Van Zandt Williams was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1916, received a B.A. from Brown University in 1937 and a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University in 1941.
Upon leaving Princeton, Williams joined American Cyanamid’s Research Laboratories in Stamford, Conn., where he continued his research in the application of infrared spectroscopy to the problems of the analytical chemistry. In 1948 Williams left American Cyanamid to join Perkin-Elmer Corporation. He devoted the next 17 years to making the powerful tools of infrared spectroscopy available to chemists and physicists. His work broadened the field of organic chemistry by introducing techniques to rapidly and accurately analyze compounds.
An active member of the optics community, Williams was a founding member of the southeastern Connecticut Local Section and had assisted in the formation of the Coblentz Society. He was a member of OSA Board of Directors and initiated the “Optics in Action” program. In 1965 Williams became director of the American Institute of Physics.
Williams died in 1966.