An alumnus of the class of 1968 nominates the "famous institute professor, distinguished theoretical astrophysicist and interpreter of science and technology for the general public."
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  • I have several vivid memories of Professor Morrison, starting with a guest lecture on the virial theorem in 8.012. At that time, he was mobile enough to stand at the whiteboard, but not enough to use more than a square meter or so. He filled and erased that square meter many times, and made the virial theorem more understandable than Newton’s first law, and more intriguing than Schroedinger’s equation. That was part of his magic–he could make a topic crystal clear, yet leave it with a sense of unseen possibilities.

    My second recollection involves Professor Morisson’s legendary reading speed. Four years later, I somehow got up the guts to ask him to advise my senior project. I recall working for weeks at a time, completing page after page of calculations in my own dreadful handwriting. When I felt I had enough, I would come to Professor Morrison’s office and hand it to him. He would look at each page for approximately one second; the limiting factor was his ability to turn pages. Then he would turn to me and say something like “I think you made a mistake on page 11, where you dropped dropped one of the cross terms….”

    Finally, I finished my project just after Professor Morrison fell and injured himself in the late fall of 1982. I took my final draft to him at his home in Harvard Square. I recall entering in his home through a back door and coming into a room dominated by a large table literally overflowing with books. In my minds eye, the pile must have been two feet deep at the center, with the shape limited by the angle of repose for “bookpiles.” More books in stacks on the floor, more on shelves, more in view through every doorway.

    Andy Gavrin

    24 Nov 09 at 3:55 pm

  • The above explains why Prof. Morrison and his wife Phyllis were the long time book reviewers for Scientific American (Michael Feirtag ’72 was also on the Sci Am staff for years).

    Thanks to scoring a 4 of 20 on the MIT frosh physics placement test, I got Prof. Morrison’s 8.001 class with his fascinating easy to understand lectures AND his recitation section, which he taught standing up as I recall.
    He was so good I placed out of 8.01 and thus never took the course I was so unqualified to take.

    Legend had it that Prof. Morrison, who’d had polio in his youth, used two canes when working on the Manhattan Project. The story went that he assembled the key parts of the Trinity test implosion bomb using both canes. This let him do the job with less radiation exposure than anyone else would have had.

    Prof George Wald of Harvard came to Kresge about 1968 and showed us the classified photos of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Classified to prevent Americans from seeing what our bombs had done…

    Beyond his brilliant, creative and enthusiastic teaching, there did seem to be something of the Bomb that followed Professor Morrison around. He did great work for peace.

    I prefer to remember how he told us about trick questions used by examiners on Ph.D. candidates. He said that we never needed to use complex theories or math when a basic idea would solve a problem. His exampls: the examines had asked him, almost-Ph>D., about the equal and opposite reaction when a baseball on the fly falls back to Earth. “The [gravitational] force of the baseball on the Earth,” he replied. “They didn’t ask me any more questions.”

    Wells Eddleman '71

    24 May 10 at 2:51 pm