William Happer

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This article is about the physicist. For the pro-wrestler, see William Murray Happer.
William Happer
William Happer by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Happer in 2016
Born (1939-07-27) July 27, 1939 (age 77)
Vellore, British India
Fields Atomic physics
Institutions Princeton University
Alma mater Princeton University
Thesis Frequency shifts in atomic beams resonances (1964)
Doctoral students John Farley
Known for Optical pumping, atomic physics
Notable awards Davisson-Germer Prize in Atomic or Surface Physics

William "Will" Happer (born July 27, 1939[1]) is an American physicist who has specialised in the study of atomic physics, optics and spectroscopy.[2] He is the Cyrus Fogg Brackett[3] Professor of Physics at Princeton University,[2] and a long-term member of the JASON advisory group,[1] where he pioneered the development of adaptive optics. From 1991-93, Happer served as director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science as part of the George H. W. Bush administration.

Early life[edit]

Happer was born in Vellore, India, the son of two medical doctors. Happer spent the years of World War II with his mother in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. After the war, and a return to India, his family emigrated to North Carolina.[4]


He studied physics at the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1960, and then earned his doctorate at Princeton in 1964.[2]


His academic career started at Columbia University where he became a full professor and director of the Columbia Radiation Laboratory.[2] In 1980, he left to go to Princeton, where he was later the Class of 1990 Professor of Physics.[2] In 1991, he joined the United States Department of Energy, where he was the director of its research budget of $3 billion.[2] In 1993, he returned to his position at Princeton, where he became the chair of the University Research Board in 1995.[2] Happer describes his laboratory's research interests in atomic physics: "we're interested in the mechanisms that limit the performance of optical pumping systems, such as atomic clocks, magnetometers, and laser guide-star adaptive optics systems."[5]

Happer joined the JASON advisory group in 1976, and continues to be active there.[1] Happer is credited with a key insight in 1982 that made adaptive optics possible: there is a layer of sodium in the mesosphere, at around 90 to 100 km. elevation, that could be lit by a laser beam to make an artificial guide star. His idea was tested successfully by DARPA, but classified for possible military applications. The military-designed technology was partially unclassified in 1991, after the same idea was independently proposed by two French astronomers. In 1994, Happer and coauthors published a declassified version of the JASON reports on adaptive optics.[6][7] Happer was chairman of the steering committee for JASON, 1987–1990.[1]

In addition to these positions, he has had numerous other assignments: trustee of the MITRE Corporation, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and the Marshall Institute,[2] of which he is also Chairman, since 2006.[8] He co-founded Magnetic Imaging Technologies Inc. in 1994.[2]

Views on climate change[edit]

In February 2009 Happer testified before the U.S. Congress, "I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind", for among other reasons because of its beneficial effects on plant growth.[9]

Happer was listed as a signer of the petition of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, no later than 2000,[10] and Cato Institute's 2009 letter.[11] With Fred Singer, Harold Lewis, Robert Austin, Larry Gould, and Roger Cohen, Happer led[12] the 2009 petition[13] to the American Physical Society to change its position statement on climate change. The petition was signed by only a few hundred of the 47,000 members and was rejected.[14]

The Daily Princetonian quoted Happer:[15]

"All the evidence I see is that the current warming of the climate is just like past warmings. In fact, it’s not as much as past warmings yet, and it probably has little to do with carbon dioxide, just like past warmings had little to do with carbon dioxide," Happer explained.

In July 2011, Happer published an article in First Things, "The Truth About Greenhouse Gasses: The Dubious Science of Climate Crusaders," in which he discusses climate science's concern with increasing CO2 as a "Moral Epidemic".[16] Among other responses, climate scientist Michael MacCracken published a detailed critique.[17][18]

In January 2012, Happer and 15 others published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "No Need to Panic About Global Warming", in which they said that "The international warming establishment" has suppressed those who have doubts on the conclusion of climate science, "we have seen it before—for example, in the frightening period when Trofim Lysenko hijacked biology in the Soviet Union." In their view, it comes down to climate scientists living very well on the government trough, "Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them."[19] A discussion and exchange developed in the New York Review of Books[20][21] along with another in Physics Today.[22][23]

In March 2012, Happer published another op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, "Global Warming Models are Wrong Again", in which he focused on climate models, one of the lines of evidence for anthropogenic climate change and said that "The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with model predictions." He also said that global warming has stopped in the last 10 years.[24]

In May 2013, Happer and Harrison Schmitt, two of the authors of the January 2012 op-ed, published another in the Wall Street Journal, "In Defense of Carbon Dioxide," in which they termed elevated atmospheric CO2, "a boon to plant life".[25][26]

In July 2014 Happer said, during a CNBC interview, that "The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler." [27]

