Joachim Jänecke: Conferences, Reminiscences

.                                                                                          JJ:  September, 2014

It was in the fall of 1998 shortly after my retirement that I attended the International Conference on Exotic Nuclei and Atomic Masses ENAM1998 at the Shanty Creek Resorts near Bellaire in Northern Michigan. One day I became aware that several of my faculty colleagues from the University of Michigan were present, Fred Becchetti, Larry Jones, Bob Lewis, Ted Hecht, Byron Roe, and a few others. I asked them whether they had come to play golf at the resort. Well, they hadn’t. What I didn’t know was that at the beginning of the banquet in the evening Fred Becchetti announced that I had retired, and he gave me a present and a document. I then had to say a few words which were not very coherent. I very much regret not thinking about this earlier, because I could have made some interesting comments for the attendees of this conference and selected reminiscences about earlier atomic mass conferences.

For example, something like this: “First, I want to thank my colleagues from the University of Michigan to have come here on this occasion. When I saw them earlier I thought they had come to play golf. Also, I thank you for the gift. – Given the opportunity, I want to say a few words mostly about earlier AMCO and ENAM conferences. (Atomic Masses and Fundamental Constants / Exotic Nuclei and Atomic Masses)

The first AMCO Conference which I attended was AMCO3 at Winnipeg, Mannitoba, in 1967. I had received a letter from Professor Burcham in England whether I could give a talk on Coulomb energies. I had just published a paper on “Vector and Tensor Coulomb Energies”.

But let me very briefly back up. The first International Nuclear Physics Conference which I ever attended was as a beginning student in Heidelberg in about 1950. The occasion was the 60s birthday of Professor Bothe. He later became my Ph.D. thesis chairman, also – more importantly – he received the Nobel Prize. This was the very first international conference in Germany after the second world war. It was attended by Bothe, of course, Kopfermann, Mayer-Leibnitz, Heisenberg, Otto Hahn, Schmelzer – who built the Univac at the GSI in Darmstadt – J.H.D.Jensen and Maria Goeppert-Meyer from Chicago – later both recipients of the Nobel prize for the discovery of the nuclear shell model. Then Gentner who became important at CERN and then director of the MPI in Heidelberg, Prof. Clay from Leyden, Nordheim from California, remember the Nordheim rules, Scandinavian participation, Lise Meitner, Wolfgang Pauli, also a recipients of the Nobel prize, and many others. Again, this was my first international nuclear physics conference. – Another interesting conference which I attended was a few years later in 1958 in Geneva on the “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy”. I came back and told my colleagues at the Max–Planck-Institute what I had learned, fusion energy will become available in 2-3 years.

A conference which changed my life was the Congrès International de Physique Nucleaire in 1964 in Paris. I had previously spent a couple of years as a Research Associate and Lecturer at the University of Michigan, and I had returned to Germany. At this conference I again met my colleague Bill Parkinson from Ann Arbor. He asked me why I had never responded to their letter. I hadn’t received this letter. It got lost. Well, they had made me an offer for a faculty position. The rest is history.

JaneckeWithParkinsonParis1964Professor William Parkinson with  Joachim and Christa Jänecke

Back to AMCO3 in Winnipeg. I gave my invited presentation, and I still remember that a distinguished participant of the Conference, actually a very distinguished participant, fell asleep in the first row. I am inclined to believe that this was due to jetlag, of course. – But I also distinctly remember walking down a hallway, with sunshine coming in from the side, when three Israeli physicists came the other direction. I had exchanged pre- and re-prints with Nissan Zeldes before, but this was the first time I met him in person. I did not know then that this would become a lifelong friendship with him and later also with his wife Carla. Christa and I met Carla when they spend a long sabbatical in Ann Arbor at the end of the 1980s and again in 1995.

And then came all the other wonderful and interesting AMCO Conferences in Teddington near London, in Paris, East Lansing, Damstadt. Then the joint NFFS/AMCO conference in 1992 in Bernkastel-Kues, beautiful sunshine, and the first ENAM (Exotic Nuclei and Atomic Masses) conference in Arles, France. And finally the present conference in Northern Michigan.

