Edward Dayhoff; Contributor to Nobel-Winning Work on Atom

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Edward Dayhoff, 81, a Navy scientist who did pioneering work on the fine structure of the hydrogen atom, died Dec. 11 of an antibiotic-resistant infection at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Dr. Dayhoff was among the quartet of colleagues credited by Willis E. Lamb, who won the 1955 Nobel Prize in Physics, with contributing to the work that led to his prize. As one of Lamb's post-doctoral students, Dr. Dayhoff measured the "Lamb Shift," a phenomenon that reflects the fine structure of the hydrogen atom.

He worked primarily at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (now the Naval Surface Weapons Center) in White Oak, where his research on radio wave propagation, electro-optics and weapons design led to numerous inventions and patents, most of which were classified. He initiated a laser project and published research on clutter suppression, signal analysis, ferromagnetic materials, laser imaging and klystrons.

He retired in 1980, then consulted for the National Biomedical Research Foundation for a number of years.

He was born in New York and attended Columbia University until joining the Navy as a seaman in 1944. Assigned to Hawaii, he trained aboard a troopship as a radioman and radar operator. While studying, he identified many errors in theoretical physics in the radar manual and gave himself the task of rewriting it.

When the troopship landed, his corrections were examined and immediately classified, and he was appointed to the faculty of the Navy Pacific Fleet Radar Center, with orders not to go closer to the fighting because of his knowledge of critical concepts used in a variety of radar bomb-aiming systems. Dr. Dayhoff joked to his family that the Navy was afraid the Army would capture him.

After World War II, he returned to Columbia, where he graduated and received a master's degree in physics in 1947 and a doctorate in physics in 1952.

He began working for the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) in 1952 before moving to the Naval Ordnance Lab.

After he retired, he built a number of microcomputers in his basement from basic electronic components. He was a president of the Chesapeake Microcomputer Club.

In 1948, he married Margaret Oakley Dayhoff, a scientist and former president of the Biophysical Society, who was considered the founder of the field of bioinformatics. She died in 1983, and Dr. Dayhoff founded an award in her name for female scientists.

Survivors include his wife, Nancy Belmont Dayhoff of Bethesda; two daughters from his first marriage, Ruth Dayhoff of Bethesda and Judith E. Dayhoff of Silver Spring; and five grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company