In December 2015 Happer was targeted in a sting operation by the environmental activist group Greenpeace; posing as consultants for a Middle Eastern oil and gas company, they asked Happer to write a report touting the benefits of rising carbon emissions. Concerned that the report might not be trusted if it was known that it was commissioned by an oil company, Happer discussed ways to obscure the funding[clarify]. Happer asked that the fee be donated to the climate-change skeptic organization CO2 Coalition, who suggested he reach out to the Donors Trust, in order to keep the source of funds secret; hiding funding in this way is lawful under US law. Happer acknowledged that his report would probably not pass peer-review with a scientific journal.[28]

In February 2017 Happer described climate scientists (without specifying any in particular) as “a glassy-eyed cult.”[29]


He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He received an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship in 1966, an Alexander von Humboldt award in 1976, the Herbert P.Broida Prize in 1997, the Davisson-Germer prize and the Thomas Alva Edison patent award in 2000.[2] In 2003 he was named the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University.[30]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Thad G. Walker and William Happer, "Spin-exchange optical pumping of noble-gas nuclei": Rev. Mod. Phys. 69, 629–642 (1997). doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.69.629
  • W. Happer, G. J. MacDonald, C. E. Max, and F. J. Dyson, "Atmospheric-turbulence compensation by resonant optical backscattering from the sodium layer in the upper atmosphere," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 11, 263-276 (1994): abstract
  • William Happer, "Optical Pumping": Review of Modern Physics, vol. 44, Issue 2, pp. 169–249 (1972). DOI:10.1103/RevModPhys.44.169

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d William Happer biography at American Institute of Physics
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Alan Shaw (2004), University research centers of excellence for homeland security, National Academies Press, ISBN 978-0-309-09236-4 
  3. ^ Brackett, Cyrus Fogg (1833-1915), first Joseph Henry Professor of Physics and founder of the Electrical Engineering Department at Princeton
  4. ^ Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons: The Secret History of Science's Postwar Elite, pp. 222-225. Viking/Penguin, 2006, ISBN 0-670-03489-4
  5. ^ William Happer, Princeton University
  6. ^ Ann Finkbeiner, The Jasons, pp. 157-167
  7. ^ W. Happer, G. J. MacDonald, C. E. Max, and F. J. Dyson, "Atmospheric-turbulence compensation by resonant optical backscattering from the sodium layer in the upper atmosphere," J. Opt. Soc. Am. A 11, 263-276 (1994): abstract.
  8. ^ Happer Named Institute Chairman (PDF), George C. Marshall Institute, 2006 
  9. ^ Happer, William (February 25, 2009). "Climate change". U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  10. ^ Signers H, OISM, 2000, archived from the original on 2000-08-23 
  11. ^ With all due respect Mr President, that is not true, Cato Institute, 2009, retrieved 2011-01-23 
  12. ^ A Gaggle Is Not a Consensus, 2009 
  13. ^ 2009 Open Letter, 2009 
  14. ^ APS Council Overwhelmingly Rejects Proposal to Replace Society’s Current Climate Change Statement, 2009 
  15. ^ Raymond Brusca (2009), Professor denies global warming theory 
  16. ^ Happer's article, "The Truth About Greenhouse Gasses: The Dubious Science of Climate Crusaders" at First Things, July 2011
  17. ^ Michael MacCraken's response, "The Real Truth about Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change: Paragraph-by-Paragraph Comments on an Article by Dr. William Happer" at Climate Science Watch, September 2011
  18. ^ GWPF & The Hockey Stick Curve at DeSmog Blog
  19. ^ "No Need to Panic About Global Warming", Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2012
  20. ^ "Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong" by William D. Nordhaus. New York Review of Books, March 22, 2012
  21. ^ In the Climate Casino: An Exchange by Roger W. Cohen, Richard Lindzen, and Happer, with a reply by William Nordhaus. New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012
  22. ^ "Wall Street Journal attempts to escalate the climate wars" at Physics Today, January 30, 2012
  23. ^ "Wall Street Journal presses to have climate change seen as an open scientific question" at Physics Today, February 22, 2012
  24. ^ Happer's article, "Global Warming Models are Wrong Again", Wall St. Journal, March, 2012
  25. ^ Happer's article, "In Defense of Carbon Dioxide", Wall St. Journal, May, 2013
  26. ^ "The WSJ editorial page hits rock bottom", Columbia Journalism Review, May 9, 2013
  27. ^ Carbon Dioxide Suffers Just Like Jews In Nazi Germany
  28. ^ Suzanne Goldenberg, "Greenpeace exposes sceptics hired to cast doubt on climate science", The Guardian, December 8, 2015.
  29. ^ Trump's likely science adviser calls climate scientists 'glassy-eyed cult'
  30. ^ "Happer and Ong named to endowed professorships". Princeton Weekly Bulletin. 2003-02-24. 

External links[edit]

External image
William Happer