Place of Birth
(United States of America, New England, Northeast United States, Northern New England, United States, with Territories, North America, Contiguous United States)
Ralph Alanson Sawyer was a physicist and a leader in American science. A New Hampshire native, he graduated from the Atkinson Academy in 1911 and in 1915 from Dartmouth. He then went to the University of Chicago where, under the direction of R A Millikan, he finished his PhD in 1919, a time during which he also served as a scientific liaison officer in the United States Navy. At the invitation of Harrison M. Randall, Sawyer then joined the faculty of the Physics Department at the University of Michigan, an affiliation that he retained for his entire career.
At Michigan he began by doing work in ultraviolet spectroscopy for studies of atomic structure; he also did much to develop industrial applications of spectroscopy. In later years his talent for administration brought him to positions of scientific, military, and academic leadership that extended beyond his formal retirement from Michigan in 1964.
Sawyer was the civilian director of the 1946 Bikini atomic bomb tests, president of the Optical Society of America from 1955â€“57 and was awarded the Frederic Ives Medal in 1963. He was also dean of the graduate school and vice president for research at the University of Michigan. He was chairman of the board of governors of the American Institute of Physics 1959-1971, service for which he received the K.T. Compton medal in 1972.