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February 20, 2013

Optical scientist M. Parker Givens remembered

M. Parker Givens
M. Parker Givens

M. Parker Givens, former acting director and professor emeritus of the Institute of Optics and a renowned teacher to generations of students, died Jan. 11 at age 96. Givens was a professor at the University since 1947.

Although Givens “officially” retired in 1981 at the manda­tory age of 65 (at that time a federal law), he continued to teach for another 22 years, being primarily responsible for the senior laboratory course.

Robert Boyd, who held the M. Parker Givens Chair from 2001 to 2011, recalls Givens as an inspirational and dedicated instructor, “He truly believed in educating students.”

The professorship was en­dowed in 2001 by James Wyant ’69, a University trustee, professor at the University of Arizona, and a former student of Givens. “Giv­ens was a fantastic professor, and I was very fortunate to have him as my major professor,” Wyant says. “He seemed to know every­thing, and he could explain the most difficult subject in simple, clear terms, and he was always willing to help the student.”

The Givens Chair is cur­rently held by the institute’s director, Xi-Cheng Zhang. Zhang described how during a visit last year they had “shared stories of research and of Givens’s enjoyment of teach­ing.” Zhang adds, “Givens’s contribution to the institute was instrumental in helping us to earn and retain such a stel­lar reputation as the institute has become known for.”

Givens graduated in 1937 from the University of Rich­mond. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1942, where his fields of inter­est were the optical properties of metals and vacuum ultra­violet spectroscopy. After his PhD, he became an instructor of physics at the Pennsylvania State College from 1942–46. Prior to joining the University of Rochester, he also spent a year with the proximity fuze group of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. At Rochester he served as acting dean of the College of Engi­neering and Applied Science from 1984–85.

Along with former direc­tor Robert Hopkins, Givens received a 1963 NSF grant to develop new teaching experi­ments and demonstrations us­ing the then newly developed optical laser. Hopkins, Givens, and others equipped a “laser road show” that was taken to several universities and an NSF institute for high school teachers.

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