Campus & Community

Harvey Brooks, 88, on faculty more than 50 years

5 min read

Harvey Brooks, a pioneer in incorporating science into public policy and a member of the Harvard faculty for more than 50 years, died May 28 at his home in Cambridge from complications of congestive heart failure. He was 88.Brooks was Benjamin Pierce Professor of Technology and Public Policy Emeritus in the Kennedy School of Government, and Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics Emeritus, in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS). He served as dean of the Division from 1957 to 1975. In 1976, he founded and became the first director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1986.

Kennedy School Dean Joseph S. Nye Jr. said, “We have all profited from Harvey’s books, his lectures, his case studies, and his collegiality. We also remember him as a wonderfully warm human being in his roles as teacher, colleague, and family man.”

Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center, said, “As one of the Belfer Center’s founding fathers, Harvey blazed the trail in science, technology, and public policy for successive generations here at the Kennedy School and around the world.”

A native of Cleveland, Harvey Brooks attended Yale University, where he graduated in 1937 with a degree in mathematics. He began his doctoral work at the University of Cambridge and relocated to Harvard in order to work with acclaimed physicist and Nobel laureate J.H. van Vleck. He completed his Ph.D. at Harvard with van Vleck in 1940 and was elected to the Society of Fellows, through which he took part in many interdisciplinary discussions with Harvard scholars such as Alfred North Whitehead, Crane Brinton, and L.J. Henderson.

During World War II, Brooks worked with Harvard’s Underwater Sound Laboratories, helping design an acoustic homing torpedo known as “Fido,” which the military used during the last year of fighting. He then spent four years with General Electric. He returned to Harvard in 1950 as a tenured professor of physics at DEAS.

“Harvey Brooks not only played a critical role leading the Division during his 20 years as dean, but was a true public intellectual,” said Venkatesh Narayanamurti, dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and dean of Physical Sciences at Harvard University. “During his tenure as dean, the Division underwent major renewal in terms of its faculty and in its relationships with other parts of the university. His ability to translatehis gifts as a researcher into insights about science and technology policy was rare and wonderful. He will be greatly missed.”

Brooks’ work covered the fields of solid-state physics, nuclear engineering, underwater acoustics, and, more recently, science and public policy. His scholarship led to appointments to the President’s Science Advisory Committee in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. He served as a member of the National Science Board, chaired committees for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, and was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His work bridged the gap between government and the scientific community.

Brooks is the author of numerous technical articles on physics, nuclear engineering, and underwater acoustics, and a number of publications on global environmental policy and risk analysis. He founded the International Journal of the Physics and Chemistry of Solids and wrote the 1968 book “The Government of Science.”

“There’s a struggle between the viewpoint that science is a tool to be exploited for the government’s benefit and that government should fund science for the creation of knowledge,” said Lewis Branscomb, Harvey Brooks’ successor at the Kennedy School Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program. “Harvey was a very deep thinker in that debate. He’s clearly the most distinguished scholar in the area.”

“Harvey Brooks was the acknowledged senior statesman of the science, technology, and policy field,” said John Holdren, current director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program [STP] at the Belfer Center. “He contributed most of the seminal ideas and frameworks that shaped STP as a focus of serious scholarship, and he brought these ideas and frameworks to bear not only in the classroom and the academic literature but in the personal practice of science and technology policy advice at the highest levels.

“… For all of his erudition and experience, though, Harvey was absolutely without arrogance or affectation. He invested tremendous effort in improving the thinking and writing of his students and colleagues – who were often tempted to publish the densely reasoned commentaries he produced on their drafts and to throw the drafts away. Harvey cared about science, about policy, about teaching, and about the intersection of these in making the world a better place; he never cared about who got the credit.”

In addition to his wife, Helen, Brooks leaves three daughters, Rosalind Stowe of Cambridge; Alice Bourgoin of Ferrisburg, Vt.; and Katharine Brooks of Boone, N.C.; a son, Kingsley of Fairfield, Iowa; and two grandchildren.