Magazine Feature / People

Prof was expert on stratosphere

David Murcray, a professor and well-known physicist who was honored with DU’s highest academic honor, died Oct. 13. He was 85.

In 1990, Murcray was named DU’s first John Evans professor along with co-winner Marshall Haith of the psychology department. Evans Professorships, named after DU founder John Evans, are granted in recognition of national and international distinction.

“David Murcray was a true scholar and a gentleman and put DU on the map as far as atmospheric chemistry was concerned,” says DU Professor Emeritus Don Stedman.

Murcray’s research focused on the Earth’s atmosphere, and his findings on the stratosphere in particular garnered international recognition. Murcray also studied atmospheric water vapor content, optical measurements from high altitude balloons, and infrared absorption and transmittance. His experiments were the first to detect nitric acid and nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, which are an important facet of global warming and ozone layer studies.

Murcray performed research for various organizations including NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Defense Nuclear Agency, the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory and the CIA.

“His research funding was steady and extensive, and there was no one else in my opinion in a university setting who had acquired such a competent research group that could deliver results like they did,” says DU research Professor Bob Amme.

“David and his group were one of the reasons that I came to DU and certainly were responsible in a major way for the success that I have enjoyed during my tenure here,” Stedman says. Stedman worked with Murcray and others in Murcray’s group for nearly 20 years.

David Murcray was born Jan. 19, 1924 in Leadville, Colo. He served in the Army from 1943–46. He earned his bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from DU and his master’s degree from Oklahoma State University. He was a teaching fellow at Harvard University and Oklahoma State University and an assistant instructor at the University of Kansas.

He began his research at DU in 1952 and was with the University until his retirement in 1999.

Under Murcray’s direction, DU physicists worked on infrared instrumentation of high-altitude balloons that rise to more than 100,000 feet, beyond most of the earth’s atmosphere. The balloons carried telescopes and infrared-sensing devices to scan the moon’s surface as directed by their earth-bound controllers.

David Murcray’s son and brother, both named Frank Murcray, also have worked at the University of Denver conducting research.

“He always seemed to me to have a strong degree of independence, high self-confidence, but was quiet and generally soft-spoken,” Amme says.

Murcray’s wife, Evelyn May Murcray, preceded him in death. He is survived by son Frank, daughter Kathleen, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

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