Alan Tower Waterman

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Alan Tower Waterman
Alan Tower Waterman.jpg
1st Director of the
National Science Foundation
In office
Succeeded byLeland J. Haworth
Personal details
Born(1892-06-04)June 4, 1892
Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York
DiedNovember 30, 1967(1967-11-30) (aged 75)
Washington, D.C.
Alma materPrinceton
AwardsPublic Welfare Medal (1960)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963)
Scientific career
InstitutionsU. of Cincinnati
Office of Scientific Research and Development
Office of Naval Research
ThesisOn the positive ionization from certain hot salts, together with some observations on the electrical properties of molybdenite at high temperatures (1916)
Doctoral advisorOwen Willans Richardson
Waterman is seated at left; to his right are Presidential Press Secretary James Hagerty, Dr. S. Douglas Cornell and Dr. Alan Shapley. Standing: Dr. J. Wallace Joyce and Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus. Announcement of plans for the building and launching of the world's first man-made satellite, July 29, 1955. (NASA)

Alan Tower Waterman (June 4, 1892 – November 30, 1967) was an American physicist.

Born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, he grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts. His father was a professor of physics at Smith College. Alan also became a physicist, doing his undergraduate and doctoral work at Princeton University, from which he obtained his Ph.D. in 1916.[1]

He joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati, and married Vassar graduate Mary Mallon (sister of H. Neil Mallon) there in August 1917. He later became a professor at Yale University, and moved to North Haven, Connecticut in 1929. During World War II, he took leave of absence from Yale to become director of field operations for the Office of Scientific Research and Development, and the family moved to Cambridge, MA. He continued his government work and became deputy chief of the Office of Naval Research. In 1950, he was appointed by President Truman as first director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Waterman was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1960.[2] He served as director until 1963, when he retired and was subsequently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in 1967.

Alan and Mary had six children: Alan Jr., an atmospheric physicist who taught at Stanford University, Neil, Barbara, Anne, and Guy, writer, climber, and conservationist. A daughter Mary died in childhood.

Possessed of a gentle nature, Alan Waterman was known for his calm and reasoned point of view. He believed in public service. Besides his scientific talents, he was an accomplished musician, revealing his sense of humor by walking the corridors of the National Science Foundation playing his bagpipes. He had a fine voice and singing together was a family ritual. An avid outdoorsman, Dr. Waterman canoed the rivers and lakes of northern Maine during extensive summer trips in the 1930s and 1940s. He was accompanied by his sons and colleagues, in particular Karl Compton, then president of MIT. Dr. Waterman was known to say that becoming a licensed Maine Guide meant possibly more to him than his NSF appointment.

In 1961, he was chosen as one of 50 outstanding Americans of meritorious performance in the fields of endeavor, to be honored as a Guest of Honor to the first annual Banquet of the Golden Plate in Monterey, California. Honor was awarded by vote of the National Panel of Distinguished Americans of the Academy of Achievement.[3]

The crater Waterman on the Moon is named after him, as is Mount Waterman in the Hughes Range of Antarctica. Since 1975, the National Science Foundation has annually issued the Alan T. Waterman Award (named in Waterman's honor) to a promising young researcher.


  1. ^ Waterman, Alan Tower (1916). On the positive ionization from certain hot salts, together with some observations on the electrical properties of molybdenite at high temperatures (Ph.D.). Princeton University. OCLC 176570349 – via ProQuest.
  2. ^ "Public Welfare Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  3. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  • Brown, Chip (2004). Good Morning Midnight. Riverhead Books. ISBN 1-57322-236-4.
  • Waterman, Laura (2005). Losing the Garden: The Story of a Marriage. Shoemaker & Hoard. ISBN 1-59376-048-5.

External links[edit]

Government offices
New office Director of the National Science Foundation
April 1951 - June 1963
Succeeded by
Leland J. Haworth