La Jolla centenary: retired physicist Ken Watson celebrates a century of fun
Ken Watson, who is approaching his 100th birthday Tuesday, September 7, has helped advise presidents, had close contact with renowned physicists J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, and ran a lab at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
He has also dedicated his retirement to pursuing his passions, and he advises those seeking longevity to “have fun doing what you do.”
Watson, a resident of the Vi Retirement Community in La Jolla Village, celebrates his first century on Sunday, September 5 with a small family and friends party at the Grande Colonial Hotel on Prospect Street in La Jolla.
Before the big day, he answered questions from La Jolla Light about his career as a physicist, which began with undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering from Iowa State College and a doctorate. in physics from the University of Iowa.
In the late 1940s, Watson was invited to a summer program for postdoctoral studies with Oppenheimer, known for his involvement in the development of the atomic bomb.
Watson said he did not work at the Los Alamos laboratory where Oppenheimer served as director during World War II, but visited it while participating in the summer program, in which Watson studied physics particles.
Oppenheimer then recommended Watson to Teller, who was instrumental in the design of the hydrogen bomb, for a postdoctoral study at UC Berkeley.
“[Teller] got me there, ”Watson said,“ but I didn’t actually work with him. “
Watson worked on projects involving “detailed calculations of electromagnetic phenomena,” before “nuclear physics started to get interesting,” he said.
“It was a much more complicated subject,” he said. “We have all worked in nuclear physics for some time. “
Watson said he was “very lucky” to be able to work in the Oppenheimer and Teller spheres.
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Later, Watson said, he had “a stint in the White House through the Eisenhower, Kennedy [and] Johnson era, ”serving on the President’s Strategic Scientific and Military Committee.
He advised President John F. Kennedy on the Apollo space missions, flying from Berkeley to Washington, DC, weekly on propeller planes. “It’s a long road overnight,” he said.
In 1981, Watson transferred to UC San Diego, where he headed the Scripps Oceanography Marine Physics Laboratory in La Jolla until his retirement in 1991, although it took him another decade to leave. completely his office and his lab work.
Watson began to seek hobbies beyond physics and boating, which had occupied most of his time before his retirement.
“I started to write [computer] games, board games, shooting games and so on, ”he said.
He also took photography and videography, he said. “I started doing animations, making up stories and making films” at a time when “there was a big transition from film to digital photography”.
After Watson’s wife Elaine passed away in 2013 after 68 years of marriage, he met Faye Girsh, also a resident of Vi and a board member of the Hemlock Society of San Diego, an organization that supports and educates to the efforts for the right to die. .
Girsh, who founded the San Diego chapter of the Hemlock Society in 1987, asked Watson to join the board to lend his videography skills to recording the organization’s meetings.
“I am sympathetic” to Hemlock’s mission, Watson said. “The threat of suffering to death worries many people. I think the main thing is information to help people who have questions and then to bring some comfort knowing that there are options to avoid a very painful end.
He said the past decade has been the most memorable because of his involvement with Hemlock and his travels with Girsh to places such as Indonesia, Quebec and New Orleans.
“This is probably the happiest time of my life,” he said.
Watson, who has a son in Sedona, Arizona, and another in San Diego, as well as two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, all of whom live in San Diego, said no matter what he has fact, “It’s always been fun. It makes a huge difference. ”
La Jolla Centenarians is an occasional series in the Light. If you know of a La Jollan who is or is about to be at least 100 years old, send an email to [email protected] ??