Louis Branscombe, champion of science across the fields, dies at 96

As the Cold War subsided, physicist Louis Branscombe feared that America’s economic and scientific supremacy was in jeopardy. He believed that the decline of scientific knowledge and critical thinking in American education could have disastrous consequences for the country.

Students told PBS’ “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” in 1986, “They don’t need to know a lot of facts about science, but they really do need to understand how to think the way scientists think—that is, in a problem-solving approach, given a complex environment.” to make decisions through it.

Whether in academia, private industry or government, Dr. Branscombe has made it his job to push for the advancement of science and give it a greater say in public policy. He hoped for a brighter future through technology, but only if scientists and policymakers could sell the idea to the public.

Dr. Branscombe, who worked in science, technology, politics and business throughout his career, died May 31 at a nursing facility in Redwood City, Calif., his son, Harvey, said. He was 96 years old.

Dr. Branscom led the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), the federal government’s accredited standards and measurements laboratory, from 1969 to 1972. He later served as chief scientist at IBM, was a professor at Harvard, and authored hundreds of papers and books Or contributed to about a dozen books.

Dr. Branscombe began working with government in the aftermath of World War II, and nearly six decades later advised the Senate on America’s vulnerabilities after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, he developed basic scientific techniques and improved measurements at the National Standards Bureau; She helped IBM transform its computers from massive computers, which could cost more than a car, into something that could fit in a home office; He advised many presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, on political matters, particularly the space program.

Irving Wladowski-Berger, a researcher and former IBM executive, said in a phone interview that Dr. Branscombe played a key role in the company when leading the development of technology such as computer memory, storage, networking products, and semiconductors. “He had a vision to make sure IBM is a world-class research company,” said Dr. Branscombe.

Dr. Branscombe advocated that technological growth be driven as much by private industry as by the Department of Defense and other government agencies, and expressed concern that the end of the space race with the Soviet Union had diminished NASA.

“Where NASA once challenged the industry to go beyond what it had done before,” he said in Testimony before Congress In 1991, “Today, the best commercial companies are taking more risks, extending their technology even further, and reaching levels of performance and reliability that NASA can no longer achieve or even expect.”

It is up to scientists to revive the community’s enthusiasm for their work, Dr. Branscombe writes in Confessions of a Technophile (1995), arguing that it is up to the scientific community “to recognize the legitimacy of the public’s desire to participate, however superficial, in the excitement of new discoveries.”

Louis McAdory Branscombe was born on August 17, 1926, in Asheville, North Carolina, to parents Harvey and Margaret (Vaughan) Branscombe. His father was dean of the Divinity School and director of the library at Duke University and then chancellor of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. His mother oversaw the planting of magnolia trees across the Vanderbilt campus and B.B statue there.

A promising student from a young age, Lewis left high school early and received an accelerated education at Duke as part of the Navy’s program to train future scientists.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at the age of 19, then served as an officer in the Naval Reserve. He left the Navy in 1946 to enroll at Harvard University, where he received his master’s degree a year later and his doctorate in 1949.

In 1951, Dr. Branscombe became a research physicist studying the structure and spectra of negative molecular and atomic ions for the National Bureau of Standards, an arm of the Department of Commerce and one of the oldest federal physical sciences research laboratories.

In the early 1960s he moved from Washington to Colorado Boulder, where he helped establish the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, now known as JILA, a collaboration between the Bureau of Standards and the University of Colorado that sought to advance astrophysical research. He later served as president of the institute.

He joined President Johnson’s science advisory committee in the mid-1960s, as the Apollo program was preparing to land astronauts on the moon in 1969. That year, President Nixon appointed him director of the Office of Standards, a position he held until leaving for IBM in 1972.

He was chief scientist at IBM until 1986, during which time the company manufactured components for the space shuttle, built computer mainframes and entered the personal computer market against competitors like Apple and Tandy.

In 1980, Dr. Branscombe became Chairman of the National Science Council, which sets policies for the National Science Foundation and provides advice to Congress and the President. He held this position until 1984.

Dr. Branscombe left IBM to become a professor and director of the Program on Science, Technology and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has also served on the boards of companies such as Mobil and General Foods.

Among the books he has written and edited are Enabling Technology: Implementing American Policy (1993) and Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism (2002, co-authored with Richard Klausner and others).

Married Dr. Branscombe Margaret Ann WellsLawyer and computer communications expert in the early 1950s. She passed away in 1997.

In 2005 he married Constance Hammond Mullen, with whom he lived for many years in the La Jolla section of San Diego. She survived him.

In addition to his wife and son, his survivors included a daughter, KC Kelly; Three stepchildren, Stephen J. Mullen, Keith Mullin, and Laura Thompson; and granddaughter.

In the introduction to Confessions of a Tech Lover, Dr. Branscombe describes himself as an “incurable optimist” who has been “driven all my life by the deep conviction that the bright prospects of mankind depend on the wise and inventive uses of technology.”

He added in a footnote that he was an optimist not by logic but by “affirmation”.