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Nuclear Physics

Picture of Katharine Way

Katharine Way

1903- 1995

Additional Information

Some Important Contributions:

Best known for her work on critically evaluated nuclear data from the late 1940s to 1982, Way had a lasting impact on the collection, evaluation and dissemination of data in nuclear physics.

Edited many publications on nuclear and atomic data.

Constructed an empirical Way-Wigner formula for the beta decay rates of fission products based on estimated beta-decay energies.

Formalized arguments for the assignment of spin and parity to nuclear levels.

Extrapolated beta-decay energies of unmeasured radioactive nuclei using Way-Wood systematics.

Some Important Publications:

Edited volumes of nuclear and atomic data:

    Nuclear Data Sheets (1958-64). Washington, D.C.: National Research Council.
    Nuclear Data, vols. 1-4, (1966-68). New York: Academic Press.
    Nuclear Data Tables, vols. 5-11 (1968-1973). New York: Academic Press.
    Atomic Data, vols. 1-5 (1969-1973). New York: Academic Press.
    Atomic Data and Nuclear Data Tables, vols. 12-27 (1973-1982). New York: Academic Press.
Some Important Papers:

"The Rate of Decay of Fission Products," Physical Review 73: 1318 (1948), with E. P. Wigner.

"Nuclear Data," National Bureau of Standards Circular 499 (1950), with L. Fano, M. R. Scott and K. Thew.

"Beta Decay Energy Systematics," Physical Review 94: 119 (1954), with M. Wood.

"Criteria for Spin-Parity Assignments," in N. B. Gove (ed.), Nuclear Spin-Parity Assignments: Proceedings of the Conference on Bases for Nuclear Spin-Parity Assignments. New York: Academic Press, 1966, pp. 1-4.

"Directory to Tables and Reviews of Angular-Momentum and Angular-Correlation Coefficients," Nuclear Data A1: 473 (1966), with F. W. Hurley.


Fellow, American Physical Society
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Named University of North Carolina Distinguished Alumnus 1974


1938-39 Huff Research Fellow, Bryn Mawr College
1939-41 Instructor in Physics, University of Tennessee
1941-42 Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Tennessee
1942 Physicist, U.S. Naval Ordinance Laboratory
1942-45 Physicist, Manhattan Project, Metallurgical Laboratory, University of Chicago
1945-48 Physicist, Manhattan Project, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
1949-53 Physicist, National Bureau of Standards
1953-63 Director, Nuclear Data Project, National Research Council
1964-68 Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
1968-88 Adjunct Professor of Physics, Duke University


B.S. Columbia University 1932
Ph.D. University of North Carolina 1938

References consulted

[51 MJB], [4 AMWS], [33N LSG], [pt1996mm]

Additional Information/Comments

Way was John Wheeler's first graduate student. During that period at the University of North Carolina, she co-authored with Wheeler her first paper in the Physical Review.

"[Way] persuaded the editors of Nuclear Physics to add keywords to the title page of each article, a practice that has evolved into the Nuclear Science Reference File." [pt1996mm]

Way recruited several Nobel laureates to write chapters of the book One World or None (McGraw-Hill, 1946). Contributors included Niels Bohr, Hans Bethe, Arthur Compton, and Albert Einstein. Written for a lay audience, the book stressed the need for international atomic weapons control. Way co-edited the work with Dexter Masters.

"A few days after [World War II] ended, Way suggested to William Pollard, a former colleague and a faculty member at the University of Tennessee, that the extensive and unique facilities of the [Oak Ridge National Laboratory] should be made available to southern universities. [This] led to the formation of the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies, now called Oak Ridge Associated Universities... This institution grew to have a major influence on the development of science in the southeast." [33N LSG]

In an obituary of Katharine Way, the authors wrote:

    "Kay Way felt and expressed herself passionately not only about the analysis of nuclear data, but also about issues of human fairness and social justice. In such matters, she was an outspoken advocate rather than merely a sympathetic bystander." [pt1996mm]
Way participated in civil rights marches during the early 1960s, and also took an active interest in health issues of the elderly. In 1980, she organized a series of talks entitled "Health Education for the Elderly," and in 1984, she formed the committee "Durham Seniors for Better Health in the City of Medicine." [33N LSG]

President, Durham Chapter, American Association of University Women 1972-73.

Submitted by:

Martha Keyes

field Editor: Professor Chun Wa Wong


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latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb