Gabi Weinreich –Talk to the Resonance Group

From the University of Michigan Regents’ Proceedings 380, 1995

Gabriel Weinreich, professor of physics, retired from active faculty status on May 31, 1995.

Professor Weinreich received his ANB., AM., and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University in 1948, 1949, and 1953, respectively. From 1953-60, he was a physicist at Bell Labs. Professor Weinreich came to the University of Michigan as an associate professor of physics in 1960; he was promoted to professor in 1964.

In his early years at Michigan, Professor Weinreich and his colleagues were the first to report the generation of optical harmonics, thus founding the science of nonlinear optics. More recently, Professor Weinreich has been recognized for his work in musical physics. In 1979, he was awarded the first major National Science Foundation grant for a project in musical acoustics, which resulted in an influential Scientific American article. He has gone on to become a world authority in the field of musical physics. A fellow of the American Acoustical Society, he is recognized for his abilities to bring concepts from other fields of physics to the study of acoustics and for a number of significant discoveries in the discipline. In 1992, he was honored with the French Acoustical Society’s International Medal. The same year, he delivered the annual Klopsteg Lecture to the American Association of Physics Teachers and, in 1994, was distinguished public lecturer at the Acoustical Society’s annual meeting.
[addition: He was awarded the Silver Medal of the Acoustical Society of America in 2008].

A devoted teacher, Professor Weinreich has taught nearly every course the department offers; he also developed a revised elementary physics sequence for engineers and physicists in 1968-70. He earned a Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1968 and was named a collegiate professor in 1975.

Professor Weinreich was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1986. He accepted a position as rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Hamburg, Michigan, in September 1994, as he began his phased retirement from the University.

The Regents now salute this distinguished professor by naming Gabriel Weinreich professor emeritus of physics.

Talk by Gabi Weinreich to the Resonance Group Reunion

This talk was given in October 1993.  Photos of the reunion are on this website.    (Mike Sanders spoke at Gabi’s retirement in 1995, and his remarks are also on this website.

Like a lot of us, I was given a topic by Jens and I wasn’t given the topic by Jens; it just appeared on the schedule: “Perspectives on Physics at Michigan”.  I interpret that to mean perspectives on my life in physics at Michigan.  I also want to say immediately at the beginning that we’ve heard in the last two days a lot of very fascinating and worthwhile and interesting reminiscences, and so I decided to go easy on the reminiscence dimensions and perhaps try to share with you a little more of what happened after all that, and where I find myself today thinking about where my career has been.  Life does pass and I see myself as being at the end of it—which isn’t supposed to be a macabre statement, but in the sense that I’m retiring and it’s like some of the beautiful operas when the hero is about to die there’s the aria which goes on for an hour and a half, and sometimes that’s by far the most beautiful music, so this is not a statement of pessimism but simply a statement of acquiescence in where life has carried me.

Of course in listening in these last two days there is what I think of as the Rashomon effect.  I don’t know whether you remember that movie, it was one of the early Japanese movies that came around, and was based on the same story as having been perceived by different people, and the different ways in which different people have seen the same thing.   I was struck –I was talking to John Pearl yesterday—I was struck by something—you know our appearances have all changed, by and large; John has a white beard–I don’t remember him with a white beard–and similarly for the rest of you– but I think in a way that’s a camouflage, because that disappears after about thirty seconds conversation–you don’t notice those changes anymore, it’s the same people you’ve always known–but it’s not the same people you’ve always known.  That’s the interesting thing; in fact we’ve all changed a great deal, and so the important distinction is between what is the same and what is not the same.

The story that Gary Cochran told about me had a punchline, “I was afraid it was something serious.” I felt really struck by that, not because it was  a stupid thing to say—I mean the list of stupid things I’ve said in my life is very long, but that I have so much trouble seeing that, so to speak, from the “inside,” identifying today with the person who said that; and that’s what sobers me up to what has happened to me during those years and I presume also what has happened to you.

Now I spent my thirties, forties fifties and sixties here.  That sounds like forty years, but it’s not the full forty years because I didn’t come at thirty I came at thirty two, and today I’m only sixty five.  Nonetheless,  I can think of four distinct decades in my life,  and sort of in an approximate way I can state how my view of life has changed during that time: In my thirties I thought that life was infinite; in my forties I thought that life was finite– that is, it’s possible that if I choose to do A, that may actually be instead of doing B–which in my thirties I didn’t realize.  In my fifties it became very clear that I’m playing for keeps. That this isn’t the end of my life, but a lot of decisions, perhaps most of the decisions that I’m making in my fifties are permanent decisions. And of course in my sixties I’m retiring and winding down.  I’m not saying that I’m about to die, but a big chunk of my life will now consist entirely of reminiscences.  Some of you know that there are other parts of my life that are beginning to blossom at this point, but that’s not part of “Perspectives on Physics.”

In connection with travel, I recall that when I went on a trip in my thirties I said, “Don’t forget your tickets”; in my forties I said “Don’t forget your passport”; in my fifties I said “Don’t forget your credit card”; and in my sixties I say, “Don’t forget your medications.”

That’s true, I’ve got a pillbox in my pocket!

Children–in my thirties children became a reality instead of mythical beasts;  In my forties the children were growing up.  In my fifties my children were getting married.  In my sixties, some of my children at least are getting divorced  –some of you may have shared that experience–and that’s a painful experience–it’s a very painful experience.

With regard to physics: In my thirties when I came here, I was exhilarated by the fact that I really understand advanced physics—that comes from teaching it of course; in my forties I was exhilarated because I really understand elementary physics!  In my fifties I had a vague impression that all these new subjects are a little bit confusing.  In my sixties I have a feeling I no longer understand it.  It’s obviously not literally true because I still taught physics;  with people and my colleagues, apparently, value an opportunity to talk physics with me from time to time.  But I feel very confused.

So, you come here for a reunion, and again something came out of conversation with you. I had a conversation with Gary Ihas and we talked about the colloquia that he remembered. He said that at the Physics colloquia at Michigan the speaker comes, but the speaker is challenged;  you and Peter are there, and you’re not going to let anybody get away with anything; it’s a lively discussion.  Gary went on to say “where I’ve been since then, in other academic institutions, that’s not the way it is.”  Well it’s not the way it is here anymore either–and I think the difference between me and most of you really at this point in our lives isn’t so much a matter of age; when I came here as a professor I was only seven years out of graduate school; and in fact since I ran through graduate school a bit on the young side, the sheer age difference was in fact even smaller than that.  So it’s not that I’m that much older–there are some people here that I’m just not older than period, but in any case it’s not an age difference any more, at this point.  If we just met we wouldn’t think so much about who is older and who is younger.  I think the difference is that you still have the illusion that I’m still that person in that setting — that professor who taught those courses in that particular way.  That’s the way memories get frozen when you leave a place–you look back on it and somehow, without thinking, believe that other places and other people’s lives don’t change.

That’s the power of reminiscence of course, and it’s not necessarily at all a negative power because there are things one has learned. But if you want to think about reality, Michigan is not the Michigan that you knew.  Colloquia at Michigan are not the colloquia that you knew.  The faculty doesn’t go to lunch anymore and  they don’t talk about elementary physics problems.  We used to talk a lot of elementary physics problems at lunch —  we would talk about simple problems–we beat them to death at the lunch table! Little details, little paradoxes that we were all intrigued by and inspired by–that doesn’t happen anymore.  It seems that elementary physics isn’t interesting to most of my colleagues anymore.

I came to Michigan from Bell Labs which was a much better place to do research–I’m not exactly prepared to defend that in an absolute way, but in many ways Bell Labs was the perfect place to do research— I came here because I wanted to teach.  And when I first came here I was received in a way that seemed consistent with that; the important people in the department: Dennison, Uhlenbeck, Case, that’s what they wanted me to do; that’s what they assumed everybody else was doing.

I was honored for the fact that apparently I did a good job teaching, and I don’t know when that rug was pulled out from under me, but it was, and still after all these years there is a great deal of bitterness in me about that–in fact I remember one important discussion with the executive committee when I went in to protest the way I was being treated and it became very clear what the issue was.  The people on the executive committee were saying “Gabi, look, you’re good enough to do research, why are you teaching?”  And I said, “Look, I’m good enough to teach! Why should I be doing research?  Anybody can do research.”

Of course neither one is exactly true, but it shows you the kind of dead-end that I found myself in after a lot of you left.  And then of course I had to scramble back; I decided at least I would make it a challenge; at least I would do something weird. I would show them that I could get funding, including in a field that isn’t being funded, and that’s how I got into musical acoustics.  It’s been very interesting.

What are my thoughts as I listen to and watch all of you? What are the new thoughts that come into my mind, what are the old thoughts which are being awakened by it?  The atmosphere that existed in the resonance group has been commented on many times in the last few days, and perhaps I will comment a little bit on it too in a minute.

But there’s a particular concern that I have. The particular concern is–by the way, let me ask, how many of you are teaching? Okay, so there are quite a number–I want to make something very clear because I had to make it clear to myself over the years too–I was listening to George Gamota saying in the closing minutes of the last session that having your students not do basic research doesn’t necessarily represent a failure. Now I couldn’t agree with him more, but I will be the first to admit that in my younger days I did have that conceit, I did have that arrogance.  I did have the feeling that nobody can tell me what I’m going to do and that makes me very great and important and puts me in a more important position in society than other people occupy.  But George, I’ve long ago lost that point of view, I’ve long ago stopped feeling as a matter of principle that what we used to call basic research is what matters and that anything else is a failure–believe me–you reminded me of something that I haven’t thought of in a long time.

However,  I am a life-long teacher and I sense the real problem that the atmosphere that we had here isn’t self-propagating.  Is there a mechanism so that the next generation and the next generation and the next generation can continue to flourish in the same way, or is it being diluted, diluted, diluted?  We have that memory, we talk about it with our friends.  Some of them get an inkling of what it’s about, others don’t, and soon two more generations of students will be gone. That’s my concern.

Teaching at a university–although it’s certainly not the only way of contributing,  to the propagation of this creative atmosphere– is one setting that makes it relatively simple (if one has that understanding) to communicate it to other people who are coming in.  That’s my concern and I just share it with you on that level–I’m not particularly talking doom, nor am I saying everything is great.  I don’t know.  But basic or not, we were interested in research!

