Ralph A. Sawyer

Ralph Sawyer was born January 5, 1895 in Atkinson, N.H., and graduated from Dartmouth in 1915. Later he did graduate work at the University of Chicago, receiving a Ph.D. in 1919. He joined the physics faculty of the University of Michigan that same year, and became a full professor in 1930.  Sawyer was a specialist in spectroscopy and in 1944 wrote the well-known text Experimental Spectroscopy.  

The most memorable year in Sawyer’s career was most likely 1946. In that year he was selected technical director of the U.S. “Operations Crossroads” atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, appointed director of the University of Michigan’s Phoenix Memorial Project for peaceful uses of atomic energy, and named dean of the Graduate School.

In 1959 Sawyer was named vice president for research at the University of Michigan and remained in that position until he retired in 1965. He was a member of the scientific advisory board of the Naval Weapons Lab from 1952 on, was a member of the US National Committee for ICO (1952-54) and chaired the governing board of AIP. 

Sawyer received a Guggenheim Fellowship early in his career and became a fellow of OSA, APS, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received OSA’s Ives Medal as well as several honorary degrees. Sawyer was the last OSA president to serve a two-year term.

Sawyer died in 1978.