Richard Williams

Obituary of Richard Lyle Williams

Richard Williams, of Princeton, passed away on April 28th at the age of 92 after a long illness. Richard was born in Chicago, IL in 1927, the youngest child of Nadia and Frank Browne Williams. He lived in Montpelier, Ohio with his Aunt Fanny and Uncle William Shatzer and cousin, Bill. Following graduation from high school, he enlisted in the U. S. Navy. After his discharge in 1946, he attended Miami University of Ohio, graduating with an A.B. degree in chemistry, and continued his studies at Harvard, receiving a PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1954. Richard then served a year in the US Army at the Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, MD before becoming a chemistry instructor at Harvard for the next three years. He joined RCA Laboratories in 1958 where he spent the rest of his career, eventually becoming a Fellow of the Laboratories. His work with liquid crystals was pivotal in the development of liquid crystal display (LCD) technology. In 1962 he discovered that liquid crystals exhibited unusual electro-optic characteristics that could be used to generate patterns by applying voltage. He referred to these patterns as “domains” - a phenomenon that is now known as “Williams Domains”. This finding opened the door to the potential of utilizing liquid crystals as elements for display devices. Richard also enjoyed meeting and collaborating with colleagues around the world. His travels included stays in Zurich, Switzerland (where he was a visiting scientist at the RCA Zurich Laboratory in 1963), Sao Carlos, Brazil (Fulbright Lecturer, 1969), and teaching as a summer school lecturer at the National Polytechnical Institute in Mexico in 1972. Later in his career he made several trips to China where he lectured at the Chinese Institute of Electronics, as well as visiting the University of Inner Mongolia to attend a meeting about rare earths. In addition to his teaching, he made a point of learning all he could about the culture and languages of the countries he visited. He taught himself Portugese, and wrote the textbook in that language that was used for his course in Brazil. He later studied Chinese to prepare for his visits to that country, and continued studying the language in later years. After his retirement, Richard remained curious and engaged with the world around him from following national and international news, writing occasional articles for the American Physical Society newsletter, to observing the backyard wildlife at his home. He was also interested in the environment and volunteered with the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. Richard is survived by his wife, Alma, and their three children Elena, Cristina (husband Joseph Helms) and Matthew, as well as several nephews and nieces. He was a longtime member of All Saints Church of Princeton, NJ. A memorial will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, the family would be honored to have charitable contributions in his memory made to a local conservation organization of your choice, or to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (xerces.org).
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