I’m just reminded that two weeks ago the coffee pot in which our secretary makes coffee every day–one of those Mr. Coffee type things–stopped working.  It would make coffee but it would take five hours to make coffee–just  a tiny dribble, and people were saying, “It costs 35 dollars; throw the damn thing out; buy a new one,” and I said, “Wait! Let me get a screwdriver.” You know–that’s what we always did, that’s really what we did.  Now, it’s hardly basic research.  Actually I was very frustrated because I took the whole thing apart—of course it was fascinating but I couldn’t see anything wrong.  I don’t know whether many of you know how that machine works.  But I’ll give you a hint–there’s only one heater–okay–maybe some of you know.  In any case, I took it apart but I couldn’t see anything wrong.  I put it back together, I poured the water in, it made coffee, it was fine. I said,”Well, something was dirty something was clogged, who cares; it’s all right now, I cleaned it out.” But in the afternoon it went back to the other way.  I think I managed to hide it so it wouldn’t show on my face, but I was really quite mortified because the young woman who had the office across from me, who’s a professor of physics. looked at it and said, “You know it’s got to be the thermostat,” Of course! I hadn’t thought of that. I’m old, I’m decrepit, it should have been absolutely obvious that the thermostat, once it clicks off, isn’t clicking back in and that’s it and it can easily be replaced–to replace the element which includes the thermostat it costs seven dollars instead of thirty-five.  But I couldn’t do it; I failed.  Very, very mortifying.

Okay, so what was it about? Let me just try to wrap up in a few sentences because you’re not the only ones who are starving, I’m starving too.  To a large degree based on what I heard and to a large degree based on what I’ve thought over the years,  how can I describe that atmosphere in the resonance group?  And by the way, we shouldn’t be arrogant either —we weren’t the only ones in the world that had that special atmosphere.  That’s fine — that doesn’t take away from what we had.  One example that’s been brought up repeatedly is the nickel bet.  Somebody –and I don’t remember who–said it so beautifully: the right to be wrong.  It’s a very, very important ingredient of a real discussion.  The right to be wrong.  You were not looked down on for the fact that you’re wrong.  And I don’t know why you should be looked down on for the fact that you’re wrong.  But in many places in the world,  probably most places in the world–you are looked down on if you’re wrong.  And so there’s a lot of temptation and pressure either to fake it and make it look as though you’re right even though you were in fact wrong–or simply not to offer opinions that aren’t safe.  Now we never had that pressure — it wasn’t an issue –and because we didn’t have it  our thoughts and speculations were liberated in a way that they just could not be otherwise.

In the process of listening to you reminisce I became aware of how much my teaching approaches have changed over the years; now I’m retiring from teaching. For example, that story about how I filled up a whole blackboard and somewhere in the middle of it was a mistake and I had to find it—I think today I would have said, “You go home and find it.  It should be minus, it’s coming out plus. You find out where I was wrong.”  And it’s really bad teaching not to do that–absolutely bad teaching not to do that.  It was my pride that kept me from doing that when I was younger.  I had to show that in just a glance or two I could find that mistake.  Luckily for me I could usually do it — I was very smart in those days.  But today I probably couldn’t find it.  But I also think its not a good way to teach.

I had a similar experience recently during one of my lectures on electricity and magnetism: A student called my attention to something that wasn’t right–I had derived something that seemed inconsistent with something else that was also part of the subject.  I did try to find the problem, but it was more than just a plus or a minus;  there was something conceptually wrong.  So after thinking for a minute I said, “I’m not going to find it now. Next time, next class meeting I’ll have the answer.”  So I went back to my office and found that I had made an interesting mistake, an error from which one can learn something.   Nonetheless  it was  a blunder.  Before beginning the next lecture I said “Now first we have to clear up this question from the last hour” and I explained what had gone wrong.   The student came up afterwards and he was amazed.  He said, “It didn’t seem to bother you — you didn’t seem to be defensive about the fact that you had blundered, you just stood there and explained what your mistake had been.”  And I said something to him then–I was lucky because it came out in a good formulation–so I’ll repeat it for you now, because it was part of that atmosphere: “Everybody makes mistakes,” I said.  “Who do think taught you to catch mistakes?”

And so I put that into the same category as stuff that was going on in the resonance group. That was the skill we really valued.  And to an outsider it often seemed like a cruel skill, like jumping on somebody, like finding somebody’s weak point as though it were personal weak points that we’re looking for; it was nothing of the kind. We were looking for the weak point in the argument, we were training each other to find, to catch mistakes.  And, of course, there’s absolutely nothing that replaces that kind of education.

The third item, that to my great surprise no one has mentioned in these last few days, it was something, an item that was crucial in the way we always dealt with each other, something that was assumed in all our interactions, something that I was exhilarated yesterday as soon as we got together for the first meeting to see that quality immediately blossom forth from the group.  And to me I think a crucial,  crucial quality.  Now as a teacher, if I weren’t starving, I would ask you to tell me what you think I’m thinking of–by the way, does anybody have something?

From audience:  “I am starving.” “Group self examination”  …..

Yes, group self-examination is certainly part of it.  But this could go on forever because it’s not what I was thinking of.

But what I was thinking of is something that you all know and you’ll all say of course: Humor!  Humor!  It was all done with a sense of humor.  Now it’s certainly true that in Peter Franken’s case we might say “Come on we don’t mean that much,” and yet, as one of the guiding spirits of the group, it was important.

Humor and research, these are very similar entities actually.  Sort of looking for the unexpected twist which clicks, and which everyone else knows clicks too.  It’s not just a private thing–you can’t make jokes to yourself.  You have to make jokes to other people.  There’s something about humor that clicks, and in a certain mysterious way that’s also the essence of the type of mental and emotional activity that we’re engaged in.   I thought of a metaphor just this morning listening–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 and what was left was a smile. That’s research, it seems to me, to start with a cat and find the smile.  The smile is abstract, the smile is not really something you can take off a cat, that’s what’s so funny in the way Lewis Carroll describes it–and yet in a way the Cheshire Cat is something–someone–whose essence is its smile.

