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Lee A. DuBridge; Led Caltech for 22 Years

January 24, 1994|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lee A. DuBridge, president of Caltech for 22 years and science adviser to President Richard Nixon, died Sunday, Caltech officials said. He was 92.

DuBridge, who had retired to Laguna Hills, headed the Pasadena institution--known for scientific education and research including space exploration--from 1946 until 1968.

He then worked for Nixon from early 1969 until shortly before his 69th birthday in 1970.

In reluctantly accepting the resignation, Nixon praised DuBridge for his "skill, wisdom, and seasoned judgment," traits the scientist and administrator used throughout his career to apply science to overall human endeavor.

"The world is sorely in need of young men understanding the place of science in the world at large--leaders who will see that science serves mankind rather than contributing to destruction," DuBridge said shortly after he was named Caltech president in 1946.

His initial task was to move Caltech--and himself--from a World War II orientation of secret military projects toward fundamental scientific education and research.

As a nuclear physicist, DuBridge had supervised the construction and installation of an atom-smashing cyclotron, which soon produced the highest energy proton beam of the time, at the University of Rochester in 1938.

From 1940 to 1946, he headed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology radiation laboratory set up by the National Defense Research Committee. The unit was then considered the largest research and development laboratory ever assembled and was credited with giving Allied forces supremacy in radar during World War II.

As scientist and administrator, DuBridge helped bring together science and government, setting the pattern for the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. Much later, he played a role in space exploration by supervising the development of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Yet he stressed adapting atomic energy for peaceful purposes and saw little need for sending people into space.

"All I hope is that we don't let the glamour of the term 'space science' confuse us," he said in 1963. "There is a lot we can learn about the moon, for example, by just using earthbound astronomical telescopes. Let's not be seduced into sending expeditions to the moon just to look for things we can see perfectly well from Palomar Mountain."

A strong advocate of academic freedom even during the McCarthy era, DuBridge publicly spoke out on behalf of Caltech chemist Linus Pauling when he was denied a passport because of suspicion that he was a Communist, and on behalf of his nuclear physics colleague Robert Oppenheimer, whose security clearance concerning atomic information was revoked.

DuBridge adhered to a concept of Caltech as a small, select institution of excellence with carefully controlled growth. During his tenure, Caltech expanded from 30 acres to 90, a $17-million endowment to $100 million, 260 faculty members to 550, 20 buildings to 64, and an $8-million budget to $30 million. He supervised construction of the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar as well as guiding the development of JPL.

Nationally sought by Democratic and Republican administrations, DuBridge was named to the original national Science Advisory Committee by President Harry S. Truman in 1951, and made chairman a year later by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He served on several other governmental advisory committees and as adviser to more than 20 private organizations.

In Los Angeles, DuBridge helped to found public television station KCET and to establish the California Museum of Science and Industry.

He had honorary degrees from 29 universities and colleges and earned more than 20 professional awards, including the British King's Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom, in 1946; the United States Medal for Merit, in 1948, and the Vannevar Award from the National Science Foundation, in 1982.

Born Sept. 21, 1901, in Terre Haute, Ind., DuBridge studied physics at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and at the University of Wisconsin, where he began his teaching career. After conducting research in physics at Caltech from 1926 to 1928, he taught at Washington University in St. Louis and then went to the University of Rochester as Harris Professor of Physics in 1934.

DuBridge's first wife, Doris, died in 1973; they had been married 48 years. He is survived by his second wife, the former Arrola Bush Cole; two children, Barbara Lee MacLeod of Simi Valley and Richard A. DuBridge of Saratoga, Calif.; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to Caltech. Services are pending.

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