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William Taylor Ham was an American health physicist and founding member of the Health Physics Society.
Ham was born in 1908 in Norfolk, Virginia to William Ham and Lucy Ham. After graduating from Episcopal High School, he attended the University of Virginia and earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1931, an M.S.in Physics in 1933, and Ph.D. in Physics in 1935. From the University of Virginia, Ham went to Columbia University in 1936 for a year to teach physics.
In 1940, Ham married Jean Stratton Anderson (b. 1913) of Aberdeen, Scotland. They had two children, Christina Duncan Anderson Ham and Elspeth Read Ham.
In 1938, Ham returned to the University of Virginia to assist Jesse Beams and Leland B. Snoddy. In 1940, he worked on the development of ultracentrifuges for the separation of uranium isotopes as part of the Manhattan Project.
During World War II, Ham served with the United States Marine Corps in the South Pacific. At the end of World War II, he was assigned as a radar officer to the 5th AA Battalion on Okinawa and reached the rank of Major.
In 1948, Ham joined the faculty of the Department of Surgery at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) as an associate professor. He worked with Dr. Everett I. Evans and his team to study the biological effects of thermal and ionizing radiation in nuclear warfare. In 1951, Ham participated in "Operation Ranger", conducted in Nevada. The data from the tests benefited studies on thermal flash burns, and assisted the US military. In 1952, working with Everett I. Evans, Ham studied the ‘first hand’ effects of flash burns. Ham participated as a subject in the studies, and was able to improve the research methodology through these first person cause-and-effect results.
In 1953, the Medical College of Virginia introduced the Department of Biophysics. Ham became the first chair and was promoted to full professor. He taught courses on biophysics and radiobiology and continued research on retinal burns in rabbits.
In 1956, Ham went to Japan with a five-man team on request from the National Research Council and the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission. The team analyzed the data on the exact level of radiation exposure for each survivor of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The results of their findings became the "Project Ichiban".
In the midyear issue of Science the announcement came of the formation new national scientific organization for health physicists at the 3 day Health Physics Conference at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio on 14 June 1955. The organization was temporarily named "Health Physics Society", and Karl Z. Morgan of the Health Physics Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory was elected interim president. Other interim officers are:
Talks regarding the formation of a professional society had been ongoing for several years. The health physicists had decided to form an independent organization rather than attach to an existing group.
Directors of the Health Physics Society included:
In the 1960s, as laser technology developed, Ham began to study the ocular effects of laser radiation and other light sources such as the sun. Ham researched the damaging effects of extended exposure to blue light and age-related macular degeneration.
In 1976, Ham retired as chair of Biophysics and was named professor emeritus. He continued as an active researcher until 1989.
Categories: 1908 births | 1998 deaths | University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science alumni | Medical College of Virginia alumni | Episcopal High School (Alexandria, Virginia) alumni | Manhattan Project people | Health physicists | Health Physics Society