The same story would not have worked if the Cheshire Cat had frowned, and as the action developed the cat disappeared, leaving only its frown; it wouldn’t work.  We wouldn’t be interested in that story. It wouldn’t make a good story. It made a good story because what remains is a smile. I think what remains with us when we turn on the memory of the resonance group and refresh ourselves in that memory is a smile. Everything was funny! Everything was silly; everything was ridiculous; everything was hilarious! We didn’t have to watch out for that, and what I said yesterday morning about how appalled I tend to be about people who make decisions in Washington who don’t understand, it struck me later: they don’t have any sense of humor!  Official releases are not funny, that’s what wrong with them!

I won’t reminisce about my research;  it meandered over many, many fields in the course of my career.  Lots of my contributions really involved kibitzing more than research, and in many ways that was my role in the resonance group: People would call on me and say “Do it right for us. There’s something confusing here. How does one say it so it’s consistent, so it’s correct?” It was very flattering to feel that I did occupy that role.  It’s a role that I occupy today in the field of musical acoustics, which is a very interesting and fruitful field, but there are a lot of people in it who work by fruitful intuition and lack the discipline.  So that was always what I enjoyed doing most, and even my own research became a kind of kibitzing.

With regard to teaching and of course the contrast between the two ways–in the beginning I was young and I liked to impress people. I think I did teach well, but I liked to impress people, I liked to impress students, I liked to impress colleagues. How do you impress colleagues about a course you’re giving? That’s a challenge. I mean they’re not in the classroom listening. There are tricks to impressing colleagues:  you show them your final exam–which you have made up so as to look very impressive but of course you’ve taught your class how to do those problems. It’s all unconscious, it’s all subliminal, but it can all be a great fraud! Probably I’m being a little hard on myself, but those were important elements when I was younger.  They really aren’t important now.  And it’s rather curious that since they became less important my student ratings went up.  I’m probably more relaxed.

During my time at Michigan I became more and more aware that conversation is a very important element of teaching.  Conversation is taking on the challenge of understanding what it is that people are saying to you, and taking on the challenge of giving them an answer that they will understand.  So it is conversation with colleagues, with students with friends, that has become in many ways the central activity of my life, with God, which is something I didn’t used to do, and other sorts of conversation.  I like to listen, and I too have something to say–you’d know I’m lying if I didn’t admit that, but it is somewhat different, but it draws on that tradition.

Real conversation opens the real vulnerability of the people who are conversing, and it takes a strength, for which age is useful, to be willingly vulnerable, to realize that the little bit one could possibly lose is trivial compared to the amount that one can gain.  Conversation can be a very scary activity, but I would say, at this age as I’m retiring, that’s what I’m into.  But I feel it’s not a new activity. All these attributes of life in the resonance group that we have recalled all involved a trust of each other is a rare gift  that none of us will ever lose having once experienced it.

I’m starting my last aria.  I hope it will be a long one, I hope it will a beautiful one, and whether for you, whether it’s the last or the middle or an early one, I wish you all to get the same enjoyment and satisfaction out of it. Thank you.

Franken remembered — by Alan Hill

How did it come about that Peter selected me to perform the original optical harmonics experiment? I was only a sophomore at the University of Michigan, taking a first-level physics course at the University of Michigan. After class, I asked Professor Franken what he would expect to happen if I applied an intense pulsed magnetic field to an aluminum cylinder by magnetic induction. He said…”I suspect it would be crunched short and fat”. My answer was…”No, it is crunched long and skinny”, whereupon I pulled out a cylinder I had so crunched in my home lab as a high school student. Peter then said: “I have a project for you to do this summer!”

He provided me with the first commercial (Trion Instruments) ruby laser, which put out 3 joules in 2 milliseconds (Q-switching had not been achieved yet). Realizing that harmonic production would scale quadratically with power, I intentionally pushed the flash lamps to their explosion point, thus managing to produce an initially invisible spot on a glass spectroscopic plate. I tossed the first plate into the trash, but then realized that a closer examination under the microscope might reveal something. It did. The one piece of evidence for optical harmonics (a visible speck on a spectroscopic plate), sent as a figure with our paper into Physical Review Letters, was removed by the journal’s lay-out person who had assumed it to have been left by a fly.
Here are a few of Peter Franken’s characteristics:

• Peter loved to shock or startle people; he was always full of mischief!

• Peter liked to play the “devil’s advocate” whenever possible. He would question the viability of a new proposal or concept, and could usually debunk them with a mental calculation if they were not sound; and he would often challenge the victim with a nickel bet (payable only in check- to be framed on his wall). He often lost, since he challenged everything – but sometimes he won.

• Peter never took himself too seriously, and he had the nerve to try anything. He was fond of saying: “It is easier to be forgiven than to get permission”, or “I’m going to get kicked in the ass for this, but my ass is big enough to take it.”

• When Peter felt someone had been seriously wronged, he has been known to make it a long-term commitment to defend that person, or to help them in every way possible. Examples: Gordon Gould with his laser patent; Walter Spawr with his trial defense and ongoing vindication.

• Peter had a very broad-based imagination and creativity in physics, but also viewed administrative problem-solving as nearly as interesting. • Peter felt genuine concern and affection for many – an aspect which transcended even his formidable talent for doing physics.

