDs. Three that stand out are John L. Richter, Michael Henderson, both UT PhDs, and William Gibbs (Rice PhD). Richter and Henderson worked behind the fence, and so I don't know anything specific about their contributions to nuclear weapons research, but heard rumors that they were quite important. Richter became a group director in X-division. During the spy controversy surrounding Wen Ho Li (1999?), Richter testified at a congressional hearing, and he was referred to by the New York Times as "a legendary weapons designer." Bill Gibbs has had a splendid career (mostly at Los Alamos) in basic nuclear theory (not weapons related) and is now department head at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces.”