University of Texas
Alfred Wilson Nolle
July 28, 1919–February 11, 2017



Alfred Wilson Nolle


Alfred Wilson Nolle was born July 28, 1919, in Columbia, Missouri, to Dr. Alfred H. Nolle and Berda Stuart Wilson Nolle. His father, a faculty member at the University of Missouri, received his PhD in 1915 from the University of Pennsylvania. His thesis was entitled, The German Drama on the St. Louis Stage, a sharp deviation from his interest in philology. In September, shortly after Wilson’s birth, the family moved to San Marcos, TX, where Dr. Alfred H. Nolle joined the faculty of the school which in the 1920's was given the name Southwest Texas State Teachers College (SWTSTC). He became dean of the college, serving until 1959. Berda was a music teacher. Wilson was their only child. From an early age Wilson, at right, had an interest in music that he nurtured in many forms throughout his life.

Wilson Nolle graduated from the eleventh-grade San Marcos school system in May 1935. He entered SWTSTC in the fall of 1935 and completed the BA degree program in May 1938 with a major in chemistry and minor in physics. (The total curriculum available in physics was about 19 semester hours.) In the fall semester of 1938, he enrolled in the University of Texas in Austin. Wilson had met Prof. C. P. Boner a year or two before 1938 when he gave a demonstration lecture in San Marcos. Wilson was particularly interested in his courses on electronics and acoustics. In 1939, Boner supervised his MA thesis research. He received the MA degree in physics in August 1939. His thesis was entitled, The Effects of Common Plate Impedance in Audio Amplifiers. He continued graduate study at UT Austin until December, 1941, during this time he came to know several research students working under Professor Boner on acoustics of musical instruments and remembers particularly Robert B. Newman, whom he saw frequently again in later years at MIT.



Wilson describes his activities in 1940–1941, “ Having taken courses in acoustics and becoming familiar with laboratory equipment used by the Boner students, I did an experimental study on musical acoustics for my own edification (not intended for a dissertation). The basis for this was the presence in the Physics Building of a pipe organ that had been installed ca. 1935–1936 under Prof. Boner's direction. The four-manual console was constructed in the physics shop. The pipework, wind supply, etc. were largely from theater organs which were available at greatly reduced prices after "talking" pictures became standard. Two two-manual former theater organs, one by Wurlitzer and one by Wicks, were among the resources incorporated in the physics organ. In addition, there was a 16-foot pedal stop consisting of open-ended wooden pipes of unusually large scale (i. e. cross-section), which were very slow to "speak" (that is, more than half a second was required for the sound, starting approximately an octave above final pitch, to reach full output after the key was depressed. ) While, for pipes of higher pitch, this initial transient cannot be followed in detail by listening, oscillograms can provide a visual record for analysis. A device to move 35 mm film at steady velocity, built in the physics shop, was used to record a selection of these "initial transient" waveforms. The results were presented at the New York meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in October, 1941 and published shortly afterward in its journal.”

Nolle comments further on the physics program at UT Austin in 1938–1941, “Prof. Lacoste, and later Prof. Romberg, left the faculty in order to devote full time to the very successful commercialization of their gravity meter. A consequence was that quantum mechanics was not offered for several semesters. In 1941, this gap was filled when Professors Paul Fine and Alvin Graves joined faculty. I think the gap occurred again during WW II, but was closed when Prof. Al Matsen took a joint chemistry/physics appointment, and other new faculty were added in the late 1940s and later.”

In December of 1941, Wilson became a research associate at Harvard University in what was later the Harvard Underwater Sound Laboratory (HUSL). The background for his appointment is of interest. In 1941, Harvard University contracted to organize an underwater sound laboratory which would perform research for the U. S. Navy. It was originally named "Anonymous Research, F. V. Hunt." In the fall of that year, Professor F. V. Hunt, the director, visited the UT physics department, and particularly Professor C.P. Boner, to recruit personnel. Several advanced students accepted appointments. Wilson Nolle said that he preferred to continue graduate degree research "unless an emergency develops." Following the Pearl Harbor event, Professor Hunt sent a telegram asking "Is this sufficient emergency?" During the following week, Nolle traveled to Cambridge and joined Professor Hunt's group, where he was employed through the summer of 1945. In mid-1942, Prof. Boner joined the Harvard laboratory as associate director.

In the fall of 1945, Nolle enrolled for graduate study in physics at MIT. He also received a research appointment in a new acoustics laboratory under Prof. Richard H. Bolt. A major project was to investigate the acoustical behavior of massive metal plates coated with a thin porous layer of elastomer. Nolle took up the problem of measuring the viscoelastic properties of elastomers in isolation, and thus entered into the study of condensed matter. In 1947, he submitted to MIT a doctoral dissertation entitled, Dynamic Mechanical Properties of Rubber-Like Materials, leading to his receiving a PhD in physics in September.

While working at the Harvard Underwater Research Laboratory, Wilson met Margaret Ann “Peggy” Phillips, a Radcliffe graduate, working at the nearby MIT Radiation Laboratory. Peggy was the oldest daughter of Fred K. and Marian D. Phillips of Claremont, New Hampshire. They were married in Claremont, NH, on August 24, 1946.