       Alan Hill, 2011

Franken remembered– by Joe Jenney

My first encounter with Peter created an image that has remained with me ever since. I had just arrived at the University of Michigan to start work on a master’s degree in physics. One of the first tasks was to meet with a counselor to go over classes for the summer. Peter was the assigned counselor and I was standing in a long line of students waiting outside his office. He came out of his office and said something to us. I don’t remember what he said; it was just the energy that was in both his body language and his comments. I had never encountered a professor who behaved with such energy and candor. I had a very positive reaction to Peter at that first meeting.

My next encounter with Peter was when I monitored his course in classical optics.  Again he demonstrated an unusual energy and enthusiasm. He also taught in the manner of others in the physics department that stressed clear and simple physical arguments over abstract mathematical explanations. A teaching methodology I was sincerely thankful for and have always tried to emulate in my training and writing. The most memorable event from that class was when he was explaining some principle of optics and said “and then the photon goes tear assing from here to there” as he literally ran across the room point to things he had drawn on the blackboard.

After completing my course work for the PhD program I began approaching professors to find a mentor for my research. I wasn’t having much luck finding anyone that thought the problem I was interested in would make a reasonable thesis topic. One day a friend who had shared an office with me at Willow Run Labs and was working on his thesis for Peter. He said Peter was looking for students and suggested I go see him. The first question Peter asked was “would you jump out of an airplane wearing a parachute?”  When I said yes he asked if my grades were “ok”. I said yes and he nodded and told me he was looking for someone to help with his flight experiments on clear air turbulence. I started work a few days later.

A few weeks later David Rank joined me and we worked on Peter’s ideas for finding quarks in the mornings and then spent our afternoons and nights at Willow Run finalizing the setup of a laser radar in a twin Beech airplane Peter had on loan from the Army. Peter had decided that if quarks existed naturally they might form a hydrogen like atom and have an optical spectrum that would identify them. I had done optical spectroscopy both at Willow Run and Randal lab so we rounded up the necessary equipment, got it working and began to think about how we might seek the quarks. Peter believed the best source would be in water so we collected water from a mile out in Lake Huron. We didn’t detect any. Dave came up with a better search method based on Milliken’s oil drop experiment and he based his thesis on that work while I pursued the turbulence experiments.

Peter was consulting for the laser company in Ann Arbor and they had built the laser and optical receiver. Our job was to align and calibrate the laser radar and prove it was seeing backscatter from atmospheric aerosols. We aligned the laser and receiver by firing the laser at the side of a hanger next to the one the plane was in. It was a ruby laser so we could see where the light was hitting and then move the receiver to be in alignment. This was before there was any safety standards for using lasers so we did our own safety calculations based on energy levels Peter said were safe.

The next step was to prove the alignment would hold during flight. Peter decided the best way was to dive the airplane at the large parking lot at Willow Run, which then served a GM car factory. The pilots didn’t want to do it and came up with arguments that the wings would be torn off the airplane. Peter would come out to the airport and try to convince them that the resulting g forces were well within the design limits of the wings. Once the pilots found they couldn’t buffalo Peter we were able to proceed. Having confirmed the optical performance we next needed to establish that signals from backscatter could be correlated with turbulence. Peter came up with the idea of tucking our plane close in behind departing passenger planes from Willow Run. We would fire the laser into the wake of the large planes and then fly through the wake turbulence. That allowed us to correlate the accelerometer reading with the backscatter signals. Fortunately the FAA didn’t know we were firing lasers in the direction of passenger planes.

In the spring Peter arranged for us to work with the National Severe Storms Center in Oklahoma and introduced us to people from the Flight Safety Foundation that he had met and invited to observe our experiments. I learned that Peter was a master at securing publicity for our work. We went to the Quantum Electronics conference in Phoenix that year and Peter held a press conference. Lasers were still relatively new and optical radar was very new so he was able to generate interest from the local press.

The reason Peter became interested in clear air turbulence was had just obtained tenure and decided both to learn to fly and to do whatever experiments sounded fun to him. He experienced turbulence in his flight lessons and the commercial airlines were struggling with turbulence effects on the new generation of large jet aircraft. He calculated that there should be enough backscatter from atmospheric aerosols to detect aerosol variations that he postulated would be correlated with turbulence so he initiated the experiments. By the time I started working for Peter he had his license and was working on a multiengine instrument rating. He used every excuse for flying. A couple of times he wanted to go to Willow Run with me so we went to Ann Arbor airport rented a plane and flew to Willow Run; about a ten minute flight.

Several flights with Peter are memorable. We had funding from Wright Field and one day the sponsor rented a small plane and flew to Ann Arbor to visit us. Of course Peter decided we would fly to Willow Run. The sponsor was an inexperienced pilot and unfamiliar with the plane he had rented. When we landed the plane began to shake violently. Fortunately Peter recognized the problem as nose wheel oscillation. He grabbed the control stick, pulled back sharply so that the nose of the plane came up until we were almost standing on the tail. The sponsor and I about had heart attacks but the oscillation stopped and we landed safely.

One time I came back from a flight out of Willow Run with a WW II fighter pilot who was very experienced and an expert pilot. His landing impressed me greatly. He brought the plane within a foot of touching down within ten feet of the beginning of the runway and flew at one foot altitude until he was about 50 yards from the turnoff to our hanger before he set it down on the concrete. He made it seem effortless but I knew it wasn’t as easy as it looked. When I described it to Peter he said he could do that and would show me the next time we went to Willow Run.  It wasn’t long until we made one of the flights from Ann Arbor airport to Willow Run and Peter proceeded to show me he could do the special landing. However, he flew about five feet above the runway and we hadn’t gone 100 yards until a wind gust caught the plane from the side and nearly tipped us over. I didn’t describe any more flying tricks to Peter that he might try to emulate.