At the Teddington Conference I remember the evening when Nissan and I went to see the play “Fiddler on the Roof”. In Paris I remember the banquet up on the Eiffel Tower, and also the initial reception at the Musèe de Metrology. We were reminded of the 100-year anniversary of the 1875 “Convention du Mètre”. But I still have to memorize that 1 mile has 5280 feet and a gallon of milk contains 128 fluid ounces !

So, let me conclude with AMCO 8, the conference which wasn’t. AMCO 8 was to take place in Jerusalem in 1990 organized by Nissan Zeldes. I had prepared such a nice talk, and then it was cancelled because of events in the Middle East. E-mails went back and forth before the conference, whether one should cancel, or whether the Israeli organizers had worked out plans to evacuate all participants. Well, long before the beginning of the conference I had requested airline tickets from TWA using frequent flyer miles, still worth something in those days. So, I had two free tickets from Detroit Metro to Ben Gurion Airport. Also with a one-week stop in Rome. And, since TWA didn’t fly Rome-Israel, “unfortunately” we had to fly back to Paris for another two days. Well, we arrived in Israel but there was no conference. Therefore, Nissan and Carla had all the time to spend with us. There were no tourists in town. At the hotel we could pick the room with the best view down onto the Old City and the Jaffa Gate. Christa and I together with a woman from New York tried to have a guided tour through the Old City. After much effort the boss of the tourist organization took us around to interesting places. In one place Yeshiva students shouted at us because women were not allowed there, in another place young Palestinian boys wanted to throw stones at us. One day the four of us drove down to the Dead Sea. We swam, and then we sat down in a spa hotel lobby, and I remember that we started talking into the dark as if we had known each other since childhood, even though our childhoods in Germany and Israel, Carla’s in Italy before she had to leave, were indeed very different. – After the week in Jerusalem was over, at the suggestion of a secretary, I was the only one who had his registration fee reimbursed. After all, I had attended the Conference !

International Conferences are important for the exchange of scientific ideas and for establishing collaborations. But these gatherings are equally important for making personal contacts between people from different parts of the world and different cultures. – Let me stop here.”

Added later: Since ENAM1995 in Arles the four of us always spend time together after the conference, then driving through the Provence with Nîmes and Avignon. In 1998 at the conference in Bellaire the two wives explored the Northern Michigan countryside while the husband listened to lectures, and afterward we spend time together at our cottage on Lake Michigan. In 2001 after the conference in Finland we flew to Saint Petersburg to enjoy this beautiful city with its museums. The last of this sequence of conferences we both attended was ENAM2004 at the beautiful Callaway Gardens in Georgia. After this conference we drove back to Ann Arbor and spent a week together. Yes, friendships are important. Since then only email, snail mail, telephone calls.

AnnArbor2004-1&2     (L) Carla and Nissan Zeldes with Joachim and Christa Jänecke
(R) Nissan Zeldes with Homer Neal 

I have, of course attended over the years very many other meetings, symposia, workshops, and conferences, many in the United States, but also in Canada and many places in Europe, and in later years in Russia and Japan. In 1990 I attended the Symposium “Nuclear Physics in the 1990’s” in Santa Fe in Honor of Akito Arima, an important Japanese theorist and administrator and visitor to Ann Arbor in 1973 for a 2-week workshop. In 1991 I helped to organize here in Ann Arbor an International Symposium to Honor our colleague K.T.Hecht, “Group Theory and Special Symmetries in Nuclear Physics”. In 2000, at the last conference I attended in Japan, a special challenge arose when towards the end I had to express thanks to the conference organizer – in Japanese.

