WASHINGTON, Pa. (Sept. 28, 2012) – Physics professor Michael Pettersen, Ph.D., has been named Washington & Jefferson College’s first Joseph A. Walker Class of 1942 Endowed Chair of Physics.
Funded by John A. Swanson, Ph.D., the founder and retired chief executive officer of ANSYS in Canonsburg, Pa., the award is named in honor of the late Joseph Walker, a 1942 graduate of W&J and renowned test pilot for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
“With this honor, I hope to pass on to students Joseph Walker’s passion for science, discovery, exploration and adventure,” Pettersen, chair of the physics department at W&J, said. “Walker’s impressive career and impact on aeronautics is a testament to what our physics majors at W&J are capable of achieving.”
Pettersen, who has chaired the physics department at W&J for nine years, has published 31 refereed journal articles and been invited to speak at a number of conferences. He recently published a paper titled “Capillary Rise and Condensation in a Cone as an Illustration of a Spinodal Point" and, in 2007, co-authored a book on the trial of Galileo and the Catholic church. Pettersen graduated summa cum laude with a degree in physics from Harvard University and earned his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology.
A native of Washington, Pa., Walker became the first NASA pilot to fly the experimental X-15 supersonic aircraft, a feat he performed 24 times. He also was the first American civilian to make a spaceflight via the X-15 to the altitude of 100 kilometers, crossing the threshold definition of outer space.
“In the same spirit of excellence and stratospheric achievement, Dr. Swanson established the Joseph A. Walker Class of 1942 Endowed Chair of Physics to promote science, particularly physics, which is the bedrock of all engineering fields,” John Zimmerman, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at W&J, said. “The epitome of a teacher-scholar, Dr. Pettersen advocates the connection between sciences and the liberal arts in the classroom.”
Walker was tragically killed in 1966 when his F-104 Starfighter chase aircraft collided with an XB-70 experimental supersonic bomber. He was honored with numerous awards during his lifetime, being named Pilot of the Year by the National Pilots Association in 1963 and earning an honorary doctorate of aeronautical sciences from W&J in 1962.