Rice mourns loss of former Dean King Walters

King Walters ’53, an internationally known physicist who pioneered the atomic physics research program at Rice and who helped develop it into one of the nation’s strongest, died Feb. 11 in Houston. He was 82.

King Walters


Walters, whose association with Rice spanned six decades, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Rice prior to earning his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1956. After making a mark for himself in industrial research at Texas Instruments, he returned to Rice in 1963 and remained at the university until his retirement in 1999. While at Rice, Walters began atomic, molecular and surface physics research programs.

But his service to the university went beyond his professorship. He served as chair of the Physics Department from 1973 to 1977 and as dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences from 1980 to 1987. After retiring, he continued his affiliation with Rice by serving as both associate dean of natural sciences and as associate vice provost for research. In 2003 he was awarded the highest honor bestowed by the Association of Rice Alumni, the Gold Medal.

“The Physics and Astronomy Department benefited greatly from King’s leadership,” said Professor Tom Killian, chair of the department. “He recruited and mentored many of our faculty, and he is remembered as a great scientist, colleague and friend.”

Walters’ research led to development of the helium magnetometer and fundamental insights into how atoms behave when they collide with one another or a surface. He pioneered the use of synchrotron radiation to study collisions of rare gas atoms, which led to the development of lasers used in the manufacture of silicon chips.

Walters also was honored by the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation, which awarded a $1 million grant for the King Walters Research Innovation Fund to Rice’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. The fund was created to honor Walters’ work for Research Corporation Technologies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting scientific research.

Walters is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Jeanette Long Walters, three children and two grandchildren.

A campus memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m. March 22 at Rice Memorial Chapel.

In lieu of customary remembrances, contributions in Walters’ memory may be directed to the King Walters Research Innovation Fund at Rice University, 6100 Main Street, Houston, Texas, 77005, or to the Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/donate‎.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.