Shown in the photographs are Nissan Zeldes (1926 – 2014) and his wife Carla Zeldes (1929 – 2013).  Nissan  was Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Racah Institute of Physics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During his career he has been guest scientist at the Niels Bohr Institut in Copenhagen, at the Technische Hochschule in Darmstadt, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, at CSNSM and IPN in Orsay, at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and at the University of Tennesse in Knoxville. In particular, he spent a sabbatical of 15 months at the University of Michigan in 1989/90 and again for 3–4 months in 1995. He interacted primarily with the Nuclear Group and the Theory Group, also with Professor Homer Neal.
.   Nissan Zeldes’ last publication was a review of the groundbreaking papers of Racah who developed the mathematical methods for the calculation of the spectra of complex atoms. This work was carried out in Jerusalem in complete scientific isolation during the years of World War II. In this work Racah pioneered the use of symmetries and group theory.
Zeldes, N., “Giulio Racah and Theoretical Physics in Jerusalem”, Arch Hist Exact Sci 63, 289 – 323 (2009)

Wayne Hazen interview

Wayne Hazen was a member of the Michigan Physics faculty as one of the leaders in cosmic ray research from 1947 until he retired in 1984; he continued to be a presence in the department until shortly before his death, at age 94, in 2010.

Wayne Hazen, ~19508580B_Jean_WayneHazen2005

Jean Hazen (1918-2014) was trained in landscape architecture and botany and was later well known for her creative pottery. Remarkably, in earlier years Jean had become a private pilot and then earned her commercial pilot certificate with instrument and multi-engine ratings. While in Leeds, England she completed an RAF aerobatic instructor course, then returned to Ann Arbor and worked as an aerobatic flight instructor.
The interview presented here was done in 2007;  The transcription by Sara Stoutland has benefited from edits by her husband Eric Hazen, Larry Jones, Jack van der Velde, Tris Coffin, and Mike Sanders.  Jens Zorn then did an augmented edit.


Politzer’s Harmonic Oscillator Rap

David Politzer (UM AB 1969, Nobel Prize 2004) is an accomplished musician.  His musical group, the Rho Mesons, has a rapper’s description of the damped harmonic oscillator ( © S. Lewicki, D. Politzer, and D. Priest, 1986) that anyone teaching mechanics will  enjoy:

Politzer and the Harmonic Oscillator Rap

For anyone teaching mechanics,  this Harmonic Oscillator Rap:

Hugh David Politzer (born 31 August 1949) was born in New York City. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1966, received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1969, and his Ph.D. in 1974 from Harvard University where his doctoral thesis was directed by Sidney Coleman.

In his first published article, which appeared in 1973, Politzer described the phenomenon of asymptotic freedom: the closer quarks are to each other, the weaker the strong interaction, given by the color charge, will be between them. When quarks are in extreme proximity, the nuclear force between them is so weak that they behave almost like free particles. This result — independently discovered at around the same time by David Gross and Frank Wilczek at Princeton University — was extremely important in the development of quantum chromodynamics, the theory of the strong nuclear interactions. Politzer shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics with Gross and Wilczek for their discovery of asymptotic freedom.
Politzer’s Nobel Lecture, The Dilemma of Attribution, is a friendly, readable account of the way credit is distributed among those who do important, original work in theoretical physics . (He gives an appreciation for Veltman in this talk)

Politzer is an accomplished musician.   Physicists and engineers will particularly enjoy the original rap “Simple Harmonic Oscillator” by Politzer and the Rho mesons. ( © S. Lewicki, D. Politzer, and D. Priest, 1986)


Peter Franken – on not taking yourself too seriously


Peter, an extraordinarily accomplished,  world-famous physicist took a humorous approach to university/academic affairs. He left Michigan at a time when we were looking for a vice president for research, and it may be that his well-known love of a good joke may have kept our administration from making the offer.

