Bill R. Appleton


Bill R. Appleton

Bill R. Appleton
Photograph by Tracy Powell

Texans think big. After leaving his natal state for a Ph.D. in solid state physics at Rutgers and a tour of duty at the nearby Bell Laboratories, in 1967 Bill R. Appleton headed for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, America's center of big science since the Manhattan Project. There, he researched ion-beam and laser interactions with solids. One spin-off was an artificial hip joint; its titanium alloy surface, implanted with nitrogen, markedly reduced corrosive wear. To pursue such work, Appleton says, "It turns out you need lots of equipment" and lots of people using it to justify the cost, so he gradually expanded his scientific team and segued into research management. By this spring, when he retired from Oak Ridge--the enterprise employs 5,000 people, one-third of them degreed scientists and engineers--he was deputy director for science and technology, responsible for the decade-long design and approval of the $1.4-billion spallation neutron source being built there. Now directing Harvard's nascent Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures--in the tiny realm from atoms to protein-sized biological molecules--Appleton continues to think big. On the desk of his office in Cruft Laboratory are plans for an electron-beam lithography system, one of several new machines, together costing millions of dollars, that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is installing to examine the realm of "quantum-dot" fabrication and molecular electronic devices. A new interdisciplinary lab building is being planned, to facilitate the necessary "very close marriage of fundamental science and high technology." Meanwhile, Appleton and his wife, Priscilla, are settling into Newton (three grown sons populate the Sunbelt) with his mesoscale hobby, a bonsai collection.

You might also like

Steven Pinker on Apple’s Vision Pro

Professor of psychology on the science and history behind the Vision Pro.

The State of Black America

Harvard African American scholars take stock of a difficult moment. 

Threats Foreign and Domestic

Joseph Nye discusses geopolitics and Harvard’s challenges.

Most popular

Harvard Portrait: Judith Grant Long

The associate professor of urban planning studies sports facilities and their impact.

The Way of The Blockbuster

In entertainment, big bets on likely winners rule.

Picture-book Publisher

Claudia Bedrick ’85 of Enchanted Lion Books offers an international array of stories to young children.

More to explore

Photograph of Winthrop Bell 1910

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Illustration of people talking to each other with colorful thought bubbles above their heads

Talking about Talking

Fostering healthy disagreement

Vacationing with a Purpose

New England “summer camps” for adults