Victor Anderson, 1922-2012

November 22, 2012

A research oceanographer who made a major contribution to the development of sonar has died.

Victor Anderson was born on 31 March 1922 to missionary parents in Shanghai, where his father was principal of the Shanghai-American School. The family did not return to the US until he was nine. He would later describe the strange feeling of freedom he gained by moving from a life within a "protected compound" to a place where "we could go down the street to a friend's house and nobody worried".

A physics major, Professor Anderson completed his first degree in 1943 at the University of Redlands in California, where his father was principal. He then began what became a virtually career-long connection with the University of California when he joined UC Berkeley as a graduate student before shifting into war work as part of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos (1943-47).

Re-embracing a more standard academic track, Professor Anderson became a graduate student in physics at UC Los Angeles and then, a year later, shifted to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Despite a brief interlude as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University's Acoustics Research Laboratory, he was to remain at Scripps until he retired in 1989, having gained a master's in 1950 and a PhD in 1953.

He served as acting director of the institution's Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL) on several occasions and deputy director for the whole period from 1976 to 1989.

Although he combined the role with a chair in applied physics and mathematics at UC San Diego (1968-90), it was Professor Anderson's research work at MPL that represents his greatest claim to fame.

The digital multibeam steering system he designed, for example, provided a means of "listening" in many different directions at once, and it was incorporated into the standard sonar systems used by ships.

A committed Christian, Professor Anderson was a leading figure in his local Presbyterian church for decades.

After he retired, he and his late wife Anne set up a stable where disabled children got a chance to interact with horses as a form of therapy.

In 1982, they also provided funding for the Victor Alderson chair at Scripps, named after Anne's scientist grandfather, whose current holder, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, is carrying out research on the contribution to climate change of "forcers" such as soot, methane and commonly used refrigerants.

Professor Anderson died in his sleep on 3 November and is survived by three children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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