Martin Dewey Whitaker was director of the Atomic Energy Commission Laboratory at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and worked in developing the atomic bomb. He helped Lehigh readjust to peacetime conditions after World War II.

Youth and Schooling

Whitaker was born in North Carolina to Volney Oscar Whitaker and Florence O. Bridges and stayed in the state through college. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest and received his master's from the University of North Carolina. Whitaker attended New York University for his Ph.D. After earning his doctorate, Whitaker stayed with the faculty eventually becoming Chairman of the Physics Department at NYU.

Work on the Atom-Bomb

In 1942, Whitaker joined The Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Labs) at the University of Chicago where he worked under Enrico Fermi for a year studying nuclear technology. He then directed the design and construction of a new site, Clinton Laboratories (later known as Oak Ridge National Laboratories), in Oak Ridge Tennessee. The labs were used to test and develop plutonium for use in the atom-bomb. In 1946, Whitaker left Clinton Labs to accept the presidency of Lehigh University.

Tenure at Lehigh

During Whitaker's tenure, Lehigh's assets nearly tripled, and the endowment more than doubled to $18 million. Many buildings were renovated, and the Dravo House and McClintic-Marshall House residence halls were built. The number of professors increased by 75 percent, and the first distinguished professorships were established.

The Centennial development program, begun in 1959, raised more than $22 million for faculty salaries and construction that later included Whitaker Laboratory. Packer was renovated and enlarged, and became the University Center in 1958.

During the Whitaker years, 12 departments offered the master's degree, and 12 the doctor of philosophy.

Professional Societies and Organizations

Throughout his professional career, Whitaker wrote many papers on nuclear physics. He was also active in a number of science and engineering societies including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Engineering Education, the Newcomen Society (dedicated to the study of the history of engineering and technology), and he was a Fellow in the American Physical Society. Whitaker also served in the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Society for Engineering Education, the National Commission on Accrediting, and the Governor's State Planning Board for the State of Pennsylvania.

Whitaker and his wife, the former Helen Williams, had two daughters, Margaret and Catherine. He died in office of lung cancer in 1960.

Sunday, June 29, 1902
Ellenboro, North Carolina
Date of Death: 
Wednesday, August 31, 1960
Notable Achievement: 
Eighth President of Lehigh University, helped to develop the atom bomb