Dr. Wales, Physics and Astronomy

Dr. Walter Wales, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy, passed away December 28, 2011. He was 78 years old.

Dr. Wales began his 52-year academic career at Penn as an instructor in physics in 1959 after achieving his bachelor of science at Carleton College and his MS and PhD at the California Institute of Technology, all in physics. He became an assistant professor of physics in 1962 and was promoted to professor of physics in 1972.

Dr. Wales' research was in experimental particle physics, a field he served admirably as associate director of the Princeton-Penn Accelerator from 1968 to 1971 and as staff physicist for the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1972 to 1973 where he did program management for federally-supported particle physics experiments and particle accelerator operations throughout the country. Dr. Wales was also executive secretary of the High-Energy Physics Advisory Panel for the Atomic Energy Commission and a fellow of the American Physical Society.

Dr. Wales moved gradually from a research-intensive career into academic administration while simultaneously increasing his commitment to teaching. He excelled at both, winning the Ira Abrams Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1990 and serving in an incredible number of leadership roles in his department, the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), and the central administration. He variously served as chair and interim chair of the department of physics, chair of the Faculty Senate, twice as associate dean for SAS, twice as acting or interim dean for SAS, deputy provost, University ombudsman, interim associate provost, and founding chair of the Penn Association of Senior and Emeritus Faculty.

Dr. Wales served on innumerable committees throughout the University including multiple times on the Faculty Senate Committee on Faculty and Administration, the Faculty Senate Nominating Committee, the University Council Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics Committee, and the University Council Committee on Facilities. He also served as the Senate Grievance Chair, on the Task Force on Governance and the Task Force on Faculty Retirement.

Outside of Penn, he served on the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel Subcommittee on Manpower. He was also president of the University of Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and Chairman of the Development Committee for Advanced Placement Examination in Physics. In addition to the American Physical Society and the American Association of University Professors, his professional affiliations included the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Throughout his many administrative roles, extensive service to the Penn community and US science and even after his retirement in 2002, Dr. Wales remained committed to teaching classes at Penn almost every semester until illness forced him to stop teaching in 2011.

Dr. Wales was born on August 2, 1933 in Oneonta, New York. He is survived by his wife, Margaret; his son, Stephen; and his daughter, Carolyn. No funeral service will be held as it was Dr. Wales' final wish that his body be donated to science. A memorial service will be held in the spring.