Peter Franken on Research Inhibitions

from International J. Science & Technology, May 1963

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Experiences with Professor Otto Laporte

Marvel John Yoder

September 2, 2014

 I was a new graduate student in 1962 and needed to find a research assistant position to support myself and my wife. I had graded papers and taken office hours for Dr. Dolph in the Engineering Math department, and he suggested that I contact Professor Otto Laporte. Even though I had been at Michigan for 4 years, I had not heard of Professor Laporte. That was because since he had just returned from Japan where he had been a Scientific Advisor to the US Embassy, so he had not been around Randall Laboratory.

 I boldly knocked on his door and asked him if he had any work/research for me. Little did I know his reputation for sometimes being very demanding and gruff if he did not like what you were saying/asking. That afternoon he was most gracious and asked me if I knew anything about computers. My reply was negative, but he said, that’s ok, you can learn about them. He had a project to solve Laplace’s equation on the exterior of a sphere, he and was looking for a numerical solution.   He also had some money to support this work.

 Later, when I talked to my other student colleagues about my conversation they said “you asked him WHAT? And he did not throw you out of the office?” He evidently had quite a reputation for sternness. I told them how nice he was. Little did they know that his strictness was only external (a little like a German professor) and that when you were working with him, he was usually as mild as a “pussy cat”.

 I spent a year learning about computers and programming his problem. Unfortunately in those new days of large IBM computers you could not form a matrix larger than about 400 x 400 or the computer would run out of memory and would crash, so it took a while to get good solutions. Also, you had to submit your pile of IBM punch cards in the computer center one day and had to wait for another day to see if you had made any mistakes (usually formatting, spelling or other small problems). We were programming in MAD (Michigan Algorithmic Decoder) language and if you made a mistake you got a print-out of Alfred E. Newman with a statement “What, me worry?” Later we programmed in Fortran. Otto seemed to be pleased with the calculated results. This all was a great learning experience for me since computers were just becoming popular and useful.

 The second year I took Otto’s two semester Theoretical Physics class and enjoyed it a lot. He prided himself on teaching the class without notes.   I learned however, that for about an hour before the class, he took out his previous notes and went over them thoroughly. He then closed up his notes and went empty-handed to the class.

 I somehow did not think I did well on the final exam and was too embarrassed to ask him about summer work. (In fact, I did quite well in the course but did not know it.) So I got a summer job for the University moving furniture into the new dorms and washing dorm windows. A few weeks into the summer I got a phone call from Laporte asking me what I was doing. He said that he had other work for me if I chose to do something other than washing windows. Of course I agreed to see him about it. As I entered his office he said “aha! The prodigal son returns.” Part of my work was checking his arithmetical calculations and another part involved more programming.   His detailed calculations were very precise and whenever I thought that I found a calculation mistake, it was usually mine, not his. I did better with the programming.

One day during his theoretical physics course Otto asked the class about the origin of sodium D lines. No one answered. He became very angry and threw his chalk against the blackboard and said “class dismissed, come back next week when you know about this basic fact in spectroscopy”. Things like this kept us students on our toes, never knowing when he was going to ask another similar question.

 My wife and I took three semesters of German, and we had saved our money so that we could spend a year studying in Germany in 1964-65 after my master’s degree in 1964. I worked for Laporte during the summer and was prepared to go to Göttingen, Germany starting in September. In August Laporte brought up the subject of what I would do in the fall. Thinking that he would be pleased, I said that I was going to spend the next year studying in Germany. He frowned, was stern and asked why in the world would I want to do that! I replied something about learning about science in Germany and broadening my experiences in the world and learning another language. He seemed OK with that and asked me where I had my scholarship. My answer was that I had no scholarship. He was most annoyed. “That will never do,” he said. “You go over to the German Department right away and see Chairman Otto Graf. He will give you a scholarship.” (Evidently he had been at a cocktail party with Professor Graf and they had discussed how only German-studies students took part in the exchange programs. “Real people” did not usually do it.)

 I then approached Otto Graf with trepidation wondering if this possibility was real, since I had not applied for it, but he was prepared for me. He had all the papers laid out. He said, how about going to the Freie Universität Berlin? I readily agreed. I got 500 marks a month and books and tuition.   Without that assistance we would never have been able to complete the year in Germany. There was no paperwork for application and no competition for this exchange scholarship. I was amazed and very happy.

