Physicist George Valley Jr. is dead at 86


Professor Emeritus of Physics George Edward Valley Jr., 86, an air defense specialist and founder of the Experimental Study Group, died October 16 in Boston of complications following heart surgery.

Professor Valley was born September 5, 1913 in New York City and received the SB from MIT (1935) and the PhD from the University of Rochester (1939) in nuclear physics. He made the first measurements of iron isotopic abundance in terrestrial and meteoritic materials from 1939-41 as a research associate and National Research Council Fellow at Harvard University.

At MIT's Radiation Laboratory (1940-46), he developed the H2X radar bombsight that played a strategic role in World War II, permitting all-weather bombing of Nazi Germany. This required trips from Boston to London by bomber during the Blitz (passengers were required to ride in the empty bomb bay during takeoff) and return by seaplane via Brazil. After the war, he was on the editorial board of the Radiation Lab Technical Series and edited four books, including the popular Vacuum Tube Amplifiers .

In 1946, Dr. Valley became a professor of physics at MIT, where he conducted research in cosmic ray physics that included operation of a high-pressure cloud chamber at 12,000 feet on Mt. Evans, CO. His interests continued in air defense as a member of the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (1946-64). He conceived a national air defense system of radar stations guarding the northern air approaches to the United States and linked by telephone lines to a centralized digital computer (SAGE). This work led directly to the founding of Lincoln Laboratory, where he was assistant and associate director (1949-57), and to many advances in computer technology, including the invention of magnetic core memory and telephone transmission of digital data.

Professor Valley was chief scientist of the Air Force from 1957-58 and returned to MIT in 1959. He received the US Army Certificate of Appreciation, the President's Certificate of Merit, the Air Force Association of Science Award and the USAF Exceptional Civilian Service Medal. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

In 1969, Professor Valley founded the Experimental Study Group, which emphasized a revolutionary learning process for first year students. "I was interested in fostering students who would be courageous enough to think in new ways without fear of getting the wrong answer. In short, I was going to educate potential Nobel laureates," he later recalled.

Professor Valley married Louisa King Williams in 1941 and Shea Alice LaBont� in 1960. He is survived by his wife; three children from his first marriage, George C. Valley of Los Angeles, John W. Valley of Madison, WI, and Katharine V. Nakamoto of Winchester, MA; and four grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be sent to the George E. Valley Jr. Scholarship Fund, American Physical Society, College Park, MD. Services will be private.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 20, 1999.


Topics: Obituaries

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