Dr. Robert M. White, the distinguished environmental scientist and engineer who headed the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) from 1983 until June of this year, will be the 1995-96 Karl T. Compton Lecturer.
His appointment was announced by President Charles M. Vest, who said that Dr. White has a "wealth of experience in the world of federal policy affecting engineering and science, as well as expertise and experience in matters regarding the environment. He is a deep thinker whose interactions with faculty and students are very timely as we address MIT's role in a rapidly changing world."
Dr. White, a senior fellow at the University Corporation of Atmospheric Research, will have an office in Building E40, the headquarters of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
His hosts there will be the co-directors of the program, Henry D. Jacoby, the William F. Pounds Professor at the Sloan School of Management, and Ronald G. Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Professor Jacoby heads the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, Professor Prinn the Center for Global Change Science.
Dr. White will deliver lectures, meet various classes and interact informally with faculty and students in several departments and research centers.
The Compton lectureship, established in 1957, honors the late Karl Taylor Compton, president of MIT from 1930-1948 and chairman of the Corporation from 1948-1954. The purpose of the lectureship is to give the MIT community direct contact with the important ideas of our times as propounded by those who have contributed much to modern thought.
Over the years a wide variety of people, including many scientists and several government leaders, have been Compton Lecturers. The first was the Nobel laureate in physics, Dr. Niels Bohr, in 1957. The list includes Hubert H. Humphrey, who was vice president of the United States and a senator (1969); Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate in chemistry (1978); and Yasuhiro Nakasone, former prime minister of Japan (1989). The 1994-95 Compton Lecturer was Dr. John A. Armstrong, for several years IBM's vice president for science and technology.
The NAE, which Dr. White headed for 12 years, shares with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) the responsibility for advising the federal government on matters of science and technology. Founded in 1964, the NAE is a private institution whose 1,600 members and foreign associates are among the world's outstanding engineers.
In addition to the NAE presidency, Dr. White served as vice chairman of the National Research Council, the principal operating agency of the NAE and the NAS.
Dr. White, who holds the SM and ScD degrees in meteorology from MIT (his BA in geology is from Harvard), served the nation under five presidents, from 1963-1977, first as chief of the US Weather Bureau and finally as the first administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In these capacities he is credited with bringing about a revolution in the US weather warning system with satellite and computer technology, helping to initiate new approaches to the balanced management of the country's coastal zones and promoting the rebirth of American fisheries.
As US commissioner of the International Whaling Commission (1973-77) he led some of the first efforts to save whales. From 1963-78, as US permanent representative to the World Meteorological Organization, he helped establish the World Weather Watch for continuously monitoring the earth's atmosphere, the Global Weather Experiment to extend the time range of weather forecasts, and the World Climate Program to achieve an improved understanding of climate change.
For three years immediately before his election as NAE president, he was president of University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of 50 universities that operates the National Center for Atmospheric Research. He subsequently was president of the Joint Oceanographic Institution, a university consortium that manages the international deep-sea drilling program.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 20, 1995.