 When I returned from Germany in the fall of 1965 I asked Laporte for more work, and he had a funded position in the experimental Shock Tube Project. Laporte had a reputation of requiring a lot of work and it taking a long time to complete the thesis research. This was not a problem for me at that time. It took me about 5 years to complete the research and write my Ph.D. thesis. About 4 years into this work he said that I needed to complete my work soon (perhaps he was concerned about his health problems, I don’t know). He wanted me to “test” the validity of the Rankine-Hugoniot equation as my final project. I said that it was ok, but I wanted to add a measurement of the rotational relaxation times for orthohydrogen and parahydrogen to my cryogenic shock tube research. He accepted that, but said that I needed to hurry up and get out into the real world and learn about other science and technologies. I would learn more there than by staying at the University. He was right.

 Otto invited me to lunch several times to discuss technical and other issues. One of the times I offered to pay, to which he answered. “When you return several years after your degree, I will be glad to take you up on that offer.” Unfortunately that never happened.

 Several times I dropped into his office to talk to him just as he was leaving to teach a class. He said that he could not do it then, but he invited me do walk with him to talk. That was most enjoyable. Otto had a particular way of holding his notes/books under his arm. I noticed that I was doing the same thing with my notes/books. It was an interesting but totally unintentional imitation.

One semester Otto was to teach the 500 Advanced Mechanics course (Euler-Lagrange equations, Hamiltonians, etc.), but he had to miss the first three weeks of class because he was in Europe. I had done well in the class a year earlier and offered to teach the class for him. He agreed that it would be ok but I could only teach one class per week. Little did I know how hard it was to teach it well. All I did during those three weeks was to prepare for a single lecture on Friday. The lectures went very well, and I had good feed-back from the students. However, I learned that knowing a subject well and presenting it in an interesting and intelligible way were two different things. Good teachers are not born, people have to work hard to become good teachers.

At Michigan I had several noteworthy classes/lectures that left me in awe of physics. These were delivered by George Uhlenbeck (1961 physics colloquium), Gabi Weinreich, Karl Hecht, David Dennison and others. One of the noteworthy lectures was by Otto in a quantum mechanics class. He derived two solutions of the Schrödinger equation for centro-symmetric atoms. One solution implied that the spectral lines for transitions between the states would consist of a triplet at a higher frequency and an associated singlet at a lower frequency. The other solution implied that the singlet would be at a higher frequency than the triplet. Only one of them occurred in nature. The other did not. From this directly followed the Laporte Rule that transitions occurred between states with a change in parity [even (gerade) parity to odd (ungerade) parity or vice-versa], but not from even to even parity or odd to odd parity. These latter transitions were forbidden. After he reached this conclusion, he left the room with no further discussion. My jaw dropped in amazement at the simplicity of the derivation and the consequences.

Another memorable lecture was given in about 1969 in a Wednesday colloquium in which Otto gave first hand reports of his interactions with Arnold Sommerfeld, Wolfgang Pauli, and his contemporary Munich graduate students Werner Heisenberg, Gregor Wentzel, Karl Herzfeld, and Paul Peter Ewald. One of his stories was that Wilhelm Wien (of the Wien displacement law) did not want to grant a doctorate to Heisenberg. After much urging from Sommerfeld, Wien finally agreed to approve Heisenberg’s doctorate, but only with the lowest possible grade.

 In about 1969 I was aware of Otto’s stomach problems, but did not know that it was cancer. I finished the draft of my thesis in late 1970 and gave it to him. He retuned it with a few small changes and thought it was good. Unfortunately Otto died in March of 1971. It was very sad. He seemed old to me at the time, but now that I am 75, he was not old at all. I finished my final draft and Ph.D. thesis defense with Professor Michael Sanders in late 1971.

