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November 9, 2000

Obituary: John R. Townsend

John R. Townsend, an emeritus Pitt faculty member who was an experimental condensed matter physicist, died of Parkinson's disease on Oct. 1, 2000, at his home in Pittsburgh.

Townsend, who was born in Brooten, Minn. on Oct. 26, 1925, received both his B.S. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. For a short time Townsend worked at General Electric's Hanford Atomic Products Operation, leaving to join Pitt's faculty in 1954.

Townsend's research area was the effect of nuclear radiation on the mechanical properties of metals. In 1977 he joined a group at Pitt that was concerned with the effect of radiation damage on candidate materials for the wall of a fusion reactor. This large effort, which involved both experimentalists and theorists, was aimed at understanding the radiation-induced formation of voids in the stainless steel vessel wall.

Physics was but one of Townsend's passions. Throughout his professional career he worked for the cause of world peace, focusing especially on issues involving nuclear weapons. He was a member of the then prominent Pittsburgh Study Group, which prepared a report entitled "Effects of Nuclear War on the Pittsburgh Area." This work was used by many other peace groups around the country.

Townsend was member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and served as a consultant to the Physicians for Social Responsibility. His concerns about the effects of nuclear warfare motivated Townsend to teach a course on this subject at Pitt. For his efforts, Townsend shared an award from the Thomas Merton Center for informing the public about the consequences of nuclear warfare and for his efforts to prevent it.

Townsend was extremely generous with his time in helping colleagues and students in their research. All who knew him will remember him for his quiet intelligence and his generous spirit. He will be sorely missed by his loving family and by his many colleagues and friends.

–Walter Goldberg, professor emeritus, & David Jasnow, chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Filed under: Feature,Volume 33 Issue 6

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