WSU shock physics pioneer George Duvall dies

George E. Duvall, a pioneer of shock physics research and professor emeritus at Washington State University, died Jan. 3, 2003, in Vancouver after a long illness. He was 82.

Duvall was internationally recognized as a founder and leader in studies related to shock wave propagation in solids and liquids. Many of his colleagues regarded him as the dean of the U.S. shock wave science. He was responsible for establishing internationally renowned shock physics groups at Stanford Research Institute and WSU.

He was born Feb. 6, 1920, in Leesville, La., to George W. and Sadie Duvall. The family left Louisiana in 1925 for Oregon, where the young Duvall attended elementary and high school in Portland.

He married Betty Jean Morgan Sept. 14, 1941.

Duvall attended Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) but left after his junior year in 1941 to move to San Diego and join the University of California’s Division of War Research. Here, he worked on problems related to underwater acoustics until 1945. Duvall returned to OSC to complete his bachelor’s degree in 1946 and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a doctoral degree in 1948. Afterward, he went to work for the General Electric Co. in Richland and worked on reactor problems until the end of 1953. While there, he developed the concept of lattice test reactor, which was later built by the General Electric Co.

At the end of 1953, Duvall worked on shock wave problems at SRI. He contributed to some of the earliest theoretical and experimental advances in shock wave propagation. The list includes hydrodynamic attenuation, material strength effects, optical techniques for free surface measurements, instabilities and multiple wave interactions, rate effects, studies on porous materials, impact welding and detonation studies. He was a mentor to a generation of research scientists who have had productive and distinguished careers. Under Duvall’s guidance, the SRI effort, along with other pioneering endeavors at Atomic Energy Commission laboratories (Los Alamos, Livermore, Sandia) in the 1950s and early 1960s, laid the groundwork for scientific studies in the field.

In 1964, Duvall began his career at WSU, where he worked on a variety of scientific problems and supervised the doctoral dissertations of more than 25 students. During this time, he contributed in several areas, including shock-induced phase transitions and the incorporation of kinetic effects, nonlinear wave propagation in lattices, understanding atomic mechanisms controlling inelastic deformation in shocked crystals, equation of state of solids and liquids, electrical and thermoelectric measurements under shock loading, and time-resolved spectroscopic studies to understand shock-induced chemical reactions. His work was instrumental in stimulating and furthering research efforts to seek a microscopic understanding of shock-induced changes in condensed materials. Duvall also established WSU’s Shock Dynamics Laboratory in 1968.

In 1983, he was appointed chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Shock Compression Chemistry in Materials Synthesis and Processing, and was nationally recognized with a Shock Compression Science Award from the American Physical Society in 1989. After 24 years, he retired from WSU in 1988.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, who resides at their Vancouver home, and their two sons, Jeffery of Clatskanie, Ore., and William of Sausalito, Calif. He has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to Washington State University, Department of Physics, c/o George E. Duvall Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 642814, Pullman, WA 99164-2814.

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