Honoring Dick Crane and Peter Franken

To honor the enormous contributions of Dick Crane and Peter Franken to our department, we have installed bronze portrait busts of them in the 4th floor conference rooms (4246 and OPIL) of New Randall Lab. The sculptor is Liz Zorn, the sister of Jens.
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–Among his many accomplishments, Crane was recognized for the first (1938) quantitative measurement of neutrino momentum, for accelerator development, for his theory that explained the spiral structure of DNA, for the first measurements of the magnetic moment of the free electron, and for his leadership of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

–Peter Franken was a guiding spirit over the years 1956-1972 for Michigan’s large and active group in atomic and molecular physics; among his many accomplishments at Michigan, we particularly recall his his work in level-crossing spectroscopy, his leading the team that opened the field of non-linear optics, and his irrepressible joie de physique that inspired dozens of students and faculty.


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Martin Perl at Michigan

Martin Perl (b 1927 Brooklyn; 1995 Nobel Prize for discovery of the tau lepton)

Below we have intermingled excerpts from Perl’s Nobel autobiographical memoir and his Nobel Prize speech that give aspects of his early training, his graduate studies at Columbia ,  and his eight highly-successful years at Michigan working with Jones, Meyer, Longo, Ting and Glaser.


I was sixteen when I graduated from James Madison High School in Brooklyn in 1942.  … I enrolled in the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now Polytechnic University, and began studying chemical engineering.

One of the first courses I took in college was general physics, using the textbook by Hausman and Slack. The course was all about pulleys and thermometers; physics seemed a dead field compared to chemistry.  So, just as I was blind to the fascination of physics in high school, I was once again blind to its fascination in college. I ignored physics, and continued studying chemistry and chemical engineering.  … Chemistry was a very exciting field in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s  … There would always be a good job in chemical engineering.

Studies interrupted by war

I wanted to join the United States Army, but I was not yet eighteen and my parents would not give me permission. However, they agreed to me joining the United States Merchant Marine, I was allowed to leave college and become an engineering cadet in the program at the Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy. …  In 1945 when the war ended with the atom bomb, I left the merchant marine and went to work for my father while waiting to return to college. I knew so little about physics that I didn’t know even vaguely why the bomb was so powerful.

I didn’t get right back to college. The draft was still in force in the United States. I was drafted, and spent a pleasant year at an army installation in Washington, DC, doing very little. Finally, I returned to the Polytechnic Institute and received a summa cum laude bachelor degree in Chemical Engineering in 1948.
The skills and knowledge I acquired at the Polytechnic Institute have been crucial in all my experimental work: the use of strength of materials principles in equipment design, machine shop practice, engineering drawing, practical fluid mechanics, inorganic and organic chemistry, chemical laboratory techniques, manufacturing processes, metallurgy, basic concepts in mechanical engineering, basic concepts in electrical engineering, dimensional analysis, speed and power in mental arithmetic, numerical estimation (crucial when depending on a slide rule for calculations), and much more.

I was trained as an engineer at and I always begin the design of an experiment with engineering drawings, with engineering calculations on how the apparatus is to be built and how it should work. My strong interest in engineering and in a mechanical view of nature carried over into my career in physics.

Industrial Interlude

Upon graduation, I joined the General Electric Company. After a year in an advanced engineering training program, I settled in Schenectady, New York, working as a Chemical Engineer in the Electron Tube Division. I worked in an engineering office in the electron tube production factory. Our job was to troubleshoot production problems, to improve production processes, and occasionally to do a little development work. We were not a fancy R&D office. I worked on speeding-up the production of television picture tubes, and then on problems of grid emission in industrial power tubes. These tasks led to a turning point in my life.

I had to learn a little about how electron vacuum tubes worked, so I took a few courses in Union College in Schenectady specifically, atomic physics and advanced calculus. I got to know a wonderful physics professor, Vladimir Rojansky. One day he said to me “Martin, what you are interested in is called physics not chemistry!” At the age of 23, I finally decided to begin the study of physics.

