Merle E. Riley
Class of 1959
Merle Eugene Riley
Merle was born March 23, 1941 in the family house near Waterford. His parents named him after musician Merle Travis. He graduated from Waterford High School in 1959, valedictorian of the class. He was the top in the state of Ohio in the 1959 statewide physics exam. Graduated Magna cum Laude in 1963 with a BS in chemistry from Marietta College. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Obtained a Ph.D. in chemical physics from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California in 1968. Held a National Science Foundation post-doctoral appointment in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Harvard University in 1968 and 1969. Merle worked at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 1969 to 2003 and was appointed a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff. He has published more than a hundred scientific and technical articles in the areas of atomic, molecular, laser, and plasma physics. He worked in the so-called Star Wars' program that contributed to the end of the cold war between the USSR and the USA.
His parents were Wilbur Riley and Amy Linscott; his grandparents’ surnames are Riley, Linscott, Nixon, and Angle; the great grandparents’ add to that Burris, Dolan, Burris, and Scoggan; the great-great grandparents’ surnames add to that Burchett, Bellows, Perkins, Starlin, Squires, Callahan, McCoy, and Gregg.
An early Starlin, his great-great-great grandfather, built the Old Log House maintained by the Lower Muskingum Historical Society in Beverly. John Nixon, a great-great-great-great grandfather, is buried in Belmont County with his wife Anne. John was born in 1750 in Virginia and died in 1833 in Ohio. His tombstone is still standing. John Nixon arrived shortly after 1800 in Belmont County, Amos Linscott arrived in Athens County before 1841, Peter Angle (Engel) arrived in Washington County around 1835, and George Riley (Ryley) around 1810 in Marietta.
Grandfather Roscoe Riley bought around 100 acres of land in 1913 from Aaron Callahan, the property just past the Beebe homestead on Beebe Hill Road. This property became the Wilbur Riley farm, and was actively farmed by Wilbur until the 1960’s. The house, still standing and in use, was enlarged and rebuilt in 1923 from the old Laurel Hill schoolhouse that once stood on the present Swingle property on Stapf Road. The original house on the Callahan land was a log house.
Merle loved fishing and hunting small game. His father Wilbur’s joys of life were music and baseball. Merle’s were science and math, which were the easy subjects for him. Waterford High School principal Harry Cooper took a great interest in seeing that Merle got into college without delay.
Marietta College saw three Waterford High School alumni (1959 class) in those years, Charles Kenney, Ron Warren, and Merle, all chemistry majors and all graduating from MC in 1963. There were two younger Riley cousins of his from Marietta in the petroleum studies department at the time. Professors Herschel Grose and Hans Georg Gilde encouraged Merle to continue on to graduate school. He entered CalTech where Linus Pauling was the Nobel-Prize-Winning attraction in the chemistry department.
Pauling left CalTech in 1963, the year he arrived, so the urge to work with Pauling did not materialize. His graduate work with Professor Aron Kupperman moved him more toward physics. He married dentist Cecilia Osorio from Colombia in July 1966.
After getting the PhD degree, he obtained a National Science Foundation foreign study grant to study with a Professor Alex Dalgarno at Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Dalgarno moved to Harvard Physics and Astronomy Department in 1967, so the postdoctoral study took place in Cambridge, MA.
Work and the Rest.
Merle’s working career came at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there was interest in the type of research that he had studied at CalTech and Harvard. The work was a mixture of weapon related and basic research into things that might be of national or military interest. Sandia is one of three federal nuclear weapons labs whose obligations are defense and national-interest projects. Much of the work is classified secret, but a good part is done openly and in competition with the entire world. Merle also taught graduate-level courses at the University of New Mexico (in Albuquerque) in the physics department.
His daughter Natalie works in Albuquerque at the University Hospital as a clinical social worker with an MS degree from the University of Texas in Austin. His son Kevin received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Penn State, did a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Florida, held a research appointment at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic, and is now a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
Merle retired in 2003 from Sandia Labs and resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He spends his time studying physics, traveling, writing, and researching family genealogy.
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