University of Texas
William H. Holt
August 5, 1939–October 19, 2015



William Henry Holt
August 5, 1939–October 19, 2015


William H. (Bill) Holt, Navy civilian shock wave physicist, passed away on October 19, 2015, in Fredericksburg, VA at the age 76.

Bill was born on August 5, 1939, in San Antonio, TX to Joseph Marion and Mildred Ragsdale Holt Sr. His father, Joseph, was a dentist in private practice. Bill's older brother, Joseph Marion Holt Jr. (1932-2010), earned a bachelors degree from Trinity University in San Antonio and a masters degree from Texas A&M. After service in the US Army, he had a long and distinguished career at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.

Bill received a BS degree in physics, cum laude, from St. Mary's University in San Antonio, TX in 1960. Bill received an MA and PhD degrees in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1962 and 1967, respectively. The theses were completed under Professor Walter E. Millet and were in the area of angular correlation of positron annihilation radiation in nickel-zinc ferrites and ammonia. From 1967 to 1969, he was a post-doctoral research fellow and lecturer at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, under Physics Professor Benjamin G. Hogg. Bill performed research on positron interactions in solids and liquids, and worked on improvements to a large high-resolution mass spectrometer for precision measurements of nuclear masses. While in Canada, Bill published papers with friend and fellow post-doc Shu Yuen Chuang, and Professor Hogg.

While in Austin for his education, Bill met Margaret Ann Harrell, daughter of Aubrey and Helen Adair Harrell. They were married in June of 1963. Margaret was a school teacher and, rare for the time, a speech therapist. She had attended McCallum High School. Her father's business was a mainstay in Austin for many years.

In 1969, Bill joined a research group of new physics PhDs at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren, VA. There he started and equipped a laboratory using positron annihilation techniques for nondestructive testing of mechanical fatigue in metals, and moisture effects in polymers and other non-metals. He collaborated for many years in this area with Dr. Jag J. Singh of NASA/Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. Bill has joint publications with Dr. Singh and other coworkers in the above research area, and is the coauthor of a patent for mechanical fatigue detection using positron probes.

In addition to remaining active in positron spectroscopy, Bill began working in 1970 with Dahlgren colleague Willis Mock, Jr. in the area of shock wave physics in solids. They designed and built a gas gun facility for studying the impact properties of materials under shock loading.

Bill is the coauthor of over 20 patents, patent applications, and Navy invention disclosures, and over 60 publications and reports in the areas of shock wave propagation in solids, fracture and fragmentation of materials, shock-induced chemistry of polymers, shock depoling of ferroelectrics, and new experimental techniques for gas gun research.

Bill received the Dahlgren Division’s Science and Engineering Excellence Award in 1994. In 2001, he was awarded the John A. Dahlgren Award, the highest award offered by the Dahlgren Division, for his scientific achievements in shock wave physics. He received the Dahlgren Division’s Independent Research Excellence Award in 2004. Bill was the recipient of the Navy’s Distinguished Achievement in Science Award in 2005, the Navy’s highest scientific award, for his co-discovery of reactive materials.

He served as a session chairperson for many meetings of the APS Topical Group on the Shock Compression of Condensed Matter. He served on the Technical Program Committee for the 11th APS Topical Conference on Shock Compression of Condensed Matter, Snowbird, Utah, 1999. He also served as the NSWC Dahlgren Division’s representative to the Aero-ballistics Range Association. He is biographically listed in Marquis Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, Who’s Who in America, and Who’s Who in the World. Bill was a member of the American Physical Society, the Canadian Association of Physicists, Sigma Xi, Sigma Pi Sigma, and the Materials Research Society.

He retired from Dahlgren in 2006, and was a senior scientist at Energy Technology Center in La Plata, MD from 2008 to 2011 before retiring completely.

The following is an except from an obituary that appeared in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star newspaper, October 26, 2015.

"He was devoted and loving to his wife, sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He was a protector, a guide, a conciliator who lavished love and affection on all his family members. He led his family in a walk of faith in Jesus during his whole lifetime. He treasured the time that he had with each of his family members. He set aside intentional time to be with each of them as he was able. He encouraged and complimented each one and made them feel loved and valued. You knew that he had each one’s best interest at heart for the long haul. He never spoke words that were meant to hurt someone or demean their worth as individuals. He prayed daily on behalf of each family member.

"He and his wife, Margaret, became a members of St. Matthias United Methodist Church in 1970, and gave service through the years in many capacities as; lay leader, chairperson of Council on Ministries, five years as co-chairperson of Education, member of the Long Range Planning Committee, three terms as a member of Staff Parish Relations Committee, Sunday school teacher (co-teacher of senior high class for many years; assistant teacher in the 2nd and 3rd grade class), member of the visitation teams, choir member for special cantatas, delegate to Annual Conference, delegate to District Conference, and was a representative for the Ashland District as a voting member at Annual Conference, a faithful attendee of church prayer meetings after his retirement, and he spent numerous times with his sons doing “clean-up” tasks at the church. He participated in prayer times and walks associated with the Walk to Emmaus.

"He staffed the resource table at the Virginia Annual Conference for 11 years, providing information and free resources to clergy and laity on behalf of the Virginia Interfaith Committee on Mental Illness Ministries (VICOMIM).

"He was a member of the Chancellor Lions Club. He participated in many service projects and served as their vice president program chairman for 18 years, and arranged a program for the club every month.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, of 52 years, two sons, Ben and Andrew, daughter-in-law, Christine, and two grandchildren. He was a devoted and loving person to his family and is missed by his many friends and colleagues.

