CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558
Paul Kirkpatrick, inventor of the X-ray microscope, dead at 98
STANFORD -- Paul Kirkpatrick, a pioneer in the use of X-rays for scientific purposes and the earliest practitioner of holograms, died in his sleep at the age of 98 on Dec. 26.
Kirkpatrick was co-inventor of the X-ray reflection microscope, and the imaging technique he and his graduate student Alfred Baez developed is still used, particularly in astronomy to take X-ray pictures of galaxies and in medicine.
A professor emeritus of physics at Stanford, he was a familiar figure around campus - tall, lean, with a white beard circling the bottom of his face, riding his bicycle to appointments or lunch. He rode his bike until four years ago and was confined to a wheelchair only in the last year.
Kirkpatrick was one of the earliest critics of the growing domination of research over teaching at research universities, an opinion he held since the 1920s. He was one of the early leaders in the American Association of Physics Teachers, and helped bring about a rapprochement between that association and the American Physical Society, the organization of researchers, which for many years had been at odds.
At Stanford, a teaching award and a graduate student dormitory have been named for him.
A life-long vegetarian, non-smoker and non-drinker, Kirkpatrick said in an interview 10 years ago: "I have never felt the need to conform, whether in the cut of my clothes, the accoutrements of my bicycle, fads of speech, the momentary aversions and enthusiasms for current songs, women, car models or recreation. This independence, or obstinacy, is traceable from childhood through college and World War II experience, and possibly clear up to date, though I have mellowed somewhat since passing the age of 50."
Kirkpatrick was born near Wessington, S.D., July 21, 1894, to a family of homesteaders. He attended a one-room schoolhouse where about 20 students, ranging in age from 6 to 12, were all taught by the same teacher.
"The education wasn't bad," he once said. "I can still spell better than my children."
To get a better education for their children, his parents moved to Southern California, where he went to high school and then graduated from Occidental College.
After his senior year, he accepted a two-year job teaching physics at a Presbyterian mission college in Hangchow, China, a formative experience in his life, his family said.
He returned to the United States during World War I and served in the Army. On his return, he went to the University of California-Berkeley for his doctorate, specializing in X-ray research. He received his doctorate in 1923.
His first job was at the University of Hawaii, where he became the one-man physics department.
He found the university had virtually no facilities for X-ray research and wound up using disused hospital equipment, which he managed to bring to his lab to study the polarization of X-rays when reflected by crystals, work that would later lead to his greatest scientific achievement.
While at Hawaii, he met David Webster, head of Stanford's physics department, then on the islands as a tourist. The relationship eventually brought him to Stanford.
On a voyage from a summer job at the University of California-Los Angeles, he met Mary Rose Clark, a newly hired teacher on her way to Maui.
"The confinement of a small and slow passenger ship led to our marriage," he said. They were married for almost 70 years.
After spending six years at Hawaii, he went to Cornell for more research and then Webster offered him a position at Stanford.
"The Stanford Department of Physics in 1931, though far surpassing that of the University of Hawaii by any criterion, was a petty operation by the standards which came to prevail 30 years later, either at Stanford or at a score of other respected institutions," Kirkpatrick said. "The instructing force consisted of four professors, two instructors and six part-time assistants."
The assistants were graduate students who were doing everything possible to delay getting their degrees so they wouldn't have to face a Depression job market.
Along with P.A. Ross, Kirkpatrick continued his research into reflected X-rays, particularly the Compton Effect, which describes the reduction in the energy of X-rays when they are scattered by free electrons. He and Ross found an error in A.H. Compton's formula and explained the effect as atomic binding of the electrons.
Ross died in 1938.
In 1948, Kirkpatrick and Baez (singer Joan Baez's father) developed the first X-ray microscope. The early device had a resolution somewhere between the best optical and electron microscopes. It had the advantage of being able to view living specimens because it did not require that the specimen be placed in vacuum, as was required by the electron device.
Their technique, called "grazing," takes images that rely on reflections from mirrors at very shallow angles.
At about the same time, one of Kirkpatrick's students, Hussein El- Sum, published a dissertation that became the world's first book on holography. The hologram, Kirkpatrick liked to point out, preceded the invention of the laser, now the universal light source.
"It [the book] was little noticed and could be found in few libraries until lasers appeared, emitting the ideal form of light for holographic effects," he said. "Suddenly, the loan demand for the Stanford library copy of the El-Sum book shot up, and exceeded anything in that library's experience, so I was told."
Kirkpatrick was a popular but ruthlessly demanding teacher, who insisted that his students' papers be in perfect English.
"I felt ... that most research reports are badly written, with little enough expository skill and often with indifference toward the mental states and difficulties of the reader. These faults," he said, "have their counterparts in the utterances of the teacher or lecturer,0 and even in the products of textbook authors."
He himself was co-author of a standard college physics text - in perfect English.
Kirkpatrick retired in 1958 after almost three decades of teaching. He and his wife lived on campus.
Funeral services will be private, but a memorial service will be scheduled for mid-January.
Kirkpatrick is survived by his widow; two daughters, Pauline Abbe of Santa Barbara and Nancy Morrell of Brunswick, Maine; nine grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
This is an archived release.
This release is not available in any other form.
Images mentioned in this release are not available online.