ROBERT NARVAEZ LITTLE, JR.
Robert N. Little, Jr., professor of physics and science education at the University of Texas at Austin and internationally renowned leader in physics education, died in Austin on May 21, 1986, at the age of 73.
For the latter half of his life, Bob Little's primary interest and efforts were dedicated to increasing the use and understanding of science in two special ways: precollege physical science, and physics development in Central and South America.
In the late 1950s, concerned that precollege science instruction was not effective in motivating young people to an interest in science, he began a project that was to dominate the remainder of his life. Together with Tom Slater from the Texas Education Agency, Jack Montague of the University of Texas Science Education Center, and Max Bolen of the University of Texas at El Paso, he worked to develop a new instructional format for the teaching of middle school science in Texas. Anticipating current trends based on the psychological insights of Piaget by using discovery methods with a strong emphasis on observation of phenomena, they prepared materials for a course that replaced composite introductory science taught at this level. Not content merely to write a course description and prepare several classroom exercises, Little worked to effectively transfer it to the schools. He began by taking time from his busy schedule at the university to teach it at a nearby school; he organized, sponsored, and participated in numerous teacher workshops; he introduced, into the university curriculum, a course, based on similar methods, which would introduce future teachers to the physical sciences in the same phenomenological intuitive way; he forcefully and effectively carried his message to the national level at colloquiums and meetings. Although there is no quantitative estimate of Little's impact at the national level, today 90 percent of the students in Texas take this ninth grade physical science course.
At the same time he was working to develop this new instructional format, Little worked hard to support other efforts to promote quality science instruction. He played a leadership role in the development of the Texas section of the American Association of Physics Teachers, serving as chairman from 1958 to 1960. The special significance of his contributions to physics education in Texas was recognized in 1978 when he was selected by the Texas Section of the AAPT as the first recipient of its award for Outstanding Contributions to Physics in Higher Education in Texas. He also supported the National AAPT. He chaired the International Physics Teacher Editorial Board, and he served as the 33rd president (1970–1971) of the AAPT. It was at the 1969 Denver joint meeting of the American Physical Society and American Association of Physics Teachers, where he was attending as president-elect and had organized a special session on "Physics Before the Senior Level," that he suffered his first heart attack.
His interest in promoting the quality of the physics instruction and research in Central and South America stemmed from his Texas origins (he was born in Houston on March 11, 1913) and his ability to speak Spanish. He felt that UT Austin was uniquely placed to be able to assist in the development of science in the Central and South American countries, and that an indigenous strength in physics would be an essential prerequisite to that development. He was able to support these beliefs effectively with specific actions. In the early 1960s, he was a member of a mission to evaluate multinational physics projects of the Organization of American States. His close involvement with physicists and physics teachers in Central and South America and the Caribbean continued to grow throughout his lifetime. Most summers for his last 20 years were spent working with fellow physicists and physics teachers in workshops in this region. He was a founding member of the Sociedad Centroamericana y del Caribe de Fisica and the prime mover behind the recent establishment of the Congreso Inter-Americano de Enseñanza de la Fisica, which held its first conference in Mexico in 1987. Through his goodwill, numerous students from Central and South America have traveled to Austin to pursue graduate-level studies in physics and then returned home to teach and do research in physics and to strengthen the ties of friendship in our hemisphere. When Bob Little began his involvement with the Organization of American States' mission to evaluate physics projects, it was "found that no one had a physics background in the Central American universities; all the physics teachers had degrees in engineering, mathematics, or pharmacy." Twenty-five years later, the dramatic improvement that has occurred is due in large measure to the efforts of our colleague.
