Donald R. Hamilton: overview

The Donald R. Hamilton Lectures and Colloquium Series are an endowed series of public talks given in honor of the late Donald Ross Hamilton.

Hamilton was an atomic and nuclear experimental physicist, who made major contributions to the Physics Department and to the University.

Donald Hamilton was born on September 5, 1914 at Hartford, Vermont. He attended public schools there, and in New York City, but his heart lay in the rugged hills of West Virginia, his ancestral home. He was graduated from Princeton in 1935 with highest honors and during his whole subsequent career was a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of the University. His Ph.D. degree he received in 1939 from Columbia University, where he worked with Professor I.I. Rabi on an extremely difficult thesis problem. He then spent a year at the Society of Fellows of Harvard University. During World War II he was associated with the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory and with the Sperry Gyroscope Company. He served his country by turning his scientific talents to the development of microwave generators for radar purposes. his important contributions are recorded in a volume of the Radiation laboratory Series of which he is a co-author. He joined the Princeton faculty in 1946, was Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics from 1955 until 1957 and served as Dean of the graduate School from 1958 and 1965 when failing health compelled him to resign the appointment.

Donald Hamilton loved teaching and before he was laid low by his physical affliction he was a great teacher. Even afterwards he conducted lively seminars in his home for his thesis students.

His interests in research and teaching were not narrowly limited to his own speciality, and he would subordinate his research interests when he felt the call of other loyalties - to his Country, to his University and to his Department. Thus is 1958 when he accepted the position of Dean of the Graduate School, it was out of a sense of duty and loyalty and with the realization that his position as a scientist would suffer.

Under his supervision, systematic growth of the Princeton Graduate School was carried forward with full time enrollments rising from about 800 to 1100. The first women were admitted as degree candidates. Fellowship awards were more than doubled. new graduate student housing was achieved. Fresh graduate programs were begun in the Biochemical Sciences, Comparative Literature, East Asian Studies, Linguistics, and Slavic Languages and Literatures.

As Dean, Donald Hamilton had an influential hand in all these developments. Here, as in other parts of his career, he was interested in the pursuits of humanists no less than those of scientists. He saw us all as engaged in a common cause, and he sought always to support and strengthen that cause,
the pursuit of learning and the life of the mind, throughout the University.

His even quick and curious mind, his constant concern for others, and the clarity and firmness of his judgment contributed much to the central policy councils of the University during his deanship.

Donald Hamilton contributed his talents to the support of the Princeton University Press. He served on the Editorial Board for four years and was a Trustee vigorously working for the welfare of the Press from 1954 until his death.

His own characterization of physics as "the Queen of the Sciences and most liberal of the Arts" epitomized his views. For Donald Hamilton, physics was much more than a discipline to which he had a professional commitment. He viewed the study of science as a religious pursuit of the most fundamental of questions, the nature of man's relationship to the Universe, while history was for him the no less important study of man's relationship to man. He once wrote of himself: "I am a physicist - one who communes with nature, one who struggles to glimpse the great invariants of the Universe, a follower of humble men like Galileo and Einstein. - But my love of nature in the abstract combines with a fondness for the human race, that noblest of the phenomena of nature."

Donald Hamilton's good influence among us as teacher, scholar, administrator, and friend will continue to be felt for years to come. He was a rare person whose memory will live long in the hearts and minds of all who knew him.


The above is an excerpt from the "Memorial Service for Donald Ross Hamilton", by H.S. Bailey, Jr., R.H. Dicke, R.F. Goheen and A.G . Shenstone, 6 January 1972., ed. Robert L. Cope.