George E. Duval, 82, a pioneer of shock physics research and professor emeritus at Washington State University, died January 3, 2003 in Vancouver. He was internationally recognized as a founder and leader in studies related to shock wave propagation in solids and liquids. Many colleagues regarded him as the dean of U.S. shock wave science.

The Louisiana native spent his youth in Oregon. His studies at Oregon State University were interrupted in 1941 when he joined the University of California’s Division of War Research to work on underwater acoustics problems. He returned to OSU in 1945 to finish his bachelor’s degree and completed a doctorate in physics at MIT in 1948. His first job was with General Electric at Richland. There he worked on nuclear reactor problems and developed the concept of the lattice test reactor, which was later built by the company. In 1953, he moved to the Stanford Research Institute.

During the next decade at SRI, he built the Poulter Lab’s international reputation in the theoretical understanding of phenomena in the field of shock wave propagation. He also mentored a generation of distinguished research scientists.

While in Seattle for a 1954 American Physical Society meeting, he struck up a conversation with William Band, then WSU chair of physics, while cruising on Lake Washington. Duvall invited Band to be a summer visitor at SRI the next year, and Band became involved in shock wave research. Thus began a long relationship between the two institutions. Many WSU physics graduate students went to SRI. In 1964, Duvall left the directorship of the Poulter Lab to join the WSU faculty.

At WSU, he was content to focus on a variety of scientific problems, and supervised the doctoral dissertations of more than 25 students. His work was instrumental in furthering research efforts to seek a microscopic understanding of shock-induced changes in condensed materials. He established WSU’s Shock Dynamics Laboratory in 1968. That same year Yogendra Gupta, current director of WSU’s Institute for Shock Physics, and James Asay, associate director, came to WSU to study with Duvall.

“He was first my teacher, then a wonderful colleague . .  . ,” Gupta says. “I did not just learn science from George Duvall. Science is generally learned on your own. I learned how to conduct myself as a scientist from George Duvall.”

Years later, in a speech published in Shock Compression of Condensed Matter, Duvall spoke about the teaching/learning process: “It must be understood by both the teacher and the aspiring student that learning to be a scientist is not like learning to ride a bicycle, or to cook . . . . The science student is in the process of becoming a person who is different from the ordinary. The scientist . . . evaluates things differently, and he often finds it difficult or impossible to communicate effectively with others who are not scientists. To be sure, he must learn a great many things that are contained in books, but ultimately he must acquire attitudes, abilities, and perspectives that are unique to science and which can be learned only by doing, observing, thinking, and interacting with practicing scientists.”

Duvall put WSU on the research map, Gupta, says. “This was the era that saw the advent of the research group. Prior to this, researchers often worked alone. . . .

“In his day the university was about civility and discourse,” says Gupta. “Duval had a keen intellect and incredible integrity. He was a gentleman scholar, but at scientific meetings, he did not shy away from vigorous scientific interchange. He did not engage in small talk. In a discussion, he spoke his mind-but in a most gracious manner. To me, he personified the civility that is often missing in our society today.”

Duvall’s reputation persisted after his retirement from WSU in 1988. “In the ’50s and ’60s, shock wave research was being done primarily only in Russia and in the U.S.,” says Gupta. “When the best known Russian shock wave physicist, Altschuler, came to the U.S. in 1991, he visited two places-Lawrence Livermore Labs, and WSU. Altschuler spoke no English and Duvall no Russian. But with a translator, the two distinguished scientists spent the day discussing shock physics.”


Memorial donations may be made to WSU, Department of Physics, c/o George E. Duvall Scholarship Fund, PO Box 642814, Pullman, Washington 99164-2814.