Bob Little was an experimental nuclear physicist. His first research involved studies of fast neutron scattering from heavy elements. This work, started as part of his PhD dissertation and completed in 1943 at Rice University, provided the basis of all his latter scientific interests. He returned to these studies at Texas after a brief period as an assistant professor at the University of Oregon and as a research scientist working during the war on airborne fire control systems. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he performed some of the early measurements of polarized neutron from D-D reactions. Later, his interests turned to reactor physics, particularly design of lightweight reactors for portable and airborne systems. This work was carried out through consulting arrangements with a number of laboratories including Los Alamos, Sandia, Bendix, Texas Nuclear, and Kaman Nuclear. In 1953, he joined General Dynamics in Fort Worth, serving as chief of nuclear physics until 1955 when he returned to UT Austin as professor of physics. From 1953–1973 he served as the University of Texas representative on the Council of Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
Robert N. Little was an active teacher and tireless colleague until his untimely death. We never saw him idle; he introduced a new upper-division physical science course into the curriculum during the spring semester of 1986. He constantly reminded us of the importance of making science accessible, and then, he showed us how it could be done. The void left by his passing will not be filled. It cannot be; the best we can do is work around it.
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Austin M. Gleeson (chair physics department), the University of Texas at Austin, Jórge Antillon, Universidad del Valle, Guatemala, and Robert Beck Clark, Texas A&M University.
Robert N. “Bob” Little, Jr. was born March 11, 1913, in Houston, Texas to Robert (1860–1931) and Lillian Forrest (1881–1960) Little.
Robert Sr. (at left) was born in Chulafinnee, Alabama and worked as a mechanic and farmer. He attended Sam Houston Normal School at Huntsville, Texas. In 1891, he graduated at age 32 from Peabody Normal, a teacher's college in Nashville that later became George Peabody College. He had gone at age 30 on a scholarship. He married his first wife, Caroline Louise Gilchrist in 1896 while serving as principal of Taylor School. He was widowed four years later following the birth of their daughter, Ruth Marion (1898–1983).
On August 13, 1909, in New Orleans, he married Lillian Forrest Kinney (at right), who was born in Tennessee. He had changed professions, becoming a real estate agent in Houston, TX. He continued this profession until his death in 1931.
Robert and Lillian had five children, two boys and three girls, Lillian Dorothy (1911-2007), Robert N. Jr. (1913–1986), Fred Henry (May 13, 1914–1992), Sterling Edward (1915–1982) and Sarah Virginia Jean (1919–1983). Four of the children are show in the picture below. They are from left to right: Fred, Sterling, Robert Jr. and Lillian, 1918.
The next year, Jean was born. All five are pictured on their front porch in Houston in 1920. Again left to right are Sterling, Robert Jr., Fred, Lillian holding Jean and friend Caroline Seale.
Robert Jr., shown at left in 1925, graduated from high school in 1929 at the age of 16. He entered the University of Texas that fall to study aeronautical engineering. After two years in the program, his father died, the Depression hit, and he spent the next year in a hospital recovering from an automobile colliding with his motorcycle. Financial necessity forced a transfer to Rice University ($45/year tuition and living at home). At Rice, he studied mathematics, physics, German and French. Engineering was out because his damaged leg eliminated a surveying laboratory.
Robert (at right) graduated in 1936 and stayed an extra year for graduate study in mathematics.
He next took a job doing seismic prospecting on a Shell Oil Company crew working in the swamps along the Gulf coast.
Below are Bob and his brother, Fred, enjoying the beach.
Four years later, “hankering for more physics” he returned to Rice where the only current research going on was in low energy experimental nuclear physics.
In 1943, Bob met Betty Joe Browning at Rice University. Betty, born in Athens, TX had come to Houston to work for a law firm and attend Rice University. They were married that same year. His dissertation was entitled, Neutron scattering by magnesium. After receiving the PhD in 1943, they spent a year in the Physics Department of the University of Oregon where Robert taught physics to officer candidates in the Army Student Training Program. Here is an except about the program from the 1943 Oregon yearbook.
