William Havens, Jr. (1920-2004)
Columbia University physicists William W. Havens Jr., left, and Nobel laureate James Rainwater at the control panel of a "time-of-flight-path" tunnel at the University's Nevis Cyclotron Laboratory.
By Alissa Kaplan Michaels
William W. Havens Jr., a renowned professor emeritus in applied physics, who began his career in nuclear physics as a young Columbia scientist and graduate student while working on the Manhattan Project, died June 29 at the age of 84.
Born in 1920 in the Bronx, Havens graduated in 1939 from the City College of New York. He earned his master's in 1941 and his Ph.D. in physics in 1946, under Professor J.R. Dunning at Columbia. Havens worked for the University from 1940 until his retirement in 1985.
From 1941 to 1945, Havens worked on the Manhattan Project with Nobel laureate James Rainwater, a Columbia professor of physics who died in 1986. Together, they built a neutron spectrometer, which enabled the testing of theories of nuclear structure with great precision; this and subsequent Havens-designed spectrometers provided critical research used for decades for the development of nuclear power and nuclear physics.
Havens became a full professor at Columbia in 1955, and served as the University's director of nuclear science and engineering from 1961 to 1977. He also served as the director of Columbia's Energy Research Center.
Havens, who contributed to groups concerned with the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, served for years as the U.S. representative to the U.N. Committee on Atomic Energy. He was a leader in the "Atoms for Peace" movement and the U.S. delegate to its conferences in Geneva in 1955 and 1958.
For 25 years, he served as Executive Secretary of the American Physical Society, the world's largest professional body of physicists. After Havens' retirement from Columbia, he became the Society's first full-time CEO and oversaw the Society's tremendous growth.
Havens also made his knowledge accessible to non-scientists. In 1990, upon his retirement from the American Physical Society, fellow physicists praised him for having the "Havens Touch," a superhuman ability to communicate a practical understanding of problems that others considered complex.