Jack Davidson (John P. Davidson) 1924 - 2010

Paid family tribute

Jack Davidson (John P. Davidson) died at home in Lawrence on January 10. A memorial service is planned at the Ecumenical Christian Center on Feb. 15.
He was born on July 22, 1924, in Los Angeles, the son of John Pirnie Davidson and Istalia Rhine.
After graduating from Glendale High School, Jack followed his interests in rocketry and science to the University of California, Berkeley.
From 1943 to 1946, he served in the Army Signal Corps in the European Theater of Operations until he was honorably discharged as a first sergeant.
Returning to Berkeley, he graduated from the University of California in 1948, with highest honors in physics.
As a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, he worked with Mary Rieser and others to organize the Student Committee for the Admission of Negroes. Although most students supported that effort, Arthur Holly Compton, the Chancellor, declined to challenge community traditions at that time. Jack and Mary were married in September 1949.
Jack received his doctorate in 1952, working under Eugene Feenberg. He did post-graduate work at Columbia University and eventually published more than 40 research papers, a monograph, and encyclopedia entries.
He taught at the Brazilian Center for Physical Research in Rio, and at the Joint Establishment for Nuclear Energy Research in Lillestrom, Norway. His research for the Norwegian merchant marine on the possibility of outfitting the fleet with nuclear reactors included the possibility that the reactor core might breach containment and melt down through the hull. This was the first use of the term “meltdown” in nuclear reactor literature.
He taught and did research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute through 1966, and after that at the University of Kansas. He was chairman of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1977 to 1989. He also taught at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan in the summer of 1969.
Jack Davidson led summer camps in astronomy for high school students for many years.
He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Physical Society, and the Kansas Academy of Sciences.
After his retirement in 1996, he served on the USD 497 School Board from 1999 to 2003.
He was also active in local Democratic Party politics and in flying clubs.
He was preceded in death by his brother, Duncan Davidson. He is survived by his wife, Mary Davidson, of the home, and by four sons, John Pirnie Davidson III and his wife, Shirley Schaeffer, Scarsdale, New York; Robert Kenneth Davidson and his wife, Monica Davidson, Ottawa, KS; Tom Davidson and his wife, Diane Davidson, Lexington, MA; and Jim Davidson, Lawrence, KS; and by six grandchildren, Jessica, Julia, Anna, Nathan, Owen, and Alice.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Ecumenical Christian Center, 1204 Oread.
Online condolences may be sent at

This information was provided to the Journal-World as a paid tribute.