Prof. Jim Lawler has passed away

Professor Jim Lawler, the Arthur and Aurelia Schawlow Professor Emerit of Physics at UW–Madison, passed away January 29, 2023. He was 71.

Lawler was an atomic, molecular & optical physicist with a focus developing and applying laser spectroscopic techniques for determining accurate absolute atomic transition probabilities. He received his MS (’74) and PhD (’78) from this department, studying with now-professor emerit Wilmer Anderson. In the two years after earning his doctorate, he was a research associate at Stanford University, and returned to UW–Madison as an assistant professor in 1980. He remained on the faculty until his retirement in May 2022.

Lawler served as department chair from 1994-1997. He also accumulated numerous awards and honors over his distinguished career. He was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the U.K. Institute of Physics, and in 2020 he was elected a Legacy Fellow of the inaugural class of American Astronomical Society Fellows. He won the 1992 W. P. Allis Prize of the American Physical Society and the 1995 Penning Award from the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics for research in plasma physics, the two highest National and International Awards in the field of Low Temperature Plasma Physics. In 2017, he won Laboratory Astrophysics Prize of the American Astronomical Society for research in spectroscopy.

At the time of Lawler’s retirement, longtime collaborator Blair Savage, UW–Madison professor emeritus of astronomy, said of Lawler’s contributions to the field:

“Jim’s work in laboratory astrophysics provided extremely important atomic ultraviolet transition probabilities in support of the Hubble Space Telescope programs to determine elemental abundances of gaseous matter in the interstellar medium from three different ultraviolet spectrographs over the 32-year history of the space observatory. They included the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph and the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph.”

During his tenure, Lawler supervised 26 PhD students and 10 terminal MS students. Those students and postdocs have gone on to prestigious National Research Council Fellowships, group lead positions at major companies, and tenured professorships, amongst many others.

Please visit the department’s tribute page to Jim Lawler to submit and/or read stories from Jim’s colleagues.