February 6, 2017
The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Walter McAfee.
Walter Samuel McAfee, theoretical physicist, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics in 1934 from Wiley College, and in 1937 he earned a Master’s of Science degree from The Ohio State University.
In 1942, McAfee joined the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. His knowledge and mathematical skillset propelled him onto the Project Diana team. Project Diana was a scientific collaboration in which engineers and scientists studied the Earth’s relationship to the moon via radar signal echoing. He contributed the necessary theoretical calculations including a radar cross-section of the moon, radar coverage pattern, and the distance to the moon, all of which were crucial to the project’s success. On January 10, 1946, the team successfully received the echoing signals between the Earth and the moon.
After the success of the signal echoing project, he received the Rosenwald Fellowship to continue his doctoral degree at Cornell University. McAfee earned his Ph.D. in Physics in 1949, focusing on nuclear collisions under the advisement of Hans Bethe. Bethe would go onto win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967.
Upon completion of his doctoral studies, McAfee rejoined the United States Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories at Fort Monmouth. His contributions included nuclear weapons systems testing and satellite instrumentation. He was honored with the Secretary of the Army Research and Study Fellowship in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which gave him an opportunity to accept a post-doctoral appointment at Harvard University. It is during this time (1959-1960), that McAfee and his colleagues discovered that high altitude nuclear explosions could cause communications blackouts.
Dr. Walter McAfee was posthumously honored when U.S. government officials created the McAfee Center at Fort Monmouth, a facility containing the Information and Intelligence Warfare Electronic Directorate.