“IN RECOGNITION of the fact that the swift-moving global warfare of today is fought with brains as well as brawn, 775 ASTU students arrived on the campus to bring World War II that much closer to the University. Marching khaki uniforms and the barking "March! Hut! Hut!" have become as familiar as the 'tin pants' and 'ducks' of former years. Hard-working members of the two divisions of the Army Special Training Unit, foreign area and language and basic engineering include college graduates, successful business men, prominent educators, and men who qualified with high-school education. Some had acquired PhDs at large eastern universities before stepping into the routine of rigorous ASTU schedules. Under the strict military discipline and orders of the day emanating from the headquarters of Major W. S. Averill, who heads Oregon's ASTU program, the soldier students receive four hours weekly tactical instructions and an hour of close order drill. The men of John Straub Hall often carry 24 hours of academic subjects, plus an additional eleven in military and physical education. The ASTU work begins at 8 a. m., and taps are blown at 10:30 p. m. Academic schedules are similar to those of civilian students and are followed by approximately 27 sections. The training program is part of a nation-wide system put into effect recently by the government. Through the army, the War Department contracted with the university for housing, food, instruction, and a physical education program. Following three terms of twelve weeks each, some will receive advanced training at other schools or will be further classified according to examination results. The slide rule and an educated tongue are to play increasingly important parts in the final Allied victory and postwar plans.”
Bob’s military classification was 4F because of the damaged leg and extreme myopia. This was disappointing as his two brothers were in the service. Fred (at left) and Sterling (right) had served in the Navy. Sterling enlisted in 1942 (serving until 1959). In 1944, anxious to continue to serve the war effort, Bob accepted an offer from the Military Physics Laboratory of the University of Texas to work in a project on the testing of air-borne fire control systems for the U.S. Army Air Force. Two years later, in 1946, Bob joined the UT Physics Department as a faculty member.
In 1948, Bob and Betty had a son, Scott Robert Little (at left), who became a successful engineer. A daughter, Emily Browning Little (at right), arrived in 1951. Emily became an important architect in the Austin, TX community.
Bob had a very distinguished career as physicist and educator, the details are described on this web page. He died in 1986, and Betty died in 2013. Both are interred in Austin Memorial Park cemetery.
In 1946, I began teaching in the Physics Department of The University of Texas, three classes of 250 students each per semester! The summers of 1948, 1949 and 1950 were spent at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory doing neutron scattering experiments and designing a compact 10 kV D-T neutron source. In 1953, Convair (now General Dynamics/Fort Worth) induced me to get a leave of absence and work with them on the nuclear propulsion of aircraft project. This work started before the leave could begin so, for a semester, the schedule was three classes on Monday, train ride to Fort Worth Monday night, work at Convair on Tuesday, fly to Austin Tuesday evening, then repeat the schedule for the rest of the week (including Saturday). The leave of absence was complete for two years, and I continued as a two-days-per-week consultant four more years until the project was terminated. During this period, my group built two nuclear reactors, operating one to determine radiation damage effects on aircraft systems and the other was operated while flying in a modified B-36 to study radiation shielding problems in a flying airplane. By this time, the National Science Foundation Institutes for Teachers was in full swing, and I became involved to the point of being an instructor or director of some twenty of them. It was this experience that caused me to understand something about the problems of a high school teacher of physics. The Texas Education Agency intensified its efforts to improve the teaching of physics and focused its attention on junior high school physical science which is the last physics or chemistry taken by 75% of the people of the United States. In Texas, it is taught by teachers, 50% of whom have had no further physics than what they got in the ninth grade physical science course. To help these teachers, the TEA asked a group of six, two university physicists, two university chemists, and two experienced good junior high school teachers, to write a Resource Guide for Ninth Grade Physical Science. The resulting Guide emphasizes observations by the students by describing hundreds of possible student activities and explaining to the teacher what kinds of logical inferences are possible from these observations. In testing the Guide, I taught two sections of ninth grade Physical Science in the high school in Blanco, Texas (in addition to my regular university teaching load), in the manner prescribed by the Guide. The students liked it very much, but we did shorten and modify some of the activities as a result. The school had zero equipment, and we had to improvise, even to the point of wiring the room for electricity. At the beginning of the second semester of teaching at Blanco, I was inaugurated as AAPT president (1970), and that night in Denver suffered a heart attack. A semester of rest gave practically complete recovery.
