A Family (Faculty) Affair

January 1st, 2010 / Gift Planning

When Charles H. Smyth came to Princeton to teach geology in 1905, he brought his two sons with him: Charlie and Harry. Both boys grew up to attend Princeton and follow in their father’s footsteps as Princeton faculty members—the former in chemistry and the latter in physics—and both are now commemorated with endowed chairs: the Charles Phelps Smyth ’16 *17 Professorship in Chemistry and the Henry De Wolf Smyth Professorship.

Charles P. Smyth joined the faculty in 1920 and retired from Princeton in 1963 as the David B. Jones Professor of Chemistry Emeritus. His widow, Emily V. Smyth, gave the gift establishing the chair in his name in 2000; when Emily died in 2009, she left a bequest that will endow two preceptorships in her husband’s name to support promising assistant professors in chemistry.

The inaugural incumbent of the Charles Phelps Smyth chair is Herschel A. Rabitz, whose interests lie at the interfaces between chemistry, physics, and engineering. A primary focus of his research is molecular-scale systems analysis, using lasers to control molecular movement in quantum dynamics phenomena and chemicals to manipulate biological systems. “Although there are clear distinctions between these two areas,” he says, “they share the same general foundations rooted in engineering control principles.”

Henry Smyth ’18 *21, who joined Princeton’s physics department in 1924, chaired the University Research Board from 1955 until his retirement in 1966 as the Joseph Henry Professor of Physics Emeritus. Henry Smyth, who played key roles in the early development of nuclear energy, was the author of the first official history of the Manhattan Project. In 1964 he received the University’s Woodrow Wilson Award, and in 1977 Princeton awarded him an honorary degree.

He left a bequest to the University in 1986, and in 1990 Princeton established a chair in his name, which is currently held by cosmologist Lyman A. Page Jr. Page’s work involves measuring spatial temperature variations in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which helps cosmologists understand how the universe began and evolved. “From precise measurements of the CMB,” he says, “one can also deduce many of the cosmological parameters and the physics of the very early universe.”  

Clockwise from top left: Charles Phelps Smyth ’16 *17, Henry De Wolf Smyth ’18 *21, Herschel A. Rabitz, and Lyman A. Page Jr.