Graduate Study in Physics, I.I. Rabi, and Learning the Physicist’s Trade

I entered the physics doctoral program in Columbia University in the autumn of 1950. Looking back, it seems amazing that I was admitted. True, I had a summa cum laude bachelor degree, but I had taken only two courses in physics: one year of elementary physics and a half-year of atomic physics. There were several reasons I could do this 1950; it could not have been done today. First, graduate study in physics was primitive in 1950, compared to today’s standards. We did not study quantum mechanics until the second year, the first year was devoted completely to classical physics. The most advanced quantum mechanics we ever studied was a little bit in Heitler, and we were not expected to be able to do calculations in quantum electrodynamics.

Second, there was no thought of advising or course guidance by the Columbia Physics Department faculty – students were on their own. I was arrogant about my ability to learn anything fast. By the time I realized I was in trouble, but the time I realized that many of my fellow students were smarter than me and better trained then me, it was too late to quit. I had explained the return to school to my astonished parents by telling them that physics was what Einstein did. They thought if Einstein, why not Martin; I could not quit. I survived the Columbia Physics Department, never the best student, but an ambitious and hard-working student. I was married and had one child. I had to get my Ph.D and once more earn a living.

Just as the Polytechnic Institute was crucial in my learning how to do engineering; just as Union College and Vladimir Rojansky were crucial in my choosing physics; so Columbia University and my thesis advisor, I.I. Rabi, were crucial in my learning how to do experimental physics.

.As is well known, Rabi was not a “hands-on” experimenter. He never used tools or manipulated the apparatus. I learned experimental techniques from older graduate students and by occasionally going to ask for help or advice from Rabi’s colleague, Polykarp Kusch. I hated to go to Kusch, because it was always an unpleasant experience. He had a loud voice that he deliberately made louder so that the entire floor of students could hear about the stupid question asked by a graduate student.

Thus as in the course work, I was on my own in learning the experimenter’s trade. I learned quickly, as I tell my graduate students now, there are no answers in the back of the book when the equipment doesn’t work or the measurements look strange.

I learned things more precious than experimental techniques from Rabi. I learned the deep importance of choosing one’s own research problems. Rabi once told me that he would worry when talking to Leo Szilard that Szilard would propose some idea to Rabi. This was because Rabi wouldn’t carry out an idea suggested by someone else, even though he had already been thinking about that same idea.

It was Rabi who always emphasized the importance of working on a fundamental problem, and it was Rabi who sent me into elementary particle physics. It would have been natural for me to continue in atomic physics, but he preached particle physics to me – particularly when his colleagues in atomic physics were in the room. I think that most of that public preaching may have been Rabi’s way of deliberately irritating his colleagues.

My doctoral thesis research (Pert, Rabi, and Senitzky 1955) was carried out at Columbia University in the early 1950’s under Professor Rabi.  [I used an extension of the atomic beam resonance method invented by Rabi (for which he received a Nobel Prize in 1944) to measure the  quadrupole moment of the sodium nucleus.] This measurement had to be made using an excited atomic state, and Rabi had found a way to do this

My experimental apparatus was boldly mechanical with a brass vacuum chamber, a physical beam of sodium atoms, submarine storage batteries to power the magnets – and in the beginning of the experiment, a wall galvanometer to measure the beam current. I developed much of my style in experimental science in the course of this thesis experiment. When designing the experiment and when thinking about the physics, the mechanical view is always dominant in my mind.

Michigan, Bubble Chambers, and On my Own with Larry Jones

When I received my Ph.D. in 1955, I had job offers from the Physics Departments at Yale, the University of Illinois, and the University of Michigan. At that time, the first two Physics Departments had better reputations in elementary particle physics, and so I deliberately went to Michigan.

I followed a two-part theorem that I always pass on to my graduate students and post doctoral research associates:
Part 1: don’t choose the most powerful experimental group or department – choose the group or department where you will have the most freedom.
Part 2: there is an advantage in working in a small or new group – then you will get the credit for what you accomplish.