In January 1948, he joined the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin as Assistant Professor of Physics. With the cooperation of graduate students he continued research on condensed matter using ultrasonic techniques, but moving on soon to nuclear magnetic resonance. The influential 1948 publication Relaxation Effects in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Absorption (Bloembergen, Purcell, and Pound) showed that nuclear magnetic resonance reveals molecular processes akin to those in viscoelasticity. While engaged in summer work at the MIT acoustics laboratory, Nolle visited an early magnetic resonance laboratory that made use of a large permanent magnet designed by Prof. Francis Bitter, which provided a stable magnetic field without the complication of a large electronic power supply. Working from Prof. Bitter's drawings, Nolle had a copy of the MIT magnet built in the instrument shop of the UT Physics Department. This served in the doctoral research of several graduate students until the availability of high-current transistors made it convenient to use magnets with regulated electronic power supplies. Several studies concerned phase changes in crystalline solids and involved fluorescence as well as magnetic resonance.

In 1969, at the urging of Prof. William Sutherland of the English Department, Wilson, known across campus as a principled man of high integrity, agreed to be elected president of the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He was eager to have faculty involvement from an increased number of departments. It was not an uneventful tenure. There were extended hearings on an academic freedom case. The Association successfully advocated a faculty vote to create a faculty senate, which functioned for several decades. [Note by Wilson: “I had little involvement in writing the detailed faculty senate plan, which already existed. I served as a member for a year or two.”]

Wilson was an accomplished organist and built one in his home. He and Peggy were strong supporters of classical music in Austin and regular attendees of these performances. Peggy was active in the League of Women Voters, Meals on Wheels and other charitable organizations in Austin. Peggy died in 1999.

In 1989, Wilson retired, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1995. For several years (starting shortly before retirement) he returned to an early research interest, the start-up transients of flue organ pipes, using an adjustable pipe constructed in the physics shop.

Wilson's research included acoustics and condensed matter physics (elastomers, polymers, and crystalline solids) and with his research in the physics of musical instruments he was honored as a Fellow in the American Physical Society and the Acoustical Society of America.

Inveterate travelers, Peggy and Wilson made many trips abroad. Despite many health challenges, Wilson maintained a travel schedule that would tax many who are decades younger.

Wilson, as he was known to many, was a loyal member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin, supported Meals on Wheels which Peggy helped found in Austin, enjoyed the Austin Symphony, and was a lifetime member of the International Acoustical Society where he often presented his acoustics of music research. He was an accomplished pianist and delighted in playing his Johannus digital organ, enjoyed travel, reading, and his many lifelong friends and colleagues. He was always inquisitive and had an amazing capacity for sharing his knowledge and interests with a humble and kind heart to everyone he encountered.

From Wilson's obituary: "His family included his beloved wife Peggy, who died in January 1999, and he is survived by his cousin, Thomas Thompson of Springfield, Missouri. His close extended family include his wife's nephews, Lloyd P. Wood of Tuftonboro, NH, William H. Wood III of Bow, NH, and his wife Anne Marie and their children Brittany Wood and Brandon Wood, Robert P. Wood of Tuftonboro, NH, his wife Joyce and their children Andrew Wood and Allison Wood, his wife's niece Barbara J. Wood Garabedian of Tuftonboro, NH and her husband Martin and their children Kristin Garabedian, Matthew Garabedian, and Michael Garabedian.'

"A funeral service will be held at All Saints Episcopal Church, 209 W. 27th Street, Austin, Texas on Thursday March 2, 2017 at 3pm. A light reception will follow in Kingsolving Parish Hall and interment will be in the spring at Mountain View Cemetery in Claremont, NH.'

"In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to All Saints Episcopal Church, 209 West 27th Street, Austin, Texas 78705. Donations may also be made to a graduate endowment in the UT Department of Physics online at or mailed to the College of Natural Sciences, External Relations, The University of Texas at Austin, 120 Inner Campus Drive, G2500, Austin, TX 78712."


Alfred Wilson Nolle Photo Album

Dr. Alfred H. Nolle, Wilson Nolle’s father at the signing of the Higher Education Act, 1965, at Southwest Texas State College

L to R: Alfred H. Nolle, Dean Emeritus ofSouthwest Texas State College , Unknown, Lady Bird Johnson, J. J. “Jake” Pickel, Congressman from Texas, Jesse C. Kellum, Chair Board of Regents, Southwest Texas State College President James H. McCrocklin
Front: President Lyndon Baines Johnson

Alfred Wilson Nolle in 1938 Southwest Texas State Teachers College yearbook, Pedagog
A. H. Nolle was Wilson’s father. He is middle row, second from left.
Wilson was president of organization and is shown in inset..

Peggy and Wilson Nolle
Wilson and Peggy Nolle
Wilson aboard a boat in the Atlantic of New England coast.
Wilson Nolle in his office.
Wilson Nolle with student at reception for graduating seniors, 1984.
Wilson Nolle in classroom. Photo from Darrell Hughes files.
Austin Gleeson and Wilson Nolle at Wilson’s retirement
Wilson Nolle, Peggy Nolle, and Pat Oakes, 1984. While on a trip to Europe with their three daughters, the Oakes family created a competition: "Who will see the first person that we know from the States." The winner was Sarah Oakes when at Castle Howard, she said, "Is that not the Nolles?" Indeed it was.
Mel Oakes, Wilson Nolle and John David Gavenda, 2011.
Margaret “Peggy” Phillips Nolle (1921–1999), ca. 1991
Peggy Nolle at Meals on Wheels, ca. 1978


^Back to Top^