Walter E. Millett, age 86, died August 24, 2003, at Trinity Care Center in San Antonio, Texas following a stroke.
He was born July 26, 1917, in East Moline, Illinois, to Frank Blake. and Mary Millett. Frank and Mary had a retail fruit business. Frank was born in Iowa and Mary in Missouri. Walter's siblings included Melvin, Ruth and Frank D. Jr. . He attended Central High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, graduating in 1935; he enrolled at the University of Florida where he received his BS (1940) and his MS (1942) in physics and mathematics. He then spent three and a half years at the prestigious MIT Radiation Laboratory, where, during World War II, large-scale research at the “RadLab” was devoted to the rapid development of microwave radar. Nearly half of the radar deployed in World War II was designed in this lab. Walter worked at the RadLab under the direction of Professor Ed Purcell (eventual Nobel Laureate) on microwave antennas. The purpose of the work was to improve the resolution of radar systems by shifting from 10 cm to 3 cm and finally to 1.25 cm systems. Aircraft would better accommodate the smaller antennas. Unfortunately, absorption due to atmospheric humidity severely limited the 1.25 systems.
On May 29, 1944, Walter married Barbara Twigg in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Following the war, he enrolled in graduate school at Harvard University in physics. He received his PhD in 1949 under the supervision of Professor K.T. Bainbridge, known for his mass spectrographs and precise test of the relation E=mc2. Walter’s thesis studied relativistic charged particle focusing in crossed electric and magnetic fields. Following graduation, he accepted an Atomic Energy Commission Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cal Tech under Professor W.R. Smythe, widely recognized for his graduate text on electricity and magnetism. These work experiences shaped Walter’s lifelong interest in electricity and magnetism. Leaving California, he returned to the University of Florida as a lecturer (1950) and assistant professor (1951).
In 1952, Walter joined the University of Texas physics department as an assistant professor. At Texas, he conducted an active research program in positron annihilation, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. He was a pioneer in the use of this technique to determine the momentum distributions of electrons in both solids and liquids. It was at least a decade before his competitors were able to match the quality of data he was able to obtain. In 1957, he was promoted to associate professor. In the summer of 1960, Walter did positron annihilation studies at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was promoted to professor in 1962. He went on modified service in 1982 and was appointed professor emeritus in 1987.
During his years at UT, Walter carried out a number of major revisions of undergraduate physics laboratories. He taught a celebrated junior course in electricity and magnetism in which students were required to provide part of the lectures. Many students have testified to the wonderful in-class discussions and the intuition and skills they developed in the class.
Walter’s research in positron annihilation produced over fourteen MA and fifteen PhD students. His relationship with his students continued long after they were granted degrees. During the later part of his career, he shared a laboratory with the late Professor Arthur Lockenvitz, and the two participated in photon experiments. After his retirement, Walter continued working on a physics problem that his family affectionately called his “yellow pages'' since it was written on familiar yellow tablets. This work was devoted to providing a model of the photon and occupied a large portion of his time until his death.
Walter had a passion for growing and tending flowers and was an avid walker, never missing his daily two-mile hike. He was willing to tackle almost any project. Despite his advanced age, he was building brick fences and patio structures at the time of his stroke.
Walter's wife Barbare Twigg, was born in Waltham, MA to Horace C and Phillis Abbott Twigg. Sadly Barbara ssuffered from the disease, Huntington's Chorea. Her later years wear very difficult for Walter and Barbara. Eventually Barbara had to be institutionalized. Walter was a surpportive husband throughout this nine year ordeal. Barbara died in Austin State Hospital in Austin on March 3, 1975.
On March 26, 1975, Walter married Ethel Grant Long in Hays County, Texas.. (A drawing by Ethel is at right.) He is survived by three step children, Wilbur Long and wife, Leslie, of Wassau, Florida; John Long of Austin, Texas; and Allene Ramsey and husband, David, of Sylva, North Carolina; by grandchildren, Sam Long, Noreen Long, Eric Long, Sean Long, Ryan Long, Kevin Long, Erin Bock, Amber Whitlow, and Matthew Ramsey; by two great-grandchildren, Christopher Long and Evan Long. He was preceded in death by both wives.
Walter and Ethel (1916–2012) are buried in Cook-Walden Memorial Hill Cemetery
Plot: Founders Haven Section
Larry R. Faulkner, President
The University of Texas at Austin
Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Melvin E. L. Oakes (Chair), John David Gavenda, and James C. Thompson.
Students of Walter E. Millett
William H. Holt Phd 1967
Reynaldo "Ray" Morales, PhD 1967
Rodolfo Castillo-Bahena PhD 1957
Felix Castillo-Jiménez, PhD 1959
Rodolfo and Felix built the collimators used in room 10 of the old Physics building. The collimators were used to measure the angular momentum of electrons using positron annihilation. They both went to work teaching physics at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM) (in English: Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education) also simply known as Monterrey Tech. Rodolfo served as Director of the Physics Department.
The Institute was founded on September 6, 1943 by a group of local businessmen led by Eugenio Garza Sada, a moneyed heir of a brewing conglomerate who was interested in creating an institution that could provide highly skilled personnel — both university graduates and technicians— to the booming Monterrey corporations of the 1940s. They tried to model it after MIT. Monterrey Tech is one of the better universities in Mexico and has many campuses throughout the country. ( Information provided by Reynaldo Morales.)
Walter Elmer Millett Photo and Document Album