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David B. Wittry, 1929-2007

May 09, 2007 —
David B. Wittry
David B. Wittry, a distinguished emeritus professor of materials science and electrical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, died May 5 from complications of pneumonia. He was 78. Wittry made significant contributions to the field of materials science through his pioneering work in electron probe microanalysis.

"I profited from numerous conversations with David over the years in regards to academic policies and general professional matters,” said John Choma, professor of electrical engineering. “He was a brilliant man, and his technical knowledge and intellect were matched only by his consummate professionalism."

“Dave Wittry was a pioneer in the best sense of the word,” said Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School. “He was one of the founders of the Microbeam Analysis Society, and he was one of the founders of our Materials Science Department. Professor Wittry was an important influence in the rise of our school.”

A native of Iowa who grew up in Wisconsin, Wittry graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1951 with a BS in applied mathematics and mechanics. He earned his MS and PhD degrees in physics from the California Institute of Technology and joined the USC faculty in 1959.

Wittry had appointments in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering. In 1998 he received the USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award and was awarded Distinguished Professor Emeritus status.

Throughout his career, Wittry was involved with pioneering research on analytical microscopy techniques involving X-ray, ion and electron beams. Among his most significant contributions was the basic design of one of the most successful commercial electron probe microanalyzers, which he patented in 1963.

Wittry also invented a dual cathode system for electron beam instruments, and a novel, rotating anode X-ray source for X-ray lithography. His pioneering work while on sabbatical at Cambridge University led to practical utilization of electron energy loss spectrometry for local microanalysis. Additionally, he developed a new type of diffractor for scanning X-ray monochromators that led to two patents and is considered one of the most significant advances in X-ray spectrometry.

In all Wittry authored 23 patents and was chair of a committee that recommended patent policy adopted by USC. He subsequently chaired the USC Patents Committee for 25 years.

Although most of Wittry's inventions have been for materials science instrumentation, he was also awarded three patents for a rotary internal combustion engine. The so-called "Wittry Engine" combined the efficiency of a diesel piston-type internal combustion engine with the simplicity of a rotary engine.

He was a Guggenheim Fellow to Cambridge University in 1967-68 and a Visiting Scientist for the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science at the University of Osaka Prefecture in 1974.

He received the Presidential Award from the Microbeam Analysis Society (MAS) for Outstanding Scientific Contributions to Microanalysis in 1980 and was an honorary member of the Microbeam Analysis Society. He won the Birks Award for the best paper presented at the MAS National Conference in 1987 and in 1989.

He received the Distinguished Scientist Award, Physical Sciences from the Microscopy Society of America in 1995 and the Distinguished Service Citation from the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering in 1996.

Wittry, who had lived in Pasadena for 56 years, is survived by his wife Elizabeth and five adult children and three grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, May 12, at 10:30 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church Chapel, 500 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena.