In Memoriam: Donald Hornig, founding director of HSPH’s Interdisciplinary Programs in Health, former president of Brown University
January 25, 2013 — Donald Hornig, professor of chemistry, emeritus, at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and a former president of Brown University, key figure in the Manhattan Project, and science adviser to three presidents, passed away on January 21, 2013. He was 92.
Hornig, SB ’40, PhD ’43, who received HSPH’s Professor Emeritus Award of Merit in 2012, was trained as a physical chemist. After graduating from Harvard he spent a year at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s underwater explosives research lab, then worked for two years on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos Laboratory, where he helped design the firing unit for the atomic bomb. He taught chemistry at Brown University from 1946 to 1957 and at Princeton from 1957 to 1964, serving as department chair for much of that time. He was a science adviser under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, from 1959 to 1969.
Hornig returned to Brown in 1970 as its president. Over the next six years he helped the school turn around a $4 million deficit, and also helped establish medical sciences graduate programs that became the foundation for Brown’s medical school.
After leaving Brown, Hornig came to HSPH, where he taught chemistry and served as founding director of the Interdisciplinary Programs in Health, which focused on health, the environment, and public policy. He chaired the School’s Department of Environmental Science and Physiology from 1988 through 1990.
“Don valued using the combined brainpower of many disciplines in addressing emergent public health problems,” said Doug Dockery, chair of the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH. “He instilled that approach in us through his wisdom, wit, and warmth.”
From the mid-1970s through his retirement he also served on numerous National Academy of Sciences committees concerning technology, industry, and public policy.
photo courtesy Brown University Archives