Raymond B. Abbott, Emeritus Professor of Physics, died at Pasadena, California, on August 10, 1964. Although he was near 91 years of age at the time of his death, he remained in good health until the last few months of his life.
He was born in Newton, Kansas, on December 25, 1873, the son of a circuit-riding federal judge. After finishing grade school, he obtained his secondary education by self-study while working in western Kansas as a cowboy and sheepherder. He attended Kansas State Agricultural College from 1890 to 1892 as a student in a general science curriculum. He did technical work with a Topeka telephone company for a year and then spent about five years in Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico on activities including farming, prospecting, running a company store for a mining company, and teaching grade school in a mining camp. He moved to Los Angeles in 1898 and did technical and engineering work for the Edison Electric Company of Southern California for six years. He resumed his formal education in the fall of 1904, when he entered the University of California at Berkeley. He received three degrees from that institution, B. S. in Mechanics in 1908, M. S. in physics in 1912, and Ph. D. in physics in 1919.
He started his career in college teaching as an assistant instructor in physics at the University of California from 1907 to 1910 and continued at that institution as an instructor of physics from 1910 to 1920. He served as assistant professor of physics at Washington State College for the 1920-21 year and then came to Purdue University with that rank in the fall of 1921. He was promoted to associate professor in 1930 and to professor in 1934. Professor Abbott retired from active service with the Purdue Physics Department on December 31, 1943, six days after his seventieth birthday. He then served with the Purdue Engineering Experiment Station until February 1947.
Professor Abbott's research activities covered a wide range in the fields of mechanics, high frequency electrical phenomena, and, later, acoustics. As early as 1914 he was publishing research into the uses of the "Audion" vacuum tube in wireless, properties of electromagnetic wave absorption, and the application of wireless to navigation. These professional investigations were paralleled by an intense personal interest in wireless and radio communication which continued throughout his life. He was an amateur operator until such activities were banned during the first World War.
In contrast with his earlier research in electricity and electromagnetics, his Ph. D. thesis was concerned with a problem in mechanics. He made extensive investigations of deviations from Stokes' law under conditions different from those which pertained to the Millikan electronic charge experiments, in which deviations from the law were first observed.
During the 1920's he published the results of experimental and analytical investigations of electric and mechanical oscillations under logarithmic and linear damping conditions, an ingenious experimental proof that the velocity of sound is independent of the velocity of the source, and the laws of motion and effective mass for non-uniform springs.
Interspersed with these scientific investigations were practical applications. He developed one of the first, perhaps the first, stethoscopes using a vacuum tube amplifier; it also incorporated a mechanical filter to suppress high-pitch interference. Later, he developed a low-frequency radio device for the location of buried metal objects -- the precursor of the present-day "mine detector." He made several field excursions with the detector with successes as varied as the location of a French settlement near Lafayette, of the site where the wagon train of General Braddock was burned during the expedition of Fort Duquesne, and of meteorite fragments in Arizona.
In the late 1920's Professor Abbott became interested in the developing field of television. He experimented with sets of his own construction which used the scanning-disk technique and for two years collaborated with Professors R. H. George and H. J. Heim in the television development program carried out in the School of Electrical Engineering.
In the 1930's Professor Abbott began to explore a new field -- the acoustics of violin tones. To put these experiments on a reproducible basis, he developed an controllable continuous bowing machine. Using this device and the appropriate electronic instrumentation, he analyzed a wide variety of violins, from the newest of low quality to the oldest of high quality. After establishing definite measurable differences in the performance of the instruments of various qualities, he sought reasons for these differences in the density, elasticity, and internal friction of the woods used and in the effects of finish treatments with oils and varnishes.
His activity in acoustical research continued until his retirement. His last contribution to the department and the university, before retirement, is indicative of the character of the man. Since the physics department had recently moved into a new building in which the acoustical laboratory was unfinished because of personnel and financial shortages, Professor Abbott took upon himself the task of processing through fireproofing solutions and hanging in place hundreds of yards of sound-absorbing material to finish the laboratory -- for someone else to use. After retirement, for three years, he investigated the use of high-intensity sound as a military weapon.
Professor Abbott had an intense interest in teaching methods and procedures, and a number of his publications bear on this phase of his academic activities. Soon after coming to Purdue, he made a detailed analysis of those topics and skills in physics which had the most frequent recurrence in subsequent engineering courses. These topics were publicized to the students as the minimum essential items that they must master to obtain even the lowest credit grade in the course. While this marked a lower limit, he urged all instructors and students to aim much higher with no ceiling imposed. He also introduced a system of written recitations which was used in the engineering physics courses for a number of years. The procedure aimed at less reliance on exposition by the instructor and placed greater responsibility on the student for mastery of the topics by thorough study of the text. Carefully prepared tests of graduated difficulty were given at each class meeting. Despite the initial misgivings of some instructors, this program continued to receive favorable comment from the students. A further verification of its efficacy was gained from the performance of the students on standardized physics tests for which national norms were available. While Purdue students consistently scored higher than the national norm for those whose professional goal was engineering, their advantage grew substantially after the written recitations were introduced.
During the 1930's capital funds for laboratory instruction were extremely meager. To offset the difficulty Professor Abbott designed laboratory apparatus that could be constructed in the physics shops with a minimum outlay for materials. He encouraged other staff members to use their ingenuity along the same path. Out of these efforts grew a laboratory manual in physics. While parts were contributed by other staff members, the greater portion of the manual was written by Professor Abbott, and he compiled and edited the remainder. Royalties from this publication were donated by him for the purchase of laboratory equipment which could not be made in the shops. Some of the innovations and procedures introduces into the teaching program by Professor Abbott continued in use in the Purdue physics department long after his retirement.
He was a member of three honorary societies, Tau Beta Pi (engineering), Sigma Pi Sigma (physics), and Sigma Xi (research). He also was an active member of several professional societies: American Physical Society, American Association of Physics Teachers, Acoustical Society of America, Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education, American Association of University Professors, and the Indiana Academy of Science. He served the community through his membership in the Lions Club and active participation in its projects.
Raymond Abbott married Louise Warner of Orillia, Ontario, on August 5, 1908, in Los Angeles. The Abbotts had three sons, Donald Warner of Tujunga, California, Robert Edmund of Tyler, Texas, and Raymond Barrington, Jr. of Toledo, Ohio. All three earned BSME degrees from Purdue University. Professor Abbott is survived by the widow and the three sons, and also by eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Respectfully submitted by the Committee,
Hubert J. Yearian
Vivian A. Johnson, Chairman
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