Physicist Charles A. Whitten, Jr., dies at age 70

Charles A. Whitten, Jr., a physicist who helped lead his department’s successful research efforts in the field of nuclear physics over the last four decades, died unexpectedly Saturday, Dec. 4, in Los Angeles at age 70.
Whitten played a major role in the UCLA-led discovery that spin observables in elastic proton-nuclear reactions were compatible with a phenomenological treatment using the Dirac equation.
Born on Jan. 20, 1940, he received his B.S. degree summa cum laude in 1961 at Yale University and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Princeton University. He utilized the Princeton cyclotron to obtain the data for his Ph.D. thesis. Returning to Yale as a postdoctoral fellow, he joined a team doing nuclear research under the direction of D. A. Bromley at the newly established tandem Van de Graf laboratory over the next two years.
He came to UCLA as an assistant professor in 1968 to work with the 50 MeV spiral ridge cyclotron, built under the leadership of Professor Reginald Richardson, and established a new research direction at the facility using a technique for measuring decay protons. Whitten’s research work extended the useful life of the cyclotron facility and resulted in a number of important publications.
After the demise of the cyclotron in 1972, Whitten turned his attention to the field of intermediate nuclear physics and studied proton-induced reactions at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility (LAMPF). Whitten assisted in the development of a precision instrument, called the High Resolution Spectrometer, at the facility.
From 1975 to 1985, Whitten became one of the leading lights in spin physics when polarized proton beams became available at LAMPF. He later joined the Spin Muon Collaboration on an experiment at CERN and also worked on a heavy ion experiment there. He was responsible in large part for the successful construction of a large time-projection chamber for this experiment.
Beginning in 1993, he was a seminal member of the STAR Collaboration at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, where his interests in spin physics and heavy ion experiments continued to expand.
Known for his ability to explain conceptual matters to struggling students, Whitten taught undergraduates almost exclusively and predominantly lower-division courses for large groups of students. Promoted to full professor in 1980, he received the department’s Outstanding Teaching Award in 1988-89 and again in 1998-99.
He served as a faculty graduate adviser for more than 10 years. “He was truly concerned about the progress of each and every one of our graduate students,” said Professor Emeritus George Igo. “He was a man of integrity in both his professional and personal life.”
Whitten is survived by his wife Joan, son Alec and two grandchildren. A memorial has been planned for Friday, Dec. 10, at 3:30 p.m. at the Faculty Center. In lieu of flowers, his family is requesting that memorial donations be made to provide scholarships to deserving teaching assistants in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Checks can be made out to the UCLA Foundation with “Charles A. Whitten Memorial” in the memo line.
Donations may be sent to the Chair’s Office, UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy, 475 Portola Plaza, Room 2-707 PAB, Box 951547, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1547