In 1965, the NSF ran down the list of the National Roster of Scientific Manpower to find a physicist who could (1) speak Spanish and (2) be free to attend a conference in Costa Rica on a certain date to plan a faculty development program in the basic sciences for the universities of Central America. The first candidate meeting the conditions was I, and this involvement continues today. The first planned activity of the program was to take all the promising young faculty possible outside the country to give them the advanced undergraduate physics courses lacking in Central America. At this time, only one individual in the entire region had a MS degree in physics, but he was Rector of the University of Panama and naturally had no time to teach. This group of twelve came to the University of Texas where I proposed to teach them physics in Spanish until they learned English well enough to take the regular course offerings. In these two years, I really learned Spanish. The other major activity was the initiation of an annual session of short, intensive courses in physics for those faculty who could not leave the country. The seat of the session is, in each country, in a fixed sequence, to allow the maximum participation. The participant numbers average about fifty in recent sessions and the sessions now include courses for secondary school teachers. The most recent was CURCCAF XVII in Managua, Nicaragua in July 1983. I have taught in all but three of the sessions. The momentum generated by the program has resulted in each department in each country now having at least two faculty members holding the PhD in physics and several holding master's degrees. The Universidad del Valle granted the first PhD in history from a Central American university in 1976 to Dr. Jorge R. Antillon M. (I was an external member of his supervisory committee). It is the only such degree, as of November 1983. The experience in teaching high school classes showed very clearly that the regular university physics courses are of little help to the junior high school teacher and of no help at all to the elementary teacher of science.
Using a modification of the TEA Physical Science Resource Guide, our Physics Department introduced a two-semester guided discovery laboratory course intended for prospective teachers in 1970. It has proven to be popular as a science elective to students in other major programs. About 15,000 students have taken the course in sections of twenty-four under some 150 instructors. The text has been translated into Spanish and used by me and others in over twenty workshops in Latin American countries. Prompted by a two-weeks visit to universities in China (24 October–6 November 1983), my latest project is to learn to speak and read the Chinese language; it will be my first non-Indo-European language. Our three grandchildren (8,6 and 3) live in Austin and absorb much of our free time in sharing their enthusiasm for nature, science and game playing. Mahjong is the latest favorite.
A serious philatelist I am not, but I can't throwaway foreign stamps and have accumulated a good many. A retired physicist in Romania, Prof. Traian M. Popescu, and I exchange the current stamps of our countries, and my colleague Galina Seergevna Tarasjok at Moscow State University keeps me supplied with Russian stamps. I have an account with the Post Office in Guatemala for automatic purchase of each new issue. My study houses a collection of several hundred science fiction paperbacks dating back to 1940. About thirty of these are translations into Spanish and proved most helpful in enlarging my Spanish vocabulary.
Comment by Harold “Hal” Schmitt, PhD 1954, former student of Robert N. Little
I was, I believe, student number 3 or 4 in a program initiated shortly after WWII, whereby a University of Texas graduate student in nuclear physics could complete course work at UT-Austin and do his doctoral dissertation work at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. I was, and remain, enormously appreciative of this program, of the opportunities it opened, and of the start it gave me in my career. I especially appreciate the supervision and support in that period of Drs. Robert Little and Al Graves, and earlier profound influences in graduate school at UT of Drs. Darrell Hughes and Wilson Nolle. After graduation in 1954 with a PhD, I went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where I was a researcher and group leader in nuclear physics for almost 20 years, publishing over 80 scientific papers and co-founding ORTEC, Inc., a nuclear instrumentation company. I’ve retired now, having served as president of two other technology companies and having served as professor of engineering management in the graduate school of the University of Tennessee for ten years to 1999.
"No photo, closed casket." These were often repeated instructions delivered by our Mother so we will obey her wish one last time. She passed away peacefully on May 12, 2013, at age 93, after a long and wonderful life.
