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Lester Clare Van Atta ’27

Lester Clare Van Atta ’27, March 16, 1994, in Laytonville, California. He was a distinguished physicist and engineer who spent much of his career developing aircraft electronics and defense systems. He received a master's in physics from Washington University in 1929, the same year that he married a fellow graduate student, Elvene Winkleman. In 1931, both he and his wife received doctorates from Washington University. From 1932 to 1940, he was an assistant professor of physics at MIT and was involved in research on large electrostatic generators. He became head of the Antenna Group at MIT's radiation laboratory in 1940, conducting microwave antenna research. In 1945 he joined the Naval Research Laboratory, and in 1950 he went to work for Hughes Aircraft, where he became director of Hughes Research Laboratories. He was senior scientist at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company from 1962 to 1964, and then became assistant director of NASA's Electronics Research Center, Cambridge, retiring in 1970. After retirement, he took a three-year post with the University of Massachusetts as associate dean of engineering. In the latter part of his career, he made significant contributions to the reorientation of the defense industry to the needs of nondefense government agencies, and to arms control issues. He received the IEEE Centennial Award in 1984, was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and was the author of a number of important research papers in his field. In retirement, he and his wife settled on a 90-acre homestead in Northern California. In 1992, he received the Distinguished Service award from the Reed College Foster-Scholz Club.

Appeared in Reed magazine: August 1994

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