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Arthur Whitmore Smith
LSA Minutes

Memorial to
Arthur Whitmore Smith

The death of Professor Emeritus Arthur Whitmore Smith on December 1, 1954, marked the end of a long and distinguished career both as scientist and as teacher. It was over fifty years since he first came to the University as Instructor in Physics and hundreds of former students will remember him with warm appreciation. He was an outstanding example of the true gentleman, completely self-possessed, always calm and courteous, but friendly and sympathetic as well. In the classroom he was meticulously precise, requiring clarity of understanding and of expression, and he was unusually successful in impressing upon his students the importance of reporting experimental results in a logical and effective manner.

Dr. Smith was born in Hartford, Vermont, on May 11, 1874. He attended New Hampshire College (now the University. of New Hampshire) where he earned the bachelor's degree in 1893. The following year was spent at Cornell; he then transferred to Wesleyan University, where in 1895 he was granted the degree of Master of Science. After several years of teaching and of research he completed his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 1903, and came to Michigan in the fall of that year. He progressed rapidly from Instructor to Assistant Professor, then to Junior Professor, Associate Professor, and finally was appointed Professor in 1923. In 1944 he retired with the well earned title of Emeritus Professor.

Dr. Smith's scientific work began in the U. S, Department of Agriculture soon after he obtained his B.S. He pioneered in determinations of the relative values of various kinds of food as producers of energy, and constructed a calorimeter of such dimensions that a human subject could be confined within it for considerable periods, while measurements were made of the evolution of heat by the body. This is quite suggestive of modern research in basic metabolism. His doctoral thesis was concerned with highly precise measurements of the heat of fusion of ice, and he continued work of a similar nature after coming here. Using a unique method of approach he determined the latent heats of vaporization of water, both at low temperatures and at the boiling point, with a precision far exceeding that of previous observers. These studies were reported in three extensive articles.

His major interest soon changed to electricity and magnetism and most of his many publications lie in this field. The problem of ferromagnetism is one of the most intriguing in all of physics, and he made considerable contributions to it by introducing new experimental methods and devising appropriate measuring devices. Throughout almost all of his career he taught courses in Electrical Measurements. He was the author of one of the most widely used texts in this field, first published in 1911 and revised and expanded in four succeeding editions.

The early discoveries in radioactivity so intrigued Dr. Smith that his interest turned toward the physics of nuclei. In the year 1911-12 he went to England for study at Cambridge University, and upon his return he began the development of a laboratory for teaching and for research in radioactive radiations, This was before the days of the Geiger counter, and the apparatus then available seems rather crude to us now. Nevertheless he built up detecting devices of considerable sensitivity, and was often called upon to assist in the recovery of costly ampules of radium which had been accidentally washed down the hospital drain, or passed through the incinerator and on to the ash pile. These were indeed problems like the needle in the haystack, and his ability to solve them created the greatest amazement among the onlookers, and gave him a very peculiar satisfaction.

Professor Smith was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and a member of some ten other professional organizations, as well as Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. In the American Society for Testing Materials he was one of the Committee on Magnetic Properties. His principal hobby was genealogy, in which he gained fame as well as in physics, belonging for many years to the American Institute of Genealogy. His ancestors came over on the Mayflower, and the family have been staunch New Englanders ever since. In 1946-47 he was President of the Washtenaw County Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was an active member of the Congregational Church, a deacon for many years, and for some time up to the day of his death he was Clerk of the Church.

To Mrs. Smith and to the three daughters, Mrs. Ethel Stevens, Mrs. Lillian Hackbarth, and Mrs. Marcia Weston, we extend our sincere sympathy.

W. W. McCormick
L. O. Case
E. F, Barker, Chairman