William C. Elmore, 93, physics professor

Posted: February 01, 2003

William C. Elmore, 93, a Swarthmore College physics professor who possessed an intellect worthy of the Manhattan Project, a talent to play several musical instruments by ear, and a sense of humor that kept his family groaning, died Jan. 23 of congestive heart failure at Dunwoody Village, a retirement community in Newtown Square.

He died just a few weeks after his wife of 66 years, Barbara, passed away on Jan. 1.

A native of Montour Falls, N.Y., Professor Elmore taught at Swarthmore from 1938 until he retired in 1974. He joined the faculty after spending a year as a physics instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Swarthmore, he served as chairman of the physics department from 1948 to 1968.

He thought of himself primarily as an educator. In fact, he and a colleague, Matt Sands, collaborated on a book published in 1949, Electronics: Experimental Techniques, that became a prime source of information in practical electronics for a generation of graduate physics students in the 1950s.

His work as an educator was recognized in the late 1960s when the American Association of Physics Teachers awarded him a citation for distinguished service.

But he also was a scientist and engineer whose credentials included work on the atomic bomb with the Manhattan Project during World War II. At Los Alamos, he helped in the development of electronic circuits to handle fast-pulse signals needed for the bomb.

When he taught at Swarthmore, he also consulted with industry and wrote another book. With the assistance of colleague Mark Heald, Professor Elmore expanded his teaching notes on wave phenomena and published Physics of Waves in 1969.

Professor Elmore had a command of the musical scale as well as wave theory. He played by ear, wailing on a saxophone in dance bands while pursuing a bachelor's degree in engineering physics at Lehigh University, which he received in 1932. Professor Elmore earned a doctorate in physics from Yale University in 1935.

At Los Alamos, he loved playing accordion at square dances, and later he was the founding pianist for a Swarthmore faculty dance band called the Moonshiners.

Puns were the staple of Professor Elmore's sense of humor.

"He loved to make puns - and they were awful," said his daughter Page Evett.

In addition to his daughter, Professor Elmore is survived by daughters Mary-Leigh Miller and Elizabeth Elmore; a son, David; one sister; and 10 grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. today at Swarthmore Friends Meeting House, 12 Whittier Place, Swarthmore. Burial is private.

Memorial donations may be made for the William C. Elmore Prize, awarded annually to a graduating Swarthmore senior in recognition of distinguished academic work in physics, astronomy or astrophysics. Donations may be sent to Swarthmore College, Elmore Award, in care of Ruth Krakower, Gift Records, Sproul Observatory, 500 College Ave., Swarthmore, Pa. 19081.

Contact staff writer Rusty Pray at 215-854-2322 or rpray@phillynews.com.

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