Working for Peter was always a joy. He taught us many useful things that were invaluable to my career. He was rigorous in ensuring data was accurate. He would question us in detail about data. Was the equipment calibrated? What simple checks had we done to ensure the calibration was accurate? He always shared tricks that were useful in the lab and techniques that were critical to effective management of experimental work. As he developed confidence in us he gave us free rein to manage our work, including in my case the interactions with the management people associated with airports we worked with in Michigan, Colorado and Oklahoma. I benefited greatly from this leadership experience.

Peter had an interest in photography and since we had a camera installed in the plane to record the atmospheric conditions during our experiments he used that as an excuse and opportunity to teach Dave and me how to develop and print film. Peter obtained a room in Randal and we put all our experiments aside for ten days. He showed us how to set up and work in a photo lab. He even showed me how to take credible portraits. I still have a fine portrait of me that he took to demonstrate a technique.

Of course everyone will remember the Saturday lunches at the Brown Jug and the conversations about physics. I probably learned as much from those conversations and the accompanying nickel bets as I did from my thesis work. Since Peter was active in consulting for industry and the Defense Department he was often gone but he would see us on Saturdays and if he was in town he would pop in the lab, sometimes late in the evenings. One memorable event was when he popped in my lab one night and announced that he had just invented a diffraction limited camera with infinite depth of focus. I sensed a test, thought a minute and said “you mean a pin hole camera?” He smiled and shared with me what fun he had pulling that on the guys at the laser company where he was consulting. They had jumped for their notebooks and were ready to file a patent application, much to Peter’s amusement.

Peter took an appointment as the Deputy Director of DARPA near the end of my work. He told me if I would commit to finishing the management of the contract we had secured for the development of an advanced airborne optical radar and the associated flight experiments he would facilitate my degree work. I could finish the contract as either a post doc or working for the Ann Arbor company that was building the optical radar. Peter’s philosophy was that five years of graduate study was enough and spending any longer was not of much benefit to a student. With a wife and two kids I was eager to graduate and not have to live on $209.50 per month any longer. I quickly wrote up my thesis, graduated  and finished the contract working for the local  company.

Peter enjoyed recognition and status. I remember when he was given a membership in American Airlines Admirals Club for having flown 75,000 miles. (In those days membership was honorary.) He went around the lab proudly showing off his club membership card. When he received the appointment to DARPA he explained to us that his office would be in the E ring, the most prestigious location. Once when I visited him in Washington D.C he took me to dinner at a private club he had joined. If I remember correctly it was the Athenaeum Club or a similar name. I do know that it was a very exclusive club but Peter and I were 30 years younger than any of the other diners. Another time when I visited him at the Pentagon he took me to lunch in one of the private dining rooms reserved for the highest levels of the Secretary of Defense’s staff. He really enjoyed showing off.

He shared with me a story of his first days at DARPA which I came to appreciate a decade later when I was an executive at DARPA. In one of his first significant meetings at DARPA, while he was still trying to figure out what was happening, he was asked for his opinion on some important topic. Peter gave some excuse to avoid answering as he was so new. The official running the meeting wouldn’t let him off the hook. He said something to the effect that Peter was now in Washington and expected to give his opinion so give it! When I joined DARPA I found, as had Peter, that there is no time there to study things; you are expected to perform with what you bring to the job. It’s stressful work and it led to Peter collapsing during a meeting. If I remember correctly he left shortly afterward.

When I remember Peter I see him in his office on the phone. He is standing up and walking back and forth behind his desk as far as the phone cord allows. I witnessed this many times in Ann Arbor and the last time I visited Peter in Arizona he was still doing it. Arguing with some Washington official about funding for some new idea Peter had that he felt must be funded. For Peter everything was urgent and important.

by  Joe Jenney,  December 2010 

Fred Hendel (1916-2010)


Alfred Z. (Fred) Hendel, professor emeritus of physics, died peacefully at his home in Ypsilanti, Michigan on October 7. 2010 at the age of 93.  Fred was born October 19, 1916 in Vienna, Austria.  He attended the schools necessary for admission to university, but when the Nazis came to Austria in 1938,  Fred escaped, helping others to escape also.  He moved to Bolivia where he spent the next 17 years and came to love that beautiful country.  At first, he earned his living in many ways – as an electrician, a newspaper photographer, and as teacher of Spanish. But in 1945 he returned to physics by joining the science faculty of the University of La Paz.

Fred loved skiing and helped to build a ski lodge and the first ski lift in South America on Mt. Chacaltaya.  This, at an elevation of 5200 meters above sea level,  was also the location of a cosmic ray research station in which he had become involved.  Fred left Bolivia in 1954 for France, where he attended the Sorbonne and from which he received his Ph.D. in physics in 1956 under the direction of  Professor Leprince-Ringuet;  Louis DeBroglie, who was soon to win his Nobel Prize, was another of the members of his thesis committee.  Fred and his French colleagues were using cloud chambers to study the new discovery that mesons could be produced by cosmic rays.  This led to an offer of a research position at Princeton University in 1957, and Fred was subsequently recruited by Wayne Hazen to join the faculty of the Physics Department at the University of Michigan in 1959.   With Hazen, he continued his cosmic ray research in Bolivia; together they made significant advances in the studies of radio signals in the 10 – 100 MHz frequency range produced by extensive air showers of cosmic rays at the Mt. Chacaltaya research station..

