Michael Kennerly Wilkinson (age 92), a scientist internationally known for his pioneering
neutron scattering investigations of materials and for his leadership in solid state science at the Oak
Ridge National Laboratory, died at his home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee on May 22,2013. He was a
former director of the ORNL Solid State Division and helped to build that division into an outstanding
The son of Ridley and Lucille Wilkinson, Mike was born in Palatka, Florida, on February 9,
1921, and attended public schools in that city. He was always interested in sports and participated in
high school baseball, basketball, and golf. He was also an excellent student and graduated as
valedictorian of his senior class in 1938. He attended college at The Citadel in Charleston, South
Carolina, where he received a B.S. degree in physics in 1942. He was president of his senior class and was the first honor graduate (valedictorian) of that class.
As was true for nearly all members of the graduating class of 1942 at The Citadel, Mike became an officer in the U. S. Army immediately after graduation. Because of his science background, he was sent to special training courses in radar at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After receiving this training, he spent most of his career in the Army as Radar Officer and Intelligence Officer for the Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles. On June 18, 1944, he married Virginia Sleap, who was also from Palatka, Florida, and they lived in San Pedro, California, very close to Fort MacArthur. He was released from active duty in the army shortly after the conclusion of World War II.
After the War, Mike attended graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
where he was also employed as a Research Assistant at the Research Laboratory of Electronics. He
obtained a Ph.D. from MIT in 1950, performing his thesis research under Professor Wayne Nottingham on crystallographic variations in field emissions from tungsten. He also performed research in x-ray scattering under Professor Betram Warren.
Mike became a member of the research staff of the Physics Division at ORNL in 1950,joining
the program in neutron scattering that had been initiated a few years earlier by Ernest Wollan and
Clifford Shull. Shull later received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for the pioneering neutron
scattering research that he performed at ORNL. As one of the early workers in this new field of
research, Mike was involved in many different types of experiments and particularly with experiments to clarify the understanding of magnetism in materials. This research has been very important in the development of new materials required for various technological applications. He was author or co- author of about 75 articles in scientific journals.
In 1962, Mike accepted a position as Visiting Professor of Physics at Georgia Institute of
Technology on leave from ORNL. In this position he helped to develop the Frank H. Neely Nuclear
Research Center. He continued his close association with Georgia Tech for many years as an Adjunct
Professor. Upon his return to ORNL, he joined the Solid State Division to expand the overall neutron
scattering program at the laboratory. He and Harold Smith initiated a program in inelastic neutron
scattering research to study the dynamical properties of materials. He also assumed responsibility for
the development of new neutron scattering facilities at the High Flux Isotope Reactor that was under
construction. These facilities have been used for many years by research scientists at ORNL and by
visiting scientists from many other organizations.
When Mike returned to ORNL from Georgia Tech, he became very interested in science managements and in the development of a very strong research program in the solid state sciences at ORNL. He was appointed Associate Director of the Solid State Division in 1964 and Director in 1972, a position he held until 1986, when he undertook other responsibilities at the laboratory. Under his guidance, the Solid State Division became one of the best organizations in the world for studying the physical properties of materials. The Division became well known nationally and internationally for the quality and quantity of research that was performed.
Mike also became very active in the promotion of solid state science and in the development of science policy in the United States. He served on many national committees with these goals and became well known for his participation on them. These committees included the Solid State Sciences Committee of the National Research Council, the Evaluation Panel for Materials Sciences of the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Science and Technology), the Executive Committee of the Division of Condensed Matter Sciences of the American Physical Society, the Executive Committee of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society, the Advisory Committee for Materials Research of the National Science Foundation, the Oasis Energy Sciences Committee of the Department of Energy, and several national committees concerned with the development of a life intensity neutron source in the United States. He also served on advisory committees for the Physics Departments of several universities.
During the last part of his career at ORNL, Mike became very involved in the development of a new high intensity neutron source in the United States; he worked very hard to get approved for such a source and to have it located in Oak Ridge. His efforts, together with efforts of several others, laid the foundation for the approval of the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL. For his activities on behalf of DOE, he was awarded the DO E Research Associate Award, which is one of the highest awards given by DOE to someone who is not a member of that organization.He retired from ORNL in 1991.
Throughout his life, Mike thoroughly enjoyed sports of all kinds. He participated in many different sports as a young man and then limited his activities to golf and bowling when he became older. Because of his close association with Georgia Tech, he followed the athletic programs of that university as well as
those of the University of Tennessee.
He is survived by his son Robert W. Wilkinson and his wife Patsy; his son William M.Wilkinson and his wife Kathy; his daughter Elizabeth W. Sowell and her husband Gary; his granddaughter Jennifer W. Heuvelman and her husband Jim; his grandson William Michael Wilkinson; his grandson Indy M. Wilkinson and his wife Amanda; his step-granddaughter, Jennifer Wright; his step-grandson, Randy Gordy and his wife Heather; his great-granddaughter Grace S. Wilkinson; his great-granddaughter Morgan Reece Heuvelman; his step-great-grandson, Holden Wright; and his step- great-grandson, Aiden Gordy.
In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to St. Stephens Episcopal Church, 212 N. Tulane A venue, Oak Ridge, TN 37830 and Covenant Homecare and Hospice, Fort Sanders Foundation, 280 Fort Sanders West Boulevard, Suite 100, Knoxville, TN 37922.