Betty Little never knew a stranger and enjoyed a bounty of friends of all ages. She loved a good joke, a country song with slightly suggestive lyrics, and as her cousin Muriel said, she just loved to "sit and laugh and talk."
Betty was raised in Athens, Texas, and moved to Houston after high school to work for a law firm and attend Rice University where she met and married Robert N. Little, Jr., in 1943. Betty and Bob enjoyed 43 years of marriage until his death in 1986, and she often said that "Bob opened up the world for her." They traveled extensively together and enjoyed many a great adventure, particularly living for a semester in Madrid, Spain. Betty was a wonderful hostess, and for decades, entertained lifelong friends, students and scholars from across the globe in her Austin home with her husband. Their two children, Scott and Emily, were the fortunate ones to be raised by loving, supportive parents in a house full of interesting people who conveyed to them the gifts of curiosity and wonder.
Betty was an active member and president of The University Ladies Club and Faculty Wives Club and was a proud member of the "Bodacious Babes" lunch group. She doted on her three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and was often seen squeezing the chubby legs of any baby she might see in a restaurant.
She is survived by son Scott Little and his wife Stephanie, daughter Emily Little, grandchildren Jascha Little, Shea Little and wife Jana Swec, and Maris
sa Little and husband Chad Nickle, and four great-grandchildren, Cai, Olive, Willa and Mexia. Betty is preceded in death by her husband, Robert N. Little, her parents Oscar and Tommie Browning, her sisters Neville Browning and Zelda Wiley, and her brother James Browning.
The family deeply appreciates the loving attention of nephew and niece, Dennis and Chris Cavner, and the care given by the staff at the Summit at Northwest Hills in Austin where Betty enjoyed many friends who also loved to "sit and laugh and talk."
A graveside memorial service will be held at Austin Memorial Park at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions will be deeply appreciated: R. N. Little Fellowship, c/o Office of CNS Dean, U. of Texas, 120 Inner Campus Dr. Stop 2500, Austin, TX, 78712.
Robert N. LIttle
|6/1936-9/1940||The Shell Oil Company||Assistant Seismologist||$120-187.50/mo.|
|9/1940-6/1941||The Rice Institute||Student|
|6/1941-9/1941||The Shell Oil Company||Draftsman||$150/mo.|
|9/1941-6/1942||The Rice Institute||Fellow In Physics||$80/mo.|
|6/1942-9/1942||The Shell Oil Company||Assistant Seismologist||$200/mo.|
|9/1942-12/ 1943||The Rice Institute||Fellow In Physics||$80/mo.-$250/mo.|
|12/1943-4/1944||University of Oregon||Assistant Professor of Physics||$350/mo.|
|4/1944-3/1946||The University of Texas||Testing Supervisor||$450/mo.|
|3/1946-6/1948||The University of Texas||Assistant Professor of Physics||$450-$633/mo.|
|6/1948-9/1948||Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory||Associate Scientist||$400/mo.|
|9/1948-6/1949||The University of Texas||Associate Professor of Physics||$683/mo.|
|6/1949-9/1949||Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory||Consultant||$20/day - expenses|
|9/1949-6/1950||The University of Texas||Associate Professor of Physics||$569/mo.|
|6/1950-9/1950||Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory||Consultant||$20/day - expenses|
|9/1951-6/1953||The University of Texas||Associate Professor of Physics||$583/mo.|
|6/1953-9/1955||Convair||Manager, Nuclear Research & Development||$16,000-$22 ,500/yr.|
|11/1955-||The University of Texas||Professor of Physics||$777-$1090/mo.|
Robert N. Little Eulogy
Tomorrow, a young man from Guatemala receives his Ph.D. in physics at UT. His work was supervised by a Nobel prizewinning scientist. This young man will soon be off to Switzerland to continue his work at the very forefront of physics. If, like Hansel and Gretel, Jascha, Shea and Marissa Little were to follow the bread crumbs around this bright young man they would lead directly to their grandfather, Bob Little. It is undeniable that Bob Little's vision made this student's dream a reality. Bob's legacy is that this joyous event tomorrow will be repeated again and again as it has been. There are many paths that begin at Bob's feet, they lead to every physicist in Central America, to Spain, to Mexico, to Brazil, to Venezuela, to the schoolhouses in the fifty states, and more recently, to China and the Soviet Union.