Fred enjoyed teaching and his interactions with students. He was skilled at solving difficult problems with simple solutions and was always ready to help others. He introduced his department to the “Keller” self-paced method for teaching introductory physics, a method that offered advantages over the traditional lecture/discussion section format. This was an important, early step in the evolution of introductory physics teaching at Michigan.

Fred retired from the University in 1986.  In his retirement, he wrote two books, Mountains in Bolivia and Revolutions in Bolivia, in which he described some of his experiences.  He was a man of many interests, from mountain climbing and skiing to playing bridge and chess.  Fred loved life; he had enormous courage, a great sense of humor, and always enjoyed a good time. Fred is survived by his wife Florence to whom he was married for 43 years, by his nephew George Hendel, his niece Noemi Hendel, and their children.

Comments and Additions from those who knew Fred are most welcome.

Ernst Katz (1913-2009)

Obituary from University of Michigan Regent Communications

Professor emeritus Ernst Katz, 96, died at his home in Ann Arbor on September 2, 2009.

ImageA native of Czechoslovakia, born in 1913, Ernst Katz took his undergraduate degree from the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1933. After spending the spring-summer term of 1934 at Princeton, he continued his studies at Utrecht, receiving his masters degree in 1937 and his Ph.D. in 1941. During the years of WWII, he worked with, and later directed research for a company in Utrecht that manufactured electrical instruments. In 1947 he came to the University of Michigan as an assistant professor of physics; he was promoted to associate professor in 1952 and to professor in 1959. He retired from the Michigan faculty at the end of 1979

George Uhlenbeck had urged Michigan’s hiring of Katz in order to enlarge our department’s work in solid state physics. His doctoral thesis had been on the formation of latent images in photographic film, so at Michigan he and his students worked to find the number of atoms necessary to form a developable speck of latent-image silver and thus provide an experimental foundation for the empirical relationship known as the Reciprocity Law. This led him to experimental work on the Hall effect in sodium chloride and to theoretical work on galvanomagnetic effects on single crystals and to the relationship between energy surfaces and Brillouin zones. He also made useful contributions to our understanding of photosynthesis.

A quiet man with deep respect for academic traditions, Katz was known for his careful, effective approach to teaching in the advanced undergraduate courses in classical mechanics, in electromagnetism, and in solid state physics.

His philosophical approach to science, and indeed to life more generally, was a strong influence on the many of his students who first felt his influence in the physics classroom and then followed his lead to a study of anthroposophy. For many years, in particular those after his formal retirement, Katz was a major contributor to the anthroposophical movement; he was a prime mover in the establishment and growth of the Rudolf Steiner School in Ann Arbor.

Ernst Katz is survived by his son Johan Katz and daughter-in-law Anush Sarkissian Katz of Oxted, England, grandsons Leon Katz and Daniel Katz, and two great grandsons. He was predeceased by his wife Katherine Katz in 1998. He will be remembered for his contributions to teaching and research at the University of Michigan, and his tireless work for the anthroposophical societies of North America and the Netherlands.


Obituary in

Professor emeritus Ernst Katz, 96, died at his home in Ann Arbor on September 2, 2009. Dr. Katz is survived by his son Johan Katz and daughter-in-law Anush Sarkissian Katz of Oxted, England, grandsons Leon Katz and Daniel Katz, and two great grandsons. He was predeceased by his wife Katherine Katz in 1998. He will be remembered for his contributions to solid-state physics at the University of Michigan, and his tireless work for the anthroposophical societies of North America and the Netherlands. Memorial donations may be made to the Mortgage Reduction Fund of the Rudolf Steiner High School of Ann Arbor, 2230 Pontiac Trail, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.
Published in on September 6, 2009

Ernst Katz, teacher of anthroposophy   by Donald Melcer,   November 06, 2o10

Thoughts about a distinguished teacher, in connection with the publication of the new book:
        Core Anthroposophy: Teaching Essays of Ernst Katz  [ISBN: 9780880107228, March, 2011]

On September 3, 2009 one of the great teachers of anthroposophy crossed the threshold. Ernst Katz was 96 years old. He joined the society when he was 16, and was fully dedicated to anthroposophy as a way of life and for understanding man’s purpose on Earth for all those 80 years.
I first became acquainted with Ernst in 1962 when a series of his articles about the book The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity was published in the new journal (now defunct) Free Deeds. I had been reading various works of Rudolf Steiner for about three years. Like many people, I had struggled to understand that particular book, as well as most of Steiner’s other “basic books.” Ernst’s articles were examples of extraordinarily clear thinking. I felt as though I had at last found a competent guide to the lofty ideas presented in The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. Every time the postman delivered a new issue of Free Deeds I felt a rush of anticipation for Ernst’s next article.
About five years later at a summer anthroposophical conference I met a young professor of German from the University of Michigan. Alan Cottrell told me about the Ann Arbor study group in anthroposophy led by physics professor Ernst Katz, and the wise guidance he provided. As a person who had studied anthroposophy mostly alone and had many unanswered questions, I was envious of those fortunate people who had such a teacher. Destiny responded kindly to my envy, for within a year I was offered a position at Michigan State University, just a fifty minute drive from Ann Arbor. I quickly broke my vow never live in a place where it snowed all winter, and we left sunny Austin, Texas for snowy East Lansing, Michigan.
The Ann Arbor study group held its meetings in the homes of several members. The presentation protocol was simple. A designated person would present a short recap of a preselected Steiner lecture which was followed by a general discussion. Attendance was typically 25 to 30 eager anthroposophists, and discussion was lively. I found Ernst’s behavior interesting. There was no doubt that he was the leader but he showed no inclination to display his superior anthroposophical knowledge. Often he made little or no comment about a question or topic. More typically the discussion would continue until a question arose that no one could explain adequately. The room would grow quiet as all eyes turned toward Ernst. He would then say rather quietly, “Yes, well…” and then give his thoughts on the question. We learned to have our notebooks and pencils ready at those moments.

