Dr. Waldo Lyon Memorial Scholarship

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Dr. Waldo Lyon received his Ph.D. in physics from UCLA in 1941. Shortly thereafter, he joined the newly-founded Navy Radio and Sound Laboratory (NRSL) in San Diego, embarking on a government service career that would eventually span 55 years. At NRSL, which is now the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Dr. Lyon was charged with forming and directing the initial efforts of the Sound Division, and during World War II worked on testing, repairing, and modifying submarine equipment and harbor defense systems in the Pacific. However, Dr. Lyon's true legacy was in the area he loved most dearly; submarine Arctic operations. Aware that German U-boats had sunk a great deal of Allied shipping while operating from under-ice havens in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Dr. Lyon began adapting submarine sonar systems for operations in cold water and under the ice pack. In 1946, at the invitation of Admiral Byrd, he took a submarine under the Antarctic ice. He followed that intrepid mission a year later with a trip under the Arctic ice in the Bering Sea.

For the next 50 years, Dr. Lyon continued to spearhead the Navy's efforts to learn more about operating ships in the Arctic, and personally directed more than two dozen cruises involving both submarines and icebreakers. In August 1958, he served as senior scientist onboard the USS NAUTILUS when she became the first ship in history ever to reach the geographic North Pole. Just seven months later, he led the USS SKATE back to the Arctic, where she became the first ship to actually break through the ice and surface at the North Pole. In 1960, Dr. Lyon served as senior scientist for two landmark expeditions. In February, he guided the USS SARGO through the extremely shallow Bering Strait; the only route into the Arctic from the Pacific Ocean. This marked the first time that a submarine had made this harrowing transit - more than a thousand miles in water less than 200 feet deep - during the dead of winter, when the entire area was covered with ice. In August, Dr. Lyon led SARGO's sister ship, the USS SEADRAGON, on the first submerged transit of the fabled Northwest Passage.

To enable him to grow sea ice under natural conditions and study its physical properties, he constructed an experimental pool - 75 feet long and 16 feet deep - on the site of an abandoned post-World War I coastal defense battery on San Diego's Point Loma. This pool would become the centerpiece of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory. He also established a field station at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska on the Bering Strait. Experiments conducted in the sea ice pool were major factors in designing the SSN 637 "STURGEON" class submarine. The scientific work overseen by Dr. Lyon also helped solve icing problems on improved SSN 688 "LOS ANGELES" class submarines, and provided extensive data on the ice breakthrough capability of the SSN 21 "SEAWOLF" class submarine.

Dr. Lyon twice received the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the highest award that the Secretary of the Navy can award to a civilian employee. He also received the Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service (from John F. Kennedy), the Gold Medal of the American Society of Naval Engineers, the Silver Century Medal of Societe de Geographie (Paris), the Bronze Medal of the Royal Institute of Navigation (London), the Bushnell Medal of the American Defense Preparedness Association, the Lowell Thomas Medal of the Explorer's Club of New York, two Presidential Unit Citations, and 10 Navy Unit Commendations.

Dr. Lyon passed away on May 5, 1998 at the age of 84. In a fitting final tribute, his ashes were scattered at the North Pole by the submarine USS HAWKBILL. During the 2005 award ceremony, Mr. Alan Hayashida, an operations specialist with the Arctic Submarine Laboratory who conceived the idea for the scholarship in 1999, stated that perhaps no higher tribute could be paid to this great man than was articulated by Vice Admiral George Steele in the book he wrote about SEADRAGON’s 1960 voyage through the Northwest Passage:

  "Back in 1954 Doctor Waldo Lyon had had the vision of this voyage as he persuaded Commodore Robertson in HMCS Labrador to run many of the sounding lines that showed on the chart ahead. He was sure, even then, that they would be needed for submarine transit. Now Waldo Lyon was being given the chance to see his vision and foresight pay off handsomely. I found myself staring at this remarkable man in admiration and awe. There was one among us who could see in the dark."

Funds for the scholarship are administered by the UCLA Foundation. Individuals or organizations desiring to contribute may send their tax-deductible donations to:

  The UCLA Foundation
c/o Ms. Camille Harper
College of Letters and Science
1332 Murphy Hall
P.O. Box 951413
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1413

Checks should be made payable to “The UCLA Foundation”, and should be clearly marked for the “Dr. Waldo Lyon Scholarship Fund.”

Additional information on the Arctic Submarine Laboratory and Dr. Waldo Lyon, including this scholarship, are available on ASL’s website: http://www.csp.navy.mil/asl.

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