Retired physics professor Richard Williams passed away on July 5, 2021. Richard was one of the original founders of CEES; the following is a letter CEES Director Miles Silman sent in remembrance of his contributions to us and the university as a whole:
It is a sad way to break the summer silence, but we have lost Richard Williams. Richard was one of the original founders of CEES and a Reynolds Professor of Physics. The field will remember him for his 250+ papers and his seminal work on scintillation and ultrafast lasers. I, and I suspect many of you, will remember him for his thoughtfulness, his kindness, his mentorship, and his uncontrollable and wonderful enthusiasm for all things energy. I can still remember early CEES board meetings where Richard would show up with Stirling engines or the latest photovoltaic cells and set them to work, talking about how to get the most out of the electromagnetic spectrum or what to do with waste heat. Or him leading a four university consortium in NC on renewable energy, co-opting a yacht making company and an energy engineering firm to the cause. Or his excellent offerings of Energy and Physics of the Environment or the original renewable energy classes in the Masters of Sustainability program, taking students from excited and ground state physics to real-world installations of renewables.
I personally learned a lot from Richard. Not just about energy, but also about leadership and cooperation and multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary work. And in taking a risk. It is hard to imagine from today’s perspective, but back in 2008-2010 when the collective ‘we’ were proposing centers, Energy was one discipline, Environment was another, and Sustainability was a word and movement and field still being defined. The university placed us together in a shotgun wedding. So much so that at one point Richard said it might not be advantageous to have the word “Environment” in our center’s name. But Richard and I and all of us at CEES learned from each other, and saw the workings and importance of the others’ disciplines. We filled our toolboxes with each other’s tools, going from many disciplines to one, solving problems in the world. Sustainability, the Wake Forest way.
So, colleagues, I was wrong when I started this email. It is not just sadness, but also joy that I convey to you. Sadness in that we will no longer have our colleague and mentor and friend, and joy in the fact that we were able to learn from him and be around him. It is this joy, and Richard’s enthusiasm and excellence, that I hope that we takewith us into the future. Whether we knew him or not.