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Memorial

William L. Williams
Regents' Proceedings

The Regents of The University of Michigan sadly acknowledge the death of Professor William L Williams as the result of a plane accident on November 11, 1986. A memorial service was held at the Michigan Union on November 15 as a celebration of his life.

Professor Williams received his undergraduate education in physics at Rice University, where he earned the B.A. degree in 1959. He earned his M.A. degree in 1961 from Dartmouth College, and was awarded the Ph.D. degree from Yale University in 1965. His academic career was spent at The University of Michigan, where he arrived as an instructor in 1965. He advanced to assistant professor in 1966, associate professor in 1969, and professor in 1976. He was also guest professor at Heidelberg in 1972-1973, as a Humboldt Foundation senior fellow. He served as associate chairman of the Physics Department, and at the time of his death was the associate dean for Research in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. His published work included 27 papers and 9 invited addresses at conferences. His "Doktorfamilie" contained 11 students, and he influenced a large number of students in his teaching career.

His experimental research began as an undergraduate at Rice University in nuclear physics, and continued at Dartmouth in solid state physics. He was attracted to research on fundamental problems at Yale, and shared first prize in the Gravity Foundation contest for his thesis work. At Michigan he worked on a number of basic measurements with hydrogen and helium beams. This was followed by astronomical measurements on the circular polarization of light from white dwarfs. His most ambitious challenge was the search for handedness in the hydrogen atom. This work provided the best existing tests of inversion symmetries in that atom. He was beginning collaboration on a major particle physics experiment on the muon g-factor.

A dry recital of his accomplishments fails to convey the vitality and enthusiasm with which he lived. Bill was an exceptionally vigorous person, rising early, working hard and lamenting time spent in sleep. He conveyed a keen sense of enthusiasm and joy in his work, and stimulated those around him to share his intense activity. His interests included music and languages, sailing, hiking, and especially flying. Above all, he had a remarkable talent for friendship: to work with him was to be drawn into close friendship. He counted hundreds as his friends, from distinguished professors and instrument makers to students and amateur pilots. His death left a huge gap in the community of friends, which he had created. He will long be remembered as a positive force in the lives of many people.