Wendell H. Furry

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Wendell Hinkle Furry was a professor of physics at Harvard University, and made notable contributions to theoretical and particle physics. He was born in Prairieton, Indiana on February 18. 1907, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in December 1984.[1] He earned an A.B. degree from DePauw University in 1928 and an A.M. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1930 and 1932, respectively[2][3] He made important contributions to the early development of Quantum Field Theory with J. Robert Oppenheimer, Vladimir Fock, and others. During World War II he worked on radar at MIT's Radiation Laboratory. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1949.

In 1953, he was subpoenaed several times as a suspected communist by the House Unamerican Activities Committee and by US Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege in refusing to answer questions about his past membership in the Communist Party. In early 1954 he dropped the Fifth Amendment defense in a nationally televised hearing before Senator McCarthy and answered questions about himself but refused to name others. Because of that refusal, he was indicted for contempt of Congress but the case was dropped several years later. [4] Furry was defended by newly appointed Harvard president Nathan M. Pusey, who refused McCarthy's demands to fire him, and also by Nobel laureate in physics and fellow Harvard professor Edward M. Purcell.[5] He co-authored a general physics text of the time with Purcell and J. C. Street.[6]

Prof. Furry, like so many other intellectuals of the depression era, had great interest in the then on-going Russian experiment in attempting to create a "communist" society. As part of that interest he taught himself Russian and for many years supplemented his income by translation and editing of Russian Physics journals published by the American Institute of Physics. He later played a significant role in the writing of Irving Emin's, "Russian—English Physics Dictionary," John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1963 (with his contribution acknowledged p. vii, "Preface")—a work that is still widely used. A soft-spoken man, but an excellent, well-organized teacher, he is remembered by his former students for his many kindnesses. As part of his wartime work at the MIT Radiation Laboratory he made significant, still useful work on radar propagation that is documented in Chapter 2 (pp. 27–180) in Vol. 13, "Propagation of Short Radio Waves," edited by Donald E. Kerr, as a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory Series, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1951. After the war, Prof. Furry continued teaching at Harvard, later becoming a full professor and serving for three years as chairman of the Physics Department from 1965 to 1968.[7] After several years of half-time partial retirement he accepted full retirement in 1977.[8]


  1. ^ Birth and death dates from U.S. Social Security Death Index, as recorded at [1] Access date 2009-10-4.
  2. ^ Wendell Furry, Array of Contemporary American Physicists
  3. ^ Wendell H. Furry, Excited Electronic States of Li2, Phys. Rev. 39, 1015–1017 (1932)
  4. ^ Lewis. Lionel S. Cold War on Campus: A Study of the Politics of Organizational Control Transaction Publishers (January 1, 1989) pp. 69–75.Google Books
  5. ^ Time  magazine
  6. ^ Physics for Science and Engineering Students,  W. H. Furry, E. M. Purcell, and J. C. Street, 1952, The Blakiston Company, New York.
  7. ^ Wendell Furry, Array of Contemporary American Physicists
  8. ^ Wendell Hinkle Furry, Memorial Minute adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, November 18, 1986