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Assistant dean and retired physics professor Harry L. Morrison stricken by fatal heart attack at age 69
17 January 2002

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations

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Berkeley - Physicist and assistant dean Harry Lee Morrison of the University of California, Berkeley, died suddenly of a heart attack on Monday, Jan. 14, at his home in Berkeley. He was 69.

A professor of physics at UC Berkeley for 22 years, he retired from the faculty in 1994 but continued to serve as an assistant dean in the undergraduate advising office of the College of Letters & Science, a position he held for 11 years. In that position, he helped adjudicate student requests for exceptions to various rules and regulations.

"Harry was a strong supporter for encouraging minority and women students to pursue math-based majors as undergraduates at UC Berkeley," said Leroy T. Kerth, vice chairman of the Department of Physics. "He contributed greatly to the department through his scientific achievements, through his leadership and through his personal warmth."

As the only African American member of the physics faculty, he was a natural magnet for minority students in the department, and he consulted behind the scenes with many of them.

Morrison also was involved in the early planning stages of a program launched in 1970 as Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA). Conceived as a way to boost minority enrollment in college, it has since become a nationally recognized and very successful statewide academic preparation program reaching out to more than 21,000 students throughout California.

"When I think of Harry, I think of him as devoted to his family, devoted to mentoring of minority students, and devoted to the life of an intellectual," said P. Buford Price, professor of physics and dean of the physical sciences in the College of Letters & Science. "He always greeted me with a grin and a chuckle."

A quiet and scholarly man, he specialized in an area of theoretical physics called statistical mechanics. For many years the only faculty member in that field, he attempted to understand the behavior of fluids when the temperature drops low enough for them to become so-called superfluids. In this state they exhibit peculiar quantum properties, ranging from flow without resistance to the generation of quantized vortices by spinning the container.

One of his frequent collaborators in the 1960s and 70s was physicist John Garrison, now retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. Together they wrote numerous papers on the movement of particles in superfluid systems, primarily the symmetry aspects of two-dimensional superfluids.

"Harry was unusual. He had the intellect of a scholar, an encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific literature, which was one of the great advantages of collaborating with him," Garrison said. "People would use him as a resource because he understood everything, he understood what was important."

A consummate intellectual, he read extensively about the history of physics and kept abreast of modern mathematics.

"He was always carrying around a math book," said colleague Robert Littlejohn, UC Berkeley professor of physics. "When he was still active as a professor, he'd sit in on math courses almost every semester."

He also was a longtime member of the library committee of the physics department.

Born in Arlington, Va., in 1932, Morrison attended Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from which he received a BA in 1955 and a PhD in 1960. Following a one-year National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship at the National Bureau of Standards, he was called to active military service as a 1st Lieutenant at the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1961. He served as an assistant professor of physics there until 1964, when he joined the staff of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as a theoretical physicist.

In 1972, he was recruited to the physics department at UC Berkeley.

Morrison was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and for many years was on the Committee on Minorities of that organization. He chaired the committee in 1977, and also served on the society's executive council from 1971 until 1975.

He also was a founder and fellow of the 25-year-old National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), and was a visiting professor at Hampton and Howard Universities.

Morrison is survived by his wife, Harriett; a daughter, Vanessa Morrison, of Los Angeles; brothers Samuel of Springfield, Va., Paul of Hampton, Va., and Charles of Oxon Hill, Md., and a sister Frances Ross of Arlington, Va.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club.