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Charles Wilbur Peters
LSA Minutes


C. Wilbur Peters, Professor Emeritus of Physics, died on May 23, 1989. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1918, and received his A.B. degree in 1938 and his Ph.D. degree in 1949 from The Johns Hopkins University. He was a member of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America.

Professor Peters joined the Department of Physics in 1948. A specialist in infrared and molecular spectroscopy, he carried forward a departmental tradition of leadership in that field, bridging the classical infrared spectroscopy of the 1920s and 1930s with the spectroscopic developments of the 1950s and 1960s. He conducted important studies of the electric field-induced vibration-rotation spectrum of the hydrogen and deuterium molecules. He was also prominent in the development and calibration of infrared spectrographic instrumentation.

In the 1950s, Professor Peters and his students invented a technique to clad glass fibers with a glass of lower refractive index; this technique has become an important component of fiber optics technology. In the 1960s, Professor Peters, in collaboration with Professors Weinreich and Franken of the Department of Physics, first demonstrated optical harmonic generation from high intensity laser beams incident on certain materials. This discovery led to the development of the field of optical harmonics, a major subfield of laser and optical research that has great significance in science and applied science. Until his retirement in 1983,

Professor Peters continued to conduct important research on the use of lasers in molecular spectroscopy. Professor Peters was esteemed in the Department of Physics for his excel¬lence as a lecturer and advisor; patient with his students, he possessed the rare ability to make complex ideas clear and understandable -- in a lecture or in discussion. He chaired the doctoral thesis committees of a dozen graduate students during his career at Michigan. He also is remembered for his contributions to undergraduate teaching through his lectures in optics. He served as undergraduate advisor and counselor to physics majors; for many years he had a major role in the management of the physics curriculum and course schedule.

Pete was an exceptional physicist and a true leader in his field. He had a quick and active mind and comfortable and easy-going nature -- qualities which made him a good partner in the discussion of physics problems. Moreover, he was always eager and willing to engage in such discussions, with both his colleagues and students. Indeed, he was a dedicated scientist in the truest sense, concerned entirely with the matter at hand and with the attainment of knowledge for its own sake. In this regard he stands in the best tradition of physics, at Michigan or elsewhere.

Gary Krentz