William C. Martin

November 27, 1929 —  September 15, 2013

William Clyde Martin, one of the world’s leading atomic spectroscopists, passed away from complications of pneumonia on September 15, 2013, at the age of 83. Martin led the Atomic Spectroscopy Group at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for 36 years.

Bill Martin was born in Cullman, Alabama, in 1929. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 1951 and went on to graduate studies in physics at Princeton, where he received a Master’s Degree in 1953 and Ph. D. in 1956. Bill’s thesis concerned the spectrum and energy levels of neutral and singly ionized phosphorus, a challenging project because of the difficulty of producing a VUV light source to excite the spectrum.

After graduating from Princeton, Bill joined the National Bureau of Standards, now NIST. In 1962 he was appointed Chief of the Atomic Spectroscopy Section, and he served in this position until his retirement in 1998. After retiring, he continued his research, first as a contractor and then as NIST Scientist Emeritus.

Bill oversaw the 1965 move of the spectroscopy group from downtown Washington, DC, to Gaithersburg, Maryland. To equip the new lab, a number of new instruments had to be designed and built. Foremost among them were normal- and grazing-incidence spectrographs for observation of the VUV, which became the basis for numerous ground-breaking publications in atomic spectra. In the 1970s Bill was instrumental in turning the use of these instruments to the generation of data for controlled nuclear fusion research

NBS had published three volumes of Atomic Energy Levels by Charlotte Moore Sitterly in 1949-1958. When Bill became head of the spectroscopy group, he involved various members in expanding and updating Moore’s classic compilations. Missing from Moore’s three volumes were data for the rare earth elements. Bill personally led the new compilation effort, resulting in publication of the fourth volume in the series, Atomic Energy Levels – The Rare-Earth Elements, by W. C. Martin, R. Zalubas, and L. Hagan. This volume has served as the bible for rare earth energy levels since its publication in 1978.

Bill Martin had a life-long interest in astronomy. He regularly attended meetings of the American Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union. He served as Chairman of the IAU Working Group on Atomic Spectra and Wavelength Standards from 1973 to 1997. At one of the AAS meetings, Bill learned of potential problems with wavelength calibration of spectrographs on the Hubble Space Telescope, under construction at the time. This led to a NIST program to provide a suitable wavelength calibration standard for HST. The light source that was developed, a platinum/neon hollow cathode with wavelengths provided by NIST has been used on Hubble from the time of its launch in 1990 until today.

With the retirement of Charlotte Moore Sitterly in 1968, Bill took over as Director of the Atomic Spectroscopy Data Center. With the coming of the Internet, he realized that the future of data dissemination would be via online databases. Working with Wolfgang Wiese, he undertook organization of the NIST Atomic Spectra Database. This database went online in 1995 and has continued to expand since then. It is now in version 5.1, experiencing about 1000 downloads per day.

Bill published over 65 papers in atomic spectroscopy. Together with Wiese, he wrote the chapter on Atomic Spectroscopy for what is now the Springer Handbook of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics. His last publication was a scholarly work with E. Arimondo of Italy and C. W. Clark of NIST on “Ettore Majorana and the Birth of Autoionization.”

In recognition of his work he was awarded the U. S. Department of Commerce Silver Medal (1968) and Gold Medal (1981). In 1992 he was awarded the NIST Allen V. Astin Measurement Science Award and in 1997 the Office of Measurement Services Award. In 1983 he was recognized with the William F. Meggers Award of the Optical Society of America. He was a Fellow of APS, OSA, and AAAS. He served as Associate Editor and Technical Editor of the Journal of the Optical Society of America

After coming to Washington, Bill met and married Dolores Moyano. Their home in Bethesda was the site of many warm gatherings. Their dinner parties always included interesting guests ranging from politicians to poets to journalists to scientists. Dolores Martin passed away in 2003. Bill is survived by their two sons, Christian and Eric.

Bill’s intellectual presence and sense of humor will be greatly missed. He was a genuine force for excellence for NIST and for physics.

Joseph Reader and David R. Lide
National Institute of Standards and Technology

More information
Submitted by: David R. Lide1
1 National Institute of Standards and Technology


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Scitation: William C. Martin