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Otto Laporte
LSA Minutes

1902 - 1971

The University of Michigan lost one of its most distinguished scientists with the death of Professor Otto Laporte last March 28th. He had been a member of the Physics Department staff for nearly forty-five years.

Professor Laporte was born in Mainz, Germany July 23rd, 1902. He attended The University of Munich and in 1924 received his doctorate under the guidance of the great German physicist, Arnold Sommerfeld. The next two years were spent in travel in Japan and in the United States and in 1926 he joined the faculty of the University as an Instructor in Theoretical Physics. His promotion to full professorship occurred in 1945.

In the early and middle 1920's one of the most urgent and exciting fields of physics was the study of atomic spectroscopy. Professor Laporte established an instant reputation by correctly analyzing the difficult and complex spectrum of iron. This work led to the discovery of the Laporte rule which tests the conservation of parity in electromagnetic interactions. During the next twenty years he wrote some fifty articles on atomic spectra as well as conducting a number of researches in the most fundamental aspects of theoretical physics.

In 1944 he began what was in effect a new career in the field of fluid mechanics. This was initiated with a series of papers on exact solutions for both subsonic and supersonic flow. In the early fifties he was the first to propose the use of reflected shock waves for the production of extremely high temperatures and, with a series of his students, he carried these proposals to experimental realization.

The distinguished pioneering quality of Professor Laporte's research has been recognized by physicists both in this country and abroad. On April 27th of this year he was elected posthumously to membership in the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor Laporte served as Visiting Professor in Japan in 1928 and in 1933 and acquired an intimate knowledge of the Japanese language and culture. During the two periods 1954-56 and 1961-63 he held the post of Scientific Attache to the American Embassy in Tokyo and was able to contribute significantly to the re-establishment of friendly relations and understanding between the Japanese and American scientific communities.

Finally, stress should be put upon that aspect of Otto Laporte's character which was most striking to his students and colleagues, namely, his profound scholarship. He was truly a learned man, not only in the sense that he knew a great deal but more that he had the ability to impart a sense of order and beauty. He was one of our great teachers both in and out of the classroom.

For many years he was an important element in contributing to the intellectual life of the University and he will be sorely missed by all of us.

Professor Laporte is survived by his wife, Adele, and three daughters, Claire, Irene and Marianne.

David M. Dennison