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Howard Percy Robertson (January 27, 1903 – August 26, 1961) was an American mathematician and physicist known for contributions related to physical cosmology and the uncertainty principle. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[1]

Contents

Biography

Robertson was born in Hoquiam, Washington and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1922 and a master’s in mathematics and physics in 1923 from the University of Washington in Seattle. He completed his PhD at Caltech in mathematics and physics in 1925 under Harry Bateman, with the dissertation, “On Dynamical Space-Times Which Contain a Conformal Euclidean 3-Space”.[2]

Upon receipt of his doctorate, Robertson received a National Research Council Fellowship to study at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, and Princeton University. At Munich, he was a postdoctoral student of Arnold Sommerfeld.[3]

One of Robertson's first landmark papers, a brief note in The Annals of Mathematics, series II, Vol 39, pp. 101–104 (1938) entitled "Note on the preceding paper: The two body problem in general relativity" solved that problem within a degree of approximation not improved on for several decades. Earlier work, such as the Schwarzschild metric, were for a central body that did not move, while Robertson's solution considered two bodies orbiting each other. Nevertheless, his solution failed to include gravitational radiation, so the bodies orbit forever, rather than approaching each other.

Aside from his work in physics, Robertson played a central role in American scientific intelligence during and after World War II. During the war years, Robertson was Chief American Liaison with British Scientific Intelligence, when he became close friends with Dr. Reginald Victor Jones. Following the war, Robertson was a CIA classified employee and director of the Weapons System Evaluation Group in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In 1953, Robertson chaired an influential CIA committee which reviewed several well-publicized reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and recommended a domestic information program designed to reduce public interest in UFOs via a covert, mass-media program of "training and debunking." This committee is now known as the Robertson Panel.

Although the CIA's official history suggests the Robertson Panel's recommendations were never carried out, a personal letter by a panel member, Dr. Thorton Page, contradicts this version of events. Page confided in a 1966 letter to panel secretary Fred Durant that he had "helped organize the CBS TV show around the Robertson Panel conclusions." Page was no doubt referring to the CBS TV broadcast of the same year, "UFOs: Friend, Foe, or Fantasy?," narrated by Walter Cronkite. In keeping with the Robertson Panel's recommendations, the CBS broadcast argued, using selective and often false information, that UFOs were all due to mistaken perceptions. Thus, the Robertson Panel's recommendations were covertly influencing U.S. news coverage of UFOs for at least 13 years after the committee first met.

Notions named for Howard Percy Robertson

Notes

  1. ^ "MacTutor History of Mathematics: Howard Percy Robertson". November 2006. http://turnbull.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Printonly/Robertson.html. Retrieved 2007-12-28.  
  2. ^ "The Archives Of The California Institute Of Technology: The Papers Of H. P. Robertson" (PDF). July 2002. p. iii. http://findingaids.library.caltech.edu/14/01/Papers_of_H_P_Robertson.pdf. Retrieved 2007-12-28.  
  3. ^ I. I. Rabi, translated and edited by R. Fraser Code Stories from the early days of quantum mechanics, Physics Today (8) 36-41 (2006) p. 38.

Sources

External links

  • Robertson – The Papers of H. P. Robertson
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