At Michigan I first worked in bubble chamber physics with Donald Glaser. But I wanted to be on my own. When the Russians flew SPUTNIK in 1957, I saw the opportunity, and jointly with my colleague, Lawrence W. Jones, we wrote to Washington for research money. We began our own research program, using first the now-forgotten luminescent chamber and then spark chambers.

In eight wonderful and productive years at the University of Michigan, I learned the experimental techniques of research in elementary particle physics (scintillation counters, bubble chamber, trigger electronics, and data analysis) working with my research companions, Lawrence Jones, Donald Meyer, and later Michael Longo. We learned these techniques together, often adding our own new developments. One of the most pleasurable experiences was the development of the luminescent chamber by Jones and me with the help of our student Kwan Lai (Lai, Jones, and Per1 1961). We photographed and recorded the tracks of charged particles in a sodium iodide crystal using primitive electron tubes which intensified the light coming from the track.

Jones and I, using spark chambers, carried out at the Bevatron a neat set of measurements on the elastic scattering of pions on protons (Damouth, Jones, and Perl 1963; Perl, Jones, and Ting 1963). Later, after I left the University of Michigan for Stanford University, Longo and I, working with my student Michael Kreisler, initiated a novel way to measure the elastic scattering of neutrons on protons (Kreisler et al. 1966).

These elastic scattering experiments pleased me in many ways. The equipment was bold and mechanical, with large flashing spark chambers and a camera with a special mechanism for quick movement of the film. Data acquisition was fast, and the final data was easily summarized in a few graphs.  But I gradually became dissatisfied with the theory needed to explain our measurements.  I am a competent mathematician but I dislike complex mathematical explanations and theories, and in the 1950’s and 1960’s the theory of strong interactions was a complex mess, going nowhere.

I began to think about the electron and the muon, elementary particles which do not partake in the strong interaction.  ——(Perl’s lecture continues to describe the work on leptons that won him the Nobel Prize)


It is interesting that three of Perl’s fellow Columbia graduate students were also on the Michigan physics faculty in those days: Peter Franken (Kusch, Nobel 1955), Gabriel Weinreich (Rabi, Nobel 1944), and , arriving just after Perl left for Stanford, T. Michael Sanders (Townes, Nobel 1964)

Resonance Group Reunion-1993

Sixty five people attended the October 15-16, 1993  reunion of the Resonance Group, those faculty and students who worked in atomic, molecular, optical, and condensed matter physics in the years following 1950.  This had been originally conceived as a gathering of those who had worked with Peter Franken and Dick Sands back in the days when real scientists built their own circuits and their own vacuum systems, and when they didn’t need computers to do integrals, plot data, and write papers.   However, plans expanded to include alumni of the g-factor group and those doing related theory.

People at the Resonance Group Reunion, Set 1 — click on image for slide show  (JCZ photos)

Among reminiscences of work, classes, practical jokes, Peter Franken’s nickel bets, and other adventures, there were also talks on the development of science in our lab.  For example Bob Lewis described how his early work on angular correlations in nuclear decay led to the theory behind level crossing spectroscopy (link here).  Other speakers included Peter Franken, Dick Sands,  Mike Sanders, Jens Zorn, and Gabi Weinreich.    No matter the topic, all the speakers  recalled the special relationships that flourished in the late 1950’s  and for two decades thereafter.  Weinreich gave the concluding talk of the reunion (link here), saying “Humor and research are actually very similar entities.  Looking for the unexpected twist that clicks, and which everyone else knows clicks too.   Remember the story of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland?  The Cheshire Cat sat on a branch, with a smile, and as the situation developed the Cheshire Cat disappeared more and more..  That’s research, it seems to me, to start with a cat and find the smile”

People at the Resonance Group Reunion, Set 2 (JCZ photos)

People at the Resonance Group Reunion, Set 3 (JCZ photos)

People at the Resonance Group Reunion, Set 4 (JCZ photos)