Harry L. Morrison

February 5, 2020

The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Harry L. Morrison. Dr. Morrison was the first African American physics faculty member at the University of California Berkeley and a founding member of NSBP. 

harry morrisonHarry Lee Morrison was born on October 7, 1932, in Arlington, Virginia. Morrison attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, from which he received a BA in chemistry in 1955 and a PhD in chemistry 1960.  

In 1961, Dr. Morrison was called to active military service as a first lieutenant at the US Air Force Academy. He taught physics there as an assistant professor until 1964. He later joined the staff of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) as a theoretical physicist, and worked on quantum fluids and statistical physics. He applied his knowledge to a direct derivation of the Landau theory of quantum hydrodynamics and interacting Bose systems.

During the 1970s, Morrison served as a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, Howard University in Washington, DC, and MIT. In 1972, Dr. Morrison was hired by the University of California Berkeley as an associate professor. He was the first African American faculty in the Berkeley Department of Physics and was promoted to full professor in 1977.

Perhaps his best-known contribution to physics was his 1972 demonstration of the absence of long-range order in quantum systems in two dimensions, such as in thin superfluid helium films, that resulted from the breaking of a continuous symmetry. In collaboration with two colleagues, both of LLNL; it was one of the most successful applications of algebraic quantum field theory to the analysis of physical systems.

In 1985, Dr. Morrison was appointed as assistant dean of the College of Letters & Science. He retired from the UCB faculty in 1994, but continued to serve as an assistant dean in the College of Letters & Science for 11 more years, until his death in 2002.  

Legacy - Development of scientific talent in the African American community

Dr. Morrison was devoted to the practice of theoretical physics, the development of scientific talent in the African American community, and the life of an intellectual. Morrison was involved in the early planning stages of a program launched in 1970 as Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA). Conceived as a way to boost minority enrollment in science and engineering programs in college, it has since become a nationally recognized and very successful statewide academic preparation program reaching out to more than 21,000 students throughout California. He also was one of the founding members of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) and one of the first members to obtain the status of fellow.