Bob's decision to assemble a struggling group of Central American physics teachers in Austin and raise, significantly, their knowledge of physics was clearly a watershed for physics in these countries. He gave them pride in their work and raised, dramatically, their expectations and those of their students. His name is much revered by this growing community of scientists and teachers. III health prevented him recently from attending his Honorary Doctorate presentation in Guatemala. Bob has reminded us that one man can still make a difference, a lesson we so comfortably forget. We know Bob Little cannot be replaced. However, inspired by his lifelong dedication to excellence, our resolve must be, we will do more. It is the least that he would expect of us.
It is crystal clear why you sent us Bob Little. You wished to show us that a fine scientist could be an outstanding educator, a dedicated public servant, a loving husband and companion, a patient and helpful father, an interested and caring grandfather, a loyal colleague and friend, a good neighbor to all and a gentleman. All who knew him are indebted to you for this gift: It is not so clear why you have taken him away. It could be as Poe said that the winged seraphs of heaven coveted the love we felt for him. Paradise will undoubtedly be a better place because he is there, but earth will be the
poorer. Care for him and his family. He is dearly missed.
Remarks and prayer by Dr. Melvin Oakes at graveside services for R. N. Little.
Funds distributed from the endowment shall be used to provide financial support to graduate students from Central America who study physics at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Robert N. Little Graduate Fellowship in Physics was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on September 26, 2002, for the benefit of the College of Natural Sciences. Gift funds were provided by Scott R. Little of Austin, Texas, a 1970 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering, Mrs. Stephanie Little of Austin, Texas, and the R. Stanton Avery Foundation of Pasadena, California*. This endowment was given as a tribute to Dr. Robert N. Little in honor of his long and outstanding service as a University of Texas Professor of Physics. Through this gift the donors seek to continue his lifelong work dedicated to improving physics education in Central America.
*Philanthropist Dennis S. Avery
Former assistant dean will be remembered for his support and friendship
SAN DIEGO, July 25, 2012 - California Western mourns the passing of alumnus, philanthropist, and former Associate Dean Dennis S. Avery, 70, who died July 23, 2012 after a brief illness.
Avery remained a vital part of the law school community long after his graduation from the Point Loma campus. He served as Assistant and Associate Dean from 1979 to 1985 and was a lifetime patron of the California Western Law Review, for which he wrote and served on the editorial board as a student.
He was a loyal, engaged, and passionate philanthropist. With California Western School of Law as a major philanthropic focus, Avery contributed more than $2 million to the law school. His support and dedication ranged from specific campus programs, such as Proyecto ACCESO, to the support for student scholarship endowments.
Together with his wife Sally Wong-Avery ’83, Avery contributed to numerous causes in the U.S. and abroad, including the Chinese School of San Diego, the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University, and numerous social and educational causes through their Avery-Tsui Foundation.
Avery is well-known for his Galleta Meadows Estate in Borrego Springs, Calif., which houses a collection of more than 35 life-sized and larger than life-sized bronze statues of prehistoric and indigenous animals of the Borrego desert.
“Dennis was more than an alumnus or a former faculty member, he was a friend,” says Dean Steven R. Smith. “We are deeply saddened by this sudden loss of someone who meant so much to so many in our community. Our thoughts are with Dennis’ wife Sally and the many family members and friends who mourn him.”
The son of the founders of the Avery Dennison office supply company, Avery is survived by his wife Sally, children Halina, Christopher, Sara, Theodore, and Natasha; granddaughter Halina, brother Russell, and sister Judith.
Robert N. Little Photo Album