2010 Idaho Academy of Science Distinguished Scientist/Engineer: Dr. Lawrence H. Johnston.
Scientists (Achievements and awards)
Scientists (Appreciation)
Engineers (Achievements and awards)
Engineers (Appreciation)
Science (Rites, ceremonies and celebrations)
Engineering (Rites, ceremonies and celebrations)
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Name: Journal of the Idaho Academy of Science Publisher: Idaho Academy of Science Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Idaho Academy of Science ISSN: 0536-3012
Date: June, 2010 Source Volume: 46 Source Issue: 1
Product Code: 8520110 Scientists; 8527001 Engineers; 8520000 Sciences; 8500000 Science, Research & Development; 8527000 Engineering NEC NAICS Code: 54171 Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences; 54133 Engineering Services; 5417 Scientific Research and Development Services
Named Person: Johnston, Lawrence H.; Johnston, Lawrence H.
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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As a young beginning physics graduate student under Luis Alvarez at University Cal, Berkeley Larry Johnston took time off to work at the MIT Radiation Laboratory from 1940-1943, He and his colleagues developed "Ground-Controlled-Approach" radar, a blind landing system for airplanes. This radar system enabled the Allies during the Cold War to land planes, one every 4 minutes, at Berlin's Templehof airport in very bad weather during the Russian blockade of West Berlin. This invention was used both in civilian and military airplanes for many years to come.

In 1944, he was recruited to the Manhattan Project to participate in the development of the atomic bomb. Dr. Johnston invented the Exploding Bridge Wire Detonator, which enabled uniform timing of the detonating implosion at 32 points within 0.1 microseconds. Developing the detonator required Larry going off alone to a private mountaintop at Los Alamos to test his designs. The test grounds were isolated in case the explosions went awry. The detonator system was used in the first detonation at Trinity, and the last detonation at Nagasaki. He and his colleagues also developed the data collecting system that was used to obtain scientific data after the bombs exploded. He was the only person to be present at all three detonations of the bombs. Dr. Johnston flew in observation planes during the testing at Trinity site in New Mexico, and both delivery missions of bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While waiting to fly in those missions he saw the one hundred thousand coffins being stockpiled on Tinian, to be used in the first wave of the US invasion. He is a true hero, and many of our fathers and grandfathers did not have to come home in those coffins because of his efforts. Dr. Johnston's invention of the Exploding Bridge Wire Detonator continues to save lives today, since this detonator is now used to activate automotive air bags.

From 1950 to 1968, Dr. Johnston was employed at the University of Minnesota, Department of Physics, where he carried out experiments on proton-proton scattering to obtain the nuclear force potential of the proton. His work on proton-proton scattering is still the definitive work on this subject. He was elected a Fellow of American Physical Society in 1952. In the 1960's he was lured back to California to work for Aerospace Corp., and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. During this period, he built a 68-MeV linear accelerator and worked on building the two-mile long, 20 GeV, electron linear accelerator. This technology has also saved many lives, including possible Larry's own. When he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, part of his treatment was irradiation from medical accelerators, which were great grandchildren of Larry's early devices.

His love of teaching and mentoring of students motivated Dr. Johnston to return to university life and he came to the University of Idaho in 1967 and started work on developing infrared lasers. He later used these to investigate properties of molecules. Dr. Johnston developed a unique HCN submillimeter wavelength laser, and a number of both undergraduate and graduate students worked in his laboratory. His paper "Stark Spectrum of Methyl Alcohol in the Far Infrared" was selected as the "Outstanding Research Paper of the Year" by Sigma Xi in 1976. Students loved to work in Dr. Johnston's lab. His knowledge, skill and love of research and development were major contributors to the education of many of Idaho's students.

Since retiring from the University of Idaho in 1988, Dr. Johnston has continued to educate the young and old about the joy and beauty that is physics. Dr. Johnston is a truly amazing man who has influenced citizens of Idaho, the United States and the world. It is not possible to hear Dr. Johnston speak and not think long and hard about the joys and duties of citizen scientists and engineers. His contributions are not merely technical. Dr. Johnston is a testament to everyone who knows him of why science and engineering matter to us as citizens and, more significantly, as human beings. Idaho and our nation can be proud of this Distinguished Scientist.
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