Lester C. Van Atta

Lester C. Van Atta
Portland, OR, USA
Associated organizations
Hughes Aircraft Company, MIT Rad Lab
Fields of study
Radar, Microwave technology


Lester C. Van Atta (IRE Member, 1942; Senior Member, 1943; and Fellow, 1952) was born in Portland, Oregon, on 18 April 1905. He received the B.A. degree in physics from Reed College, Portland, in 1927, and the Ph.D. degree from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1931.

Van Atta served in the Physics Department of Princeton University from 1931 to 1932; in the Physics Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), from 1932 to 1940; and in the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory as Head of the Antenna Group from 1940 to 1945. From 1945 to 1950, he was Head of the Antenna Research Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. In 1950, he joined Hughes Aircraft Company, Culver City, California, first as Head of the Microwave Laboratory, then as Associate Director of the Research Laboratories, and later as Director of Technical Information and Education. From May 1960 to June 1961, he was on professional leave from Hughes as Special Assistant for Arms Control to the Director of Defense, Research and Engineering, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, D.C. In July 1961, Van Atta returned to Hughes Aircraft Company as Technical Director of the Hughes Research Laboratories.

In 1940, Van Atta became active in military research and development at the M.I.T. Radiation Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and Hughes Aircraft Company. In addition, he served on the Research and Development Board as Chairman of the Panel on Antennas and Propagation from 1946 to 1949. He participated in a series of WSEG studies of continental air defense from 1956 to 1958, a series of PISGAH and other research and development conferences of the Army from 1957 to 1959, two ARGUS studies at Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Livermore, California, from 1948 to 1959, and on the Gaither Committee in 1959.

At Hughes Aircraft Company, Van Atta directed systems studies such as the Hemispherical Scan System for the Navy and the ICBM Passive Defense System for the Air Force, both systems based on electronic bean-scanning techniques. In connection with his responsibility for education at Hughes, he was active in the creation of the Southern California Industsry-Education Council, and served as its vice president during 1959-1960. His technical fields of specialization included high resistors, electron scattering in gases, high-voltage and high-vacuum engineering, production and scattering of hard X rays, nuclear reactions by bombardment, microwave antennas, and microwave components and systems.

Van Atta was a Fellow of the IRE and the American Physical Society, and a member of the AAAS, the American Associatoin of Physics Teachers, and the American Geophysical Union. He was active in the Research Society of America and the International Scientific Radio Union, especially Commission VI. Van Atta was very active in the IRE, including as chairman of the Antenna and Waveguide Technical Committee, the PGAP, and the Los Angeles Section. In 1962, he served on the Board of Directors of the IRE.