Michael K. Wilkinson, a solid state physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was born at Palatka, Florida, in 1921 and attended The Citadel and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his Ph.D. degree in physics in 1950. Wilkinson joined Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) as a research physicist in 1950, performing pioneering research that used neutron scattering techniques to study the physical properties of materials.
Working with the Oak Ridge Graphite Reactor, Wilkinson and his colleagues–Ernest O. Wollan, Clifford G. Shull, and Wallace C. Koehler–bombarded various types of materials with neutron beams and examined the scattered neutrons to determine atomic structures, magnetic structures, and dynamic properties of solids. His research was particularly important in providing an understanding of unusual magnetic effects that exist in various metals, alloys, and compounds. Wilkinson directed the ORNL Solid State Science Division from 1972 to 1986, developing this division into an outstanding research organization internationally recognized for its scientific capabilities. He was also involved in the development of increasingly sophisticated neutron scattering equipment and was responsible for the design and construction of several instruments in use at the ORNL High Flux Isotope Reactor.
Strongly interested in the advancement of science, Wilkinson was a member a many national scientific committees and served as a visiting and adjunct professor of physics at Georgia Institute of Technology. After his retirement from ORNL in 1991, Wilkinson became a consultant to the laboratory on research in the solid state sciences.
Leland Johnson and Daniel Schaffer, Oak Ridge National Laboratory: The First Fifty Years (1994)