In Memoriam: William L. McLaughlin


by David A. Schauer, CHP

William Lowndes McLaughlin, 77, an internationally respected research scientist and teacher, died 26 October 2005 at his home in Lexington, Virginia, after a gallant battle with pancreatic cancer. The author of more than 250 scientific papers, McLaughlin was a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. An authority on methods of measuring radiation doses for processing and protection, he is known worldwide as the father of radiochromic-dye dosimetry. After his 1996 retirement, he was named an NIST Fellow.

McLaughlin was born 30 March 1928 in Stony Point, Tennessee, the son of the Reverend John Calvin Brown McLaughlin and Fanny McCaa McLaughlin. A descendent of a long line of Presbyterian clergy, he spent his youth in manses in North Carolina and in Shepherdstown and Keyser, West Virginia.

He graduated from Potomac State University and from Hampden-Sydney College in 1949. In 1950-1951 he was a Rotary International Fellow at Tübingen University in Germany and spent the years from 1954 to 1956 with the U.S. Army Signal Corps on Enewetok and Bikini islands, measuring radiation at the atomic bomb test sites.

From 1973 to 1991 he was an advisor to the Accelerator and Environmental Science Departments, Risø National Laboratory, Denmark, and from 1971 to 1995 to the Dosimetry Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The measurement systems he developed have been converted into commercial products that are used around the world. He traveled widely on scientific missions and mentored countless younger scientists from many countries. In 2003 NIST sponsored a three-day symposium in his honor where colleagues from around the world delivered scholarly papers based on his work.

William McLaughlin's many honors include the U.S. Department of Commerce's Silver Medal (1969) and Gold Medal (1979), the National Bureau of Standard's Applied Research Award (1985), the American Nuclear Society Radiation Science and Technology Award (1987), and the Elsevier Science Journal of Applied Radiation and Isotopes Gold Medal (1995). He received the Research and Development 100 Award three times in his career. In 1999 the Washington Academy of Sciences honored him for “outstanding achievement in the physical sciences.” He was a member of the American Nuclear Society, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the Health Physics Society, and Cosmos Club in Washington.

He was the lead author of two key books in his field, Dosimetry for Food Irradiation and Dosimetry for Radiation Processing, as well as chapter contributions to several other books. He was an editor of numerous other volumes and of the International Journal of Applied Radiation and Isotopes (1989-1999).

Music was one of the deepest loves of his life. He was a supporter of and subscriber to the Washington National Opera for 50 years. He was a respected authority on bluegrass and Appalachian mountain music, as well as a skilled guitar player and writer of country songs, several of which have been recorded. He often performed with his sons, both of whom are professional musicians.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Scott McLaughlin of Lexington; two sons and their wives, Peter and Carol McLaughlin of Tucson, Arizona, and David and Gay McLaughlin of Winchester, Virginia; two stepsons, Theodore Kiesselbach of Minneapolis and Frederick Anderson of San Diego; two sisters, Margaret Grove of Charlottesville and Addie Noble Ours of Petersburg, West Virginia; and six grandchildren. His first wife, Nancy Shepherd, died in 1996.