Bill's wife kindly provided some of Bill's favorite quotes:

These are 4 favorite Quotes that Bill Holt referred to regularly:

1.”Research: the process of going up alleys to see if they’re blind.” ---Barstow Bates

2.What would take me multiple paragraphs to put into words, William James does it elegantly with few words.

William James quote:

This was a quote that Bill loved and he frequently put it on a Power Point Slide when he was presenting research results that was new territory, New information, that the scientists present would not believe. “A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous, and then dismissed as tivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows.” ---William James              

3.This one Bill kept thumb-tacked to the bulletin board above his desk:

       “There are only two ways to live your life: One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything were a miracle.” ---Albert Einstein

4.This one Bill carried in his wallet.  It was a mantra of one of his Professors at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX,––Brother Raymond Schnepp, Prof. of Mathematics “Learn something new every day, and it will keep you young.”

(Acknowledgment: Includes information from Bill Holt's obituary, information from his wife, Margaret, and information from a variety of other sourccs.)

Margaret Ann Harrell Holt and William Henry Holt, 2006, at son's wedding


NSWC scientists earn Distinguished Achievement in Science Award

By John Joyce
NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications

Dr. Willis Mock Jr. (left) and Dr. William Holt (right) stand
beside the research gas gun they designed and built in 1971
to conduct shock physics experiments. The NSWC Dahlgren
physicists were awarded the Secretary of the
Navy's Distinguished Achievement in Science Award
on Sept. 7, 2005 for their discovery of reactive materials
effects that have led to new initiatives within the Navy
and opened up a new technology area for the Department of
Defense that contains the potential of significantly improving the
effectiveness of U.S. weapons and saving U. S. lives.

The first Navy Distinguished Achievement in Science Award (DASA) granted in 14 years was presented by Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Rear Adm. Archer Macy to Dr. William Holt and Dr. Willis Mock Jr. at a Wednesday morning ceremony held at the Naval SeaSystemsCommand(NAVSEA) headquarters in Washington.

Mock and Holt, the first NAVSEA scientists to receive the prestigious award, were recognized by Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, for their co-discovery of reactive materials effects that "promises to have continuing, far-reaching consequences for the warfighter."

The NSWC Dahlgren physicists' discovery of a revolutionary approach for using plastic materials for Navy ordnance applications has the potential for providing "an entirely new class of weapons for our nation's defense and has opened the door to applications that will have an impact on the Navy and the other services for years to come" according to Navy officials who endorsed the award.

In the citation. Secretary England called Mock and Holt's discovery a new and revolutionary approach for using plastic polymer and plastic polymer/metal combination materials for Navy ordnance applications."

The rarely given Navy DASA award enables the Secretary of the Navy to recognize pioneering scientific achievements which are extraordinary and significant in nature and which contain a potential of far-reaching consequence. A scientific achievcmcnt must be of a pioneering "breakthrough" nature to qualify for the award.
"The work that Drs. Holt and Mock have done on behalf of country is extremely significant," said NSWC Commander Rear. Adm. Macy who presented the award before the scientists' family. friends. colleagues and NSWC Dahlgren leadership including NSWC Dahlgren Division Commander Capt. Joseph McGcttigan. Technical Operations Manager Stuart Koch and Engagement Systems Department Head Marc Magdinec.

"The citation for Drs. Holt and Mock talks about what they did in general terms. but a lot about what you really did we can't talk about." said Macy. "I can tell you their work has been, is. and wll continue to be very important to what we are doing today to protect and defend our own country, numerous allies, coalition partners, and friends around the world.''

Holt and Mock's work that led to their discovery began in 1971 when they built a 26-foot-long, 40-millimeter bore gun into what was the Navy's only research gas gun at the time to conduct experiments in shock wave phenomena. Their experiments in shock physics over the past 34 years have resulted in numerous discoveries that are impacting the Navy and other services for years to come.

In 1991, Holt and Mock fired projectiles at targets with the gas gun and used its research capabilities—the ability to control the projectiles' velocity and take high-speed pictures at impact to measure the response of the target–-to make the reactive materials effects discovery that they were cited for in the award.

"But the discovery was not aimed at a particular application: said Mock in an interview before he received his award. "It is a developing technology that is still evolving today."

Indeed, the initial experiments by Mock and Holt have led to significant new initiatives within tbe Navy and opened up a new technology area for the Department of Defense (DOD) that contains the potential of significantly improving the effectiveness of U.S. weapons and the saving of U.S. lives.

Their efforts have resulted in national recognition and enthusiasm for the new technology throughout DOD. Due to the high visibility of lhe technology. the high payoff potential, and the broad application potential. NSWC Dahlgren Division is a leader in the Office of Secretary of Defcnse (OSD) broad-based, multimillion-dollar, national thrust in advanced energetic materials.

"In addition to a long and distinguished record of achievement in science generally, Drs. Mock and Holt have added a significant new dimension to the science of shocked materials and opened the door to applications that will have an impact on the Navy for years to come," said Keith Miller, an NSWC Dahlgren official who was the Head of Dahlgren's Engagement Systems Department at the time he endorsed the award in a letter to the Navy DASA selection panel.

"Either Bill Mock or Bill Holt could point to a successful and distinguished individual record consistent scientific achievement,"said Hugh Montgomery, Executive Director of the Institute for Defense and Homeland Security in another letter to the DASA selection panel. As a team, however, their rare chemistry has produced a long history of exceptional contributions that will lead to a more effective Navy after Next."

The two-man team's work has produced 19 Navy invention disclosures, patents or patent applications and more than 78 scientific journal publications and technical reports. Dr. Mock serves as a referee for the peer-reviewed international scientific journal, Review of Scientific Instruments. Dr. Holt chaired a national interagency technology coordination group, and is biographically listed in several books, including Who's Who in Science and Engineering.



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