Nuclear pioneer and former Cornell engineering professor John Perry Howe dies at 88 in La Jolla, Calif.
By David Brand
Nuclear reactor pioneer John Perry Howe, a former engineering professor at Cornell University and director of the university's Department of Materials Science and Engineering from 1962 to 1965, died in La Jolla, Calif., June 13. He was 88.
In 1942, while an assistant professor of physical chemistry at Brown University, Howe was recruited to study nuclear energy under physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton at the University of Chicago. Under the code name "Metallurgical Laboratory," the project created the world's first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
A resident of La Jolla for the past three decades, Howe was a sportsman and outdoors enthusiast who played tennis until suffering a head injury at age 85. The cause of death was complications from a fall, his family said.
Howe came to Cornell in 1961 from the Atomics International Division of North American Aviation. At Cornell he was Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Engineering Physics, later becoming director of the materials science department. His fields of teaching and research were engineering physics, nuclear science and engineering, and nuclear materials.
After leaving Cornell, Howe spent a year at the Institute for Defense, Washington, D.C., then, in 1968, joined General Atomic of La Jolla, retiring in 1975 as technical director of advanced energy systems. He then served as an adjunct professor of applied mechanics and engineering science at the University of California, San Diego.
Born June 24, 1910, on a farm in Groton, N.Y., the son of Mather Crain Howe and Bell Gertrude Smith, Howe graduated from Groton High School, Hobart College (B.S., summa cum laude, 1933) in Geneva, N.Y., and Brown University (Ph.D. 1936). He was an instructor at Ohio State University (1936-1938), and assistant professor at Brown (1938-1942).
In 1942 he became associate director of general research and development on reactors for the Metallurgical Laboratory, Manhattan District, at the University of Chicago. In 1944, he was
sent to Hanford, Wash., to act as the laboratory's liaison for reactors designed to produce plutonium for the Manhattan Project, the highly secret government program to produce the atomic bomb.
After the war, in 1945, he became manager of the metallurgy section of General Electric's (GE) Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady, N.Y. From 1952 to 1953, he conducted research in energy conversion and storage for the GE Research Laboratory.
Howe served in 1955 as an adviser to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) at the First International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, Switzerland. He also served on numerous committees of the AEC, the General Advisory Group of the Air Force Office of Aerospace Research. A member of numerous professional organizations, he was a fellow of the American Nuclear Society and the American Physical Society. He co-edited Progress in Nuclear Energy, Series V, Vols. 1, 2, and 3; Metallurgy and Fuels; and the Journal of Nuclear Materials.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marilyn; three children; and four grandchildren.