John P. McTague 1938-2013

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Remembering Dr. John McTague, a distinguished member and longtime supporter of our department.

John McTague, a distinguished member of our department from 1970 to 1982, passed away on June 7.  John had three interwoven careers — academic, government science policy advisor and director of an industrial research laboratory — in each case pioneering many “firsts” and earning many accolades.

He was an exceptional physical chemist.  He received his undergraduate degree with honors in chemistry from Georgetown in 1960, and his Ph.D. from Brown in 1965.   He was then a member of the cadre of outstanding young scientists recruited to the North American Rockwell Science Center by Howard Reiss.  After six productive years of pure research in a very attractive industrial laboratory, John did what few persons are willing to do – at a major salary reduction, he accepted a beginning untenured academic chemistry position at UCLA. It was obvious from rapid promotions to full professor that his self-confidence in making the move to UCLA was justified.

John’s research on dynamics and interactions in condensed matter included the first demonstrations of collision-induced light scattering, of hexatic ordering in two-dimensional systems, and of collective dynamics in monolayer films.  His theoretical and computational work highlighted the unique role of the body-centered-cubic phase in crystallization and of the existence of orientational epitaxy in incommensurate films.  He found the way to get things done, never discouraged by intellectual or technical challenges, and always exuding self-confidence and intense focus.  In a letter supporting one of John’s academic advancements a colleague wrote, “If students are not available, he does the research himself. If funds and equipment are not available for experimental research, he performs outstanding theoretical work.”

A major part of his research involved synchrotron scattering and in 1983 he took leave from UCLA to become the first director of the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  His success as an administrator of science led him then to the position of Deputy Director and then Acting Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and as Acting Science Advisor to President Reagan.

In 1986 he joined Ford Motor Company, where he spent more than twelve years until his retirement, first as Vice President, Research, then Vice President, Technical Affairs.  At Ford, he was, at various times, responsible for research, environment and safety engineering, technical personnel development, plant engineering, and worldwide product and technical planning.  He also established USCAR, a unique research collaboration involving Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

After retirement John continued to play important roles in US science policy, for example as a member of the President’s council of Advisors on Science and Technology and U.S. Chair of the U.S.-Japan High Level Advisory Panel on Science and Technology.  In the 1990’s, he served as the Chairman of the Board of Overseers of Fermi National Laboratory and as Co-Chair of the Department of Energy National Laboratories Operations Board. 

John was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  He received Alfred P. Sloan, John Simon Guggenheim, and NATO Senior Fellowships, as well as the California Section Award of the American Chemical Society.  In 1998, the American Physical Society honored him with the Pake Prize and in 1999 he received the department’s Glenn T. Seaborg Award.

John remained a friend and supporter of our department and UCLA, serving on the advisory board of CNSI.  He and his family generously endowed two chairs in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry – the Howard R. Reiss and the John P. McTague Career Development Chairs which enable us to foster the careers of promising young faculty at UCLA. He leaves a legacy of originality, breadth, and excellence in basic research and in science administration that is inspiring to all of us.

John is survived by his four children; son, Kevin McTague of Santa Barbara, CA; daughter, Catherine Bregenzer of San Anselmo, CA; daughter, Margaret McCreary of East Longmeadow, MA; and daughter, Maureen Sandoval of Orinda, CA; along with nine grandchildren and his sister Mary Dempsey of Hilton Head, SC.

The family will hold a private memorial in late June. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The John P. McTague Career Development Chair Endowment in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA. Checks may be made payable to the UCLA Foundation, noting Fund Number 8986 in the check memo line. Please direct donations to:

Kerri Yoder, Director of Development
Division of Physical Sciences, UCLA College of Letters and Science
1309 Murphy Hall, P.O. Box 951413
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1413

You can read the obituary published in the Santa Barbara News-Press here.