The 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award went to Dr. Clayton Swenson, who graduated at age 16 from Park High in 1940. His father was Nels Swenson, who owned the Swenson and Redeen Grocery Store, which operated on Walker Street from 1923 to 1952. The story of this early Park business can be found in Clayton’s brother Don Swenson‘s book Something in the Water, available from the SLP Historical Society.
Clayton received a scholarship to Harvard, where he studied physics. In his senior year at Harvard, Los Alamos was looking for scientists to work on the A-bomb. This was his first job. After the war, he was a new graduate student in Physics at Harvard, ready to do Nuclear Physics. He was awarded a fellowship to go to Oxford and work in the relatively new field of Low Temperature Physics. After his Oxford D. Phil. (Ph.D). he went back to Harvard to set up a low temperature program, then went to MIT to work for three years before finally ending up at the Department of Physics at Iowa State University and then Ames Laboratory of the Atomic Energy Commission. Each of these activities involved an abrupt change in life direction, often not expected. He both taught and did significant published research. He was named a Distinguished Professor and chaired the Department of Physics for seven years. He spent sabbatical years in Australia at their Standards Laboratory and in England at the National Physical Laboratory and more recently six months at Los Alamos (not on nuclear physics) For 25 years, he was the only non-Standards Laboratory member on the Consultative Committee on Thermometry of the International Committee on Weights and Measures in Paris.
Clayton retired in 1987 but still goes to Iowa State University 2-3 times a week to help in the science department.
He received Park High’s Distinguished Alumni award on graduation day, June 2, 2011 at the football field.