Physics students at the university also recognized his extraordinary teaching skills and personal character. Once a group of students called on him during office hours and said something to this effect: “You know, Dr. Katz, we students gossip about our teachers, and we have noticed something different about you. Your courses are more alive and you seem genuinely interested that we understand what you present in lectures. Can you tell us what it is that makes you different?” The students were quite correct in their perception, for Ernst believed that every human connection was an event of destiny, and he treated each one with respect and reverence.

Some years later, Ernst phoned the regular members of the study group and suggested that we buy an old abandoned fraternity house. The purpose was to create a dwelling for university students interested in spiritual development so they could have a common place to live and study. We responded, and the Rudolf Steiner Institute of the Great Lakes Area was formed as a non-profit corporation. The structure of the building was sound, but the interior had to be completely renovated. Much of the restoration work was done by local members who donated their weekends for at least a year. A central building was created where anthroposophical activities of all sorts could take place. Ernst and his wife Katherine soon sold their large home on the Huron river and bought a small house adjacent to the building now named Rudolf Steiner House. For many years they were overseers of the building and friends of the students and artists who lived there. After it’s mission had been served, the building was donated to the Anthroposophical Society in America and is now the society’s headquarters.

The University of Michigan allowed professors to teach what was called “Free Offerings,” full credit courses in their special interests. Course content was carefully screened by a special committee. Ernst applied to teach anthroposophical courses, and after intense scrutiny, was allowed to do so. As a result, he was one of the few university professors at that time—perhaps the only one in North America—who taught courses in both natural science and “spiritual” science.

One of the great blessings of a university teaching career is that opportunities for work are always greater than the time available to do them all. Boredom is never a problem. I saw that Ernst accomplished an amazing amount of work, yet never seemed rushed or anxious. How did he do it? I simply could not accomplish everything I wanted to, and decided to make a special trip to Ann Arbor to ask Ernst’s advice for improvement. Of course I hoped that he would give me a few clues as to how one accomplishes more work in less time. Instead, he told me how one of his colleagues, a famous scientist who received many requests for more information about articles he published, responded to all these inquiries—more than he could possibly answer. Ernst said, “He ignores the first and second request by any individual and only answers if there is a third. He figures that if a person asks the third time, he or she is really interested and will make good use of his reply.” That was Ernst’s quiet answer to my question. As I drove home to East Lansing I felt that he had not answered my question at all. I had expected a detailed answer describing how one goes about improving his output. After a time, the answer dawned upon me. Ernst had said in effect, “Here is how one man does it. You will have to develop the capacity and skills to accomplish what you want in your life—there is no simple formula.” Thanks, Ernst.

All of Ernst’s teachings, whether given to an individual, or published as essays for all to read, have this quality—they did not provide a ready answer to a particular problem, but required the person to think through the details and find his or her own solution. Ernst knew that we learn most profoundly through our own active thinking, and he was a master at stimulating such thinking. No wonder that his physics students perceived something different about him.

All his published anthroposophical essays will soon be available in a book titled Core Anthroposophy: The Teaching Essays of Ernst Katz to be published by Steiner Books. Jannebeth Röell, James Lee, and I edited the book and found the work absolutely inspiring. Ernst’s composition is exquisite. One of the last questions I asked him before his death was, “How do you write these excellent essays?” This was not just a question of curiosity—I wanted to improve my own writing. I was hoping again for an answer in the form of step-by-step instruction.

His response was to mail me a copy of a letter by Sergei Prokofieff praising Ernst for one of his essays. Prokofieff is one of the current generation’s most respected anthroposophical writers. Ernst’s letter thanked me for my compliments about his writing and enclosed a copy of the Prokofieff letter. That was all. What was he suggesting?

Ernst was too modest to be calling attention to himself, so I knew the Prokofieff letter was not for that purpose. His response said in effect, “You discovered something about my writing that a writer we both highly respect also discovered.” I took that to be a very nice personal compliment, but the real lesson was, “If you will continue to study the essays carefully you will discover the method of my writing.” Then, of course, what I learn will come as my own effort in imaginative cognition, not by following a set of instructions that would likely produce a dull imitation. At that moment I felt deep thanks—thanks from the heart—for Ernst’s answer to my question.

Ernst intended all of his writings to be for both the present and coming generations. He would be pleased if you were to select him as one of your spiritual teachers. You won’t be disappointed if you do.

Donald Melcer, PhD, is professor emeritus at Michigan State University, a clinical psychologist, and a marriage and family therapist. He coordinates the Anthroposophical Foundation studies at the Austin, Texas, Waldorf School.

Donald Meyer (1926-2012)

Donald I. Meyer  retirement memoir (from from University of Michigan Regents’ Proceedings 344)
Donald I. Meyer, professor of physics, retired from active faculty status on December 31, 1996, following 40 years of service.
Professor Meyer earned his B.S. degree in 1946 from the Missouri School of Mines and his Ph.D. degree in 1953 from the University of Washington. He taught at the University of Oklahoma from1952-55 and then joined the research staff at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He joined the faculty at the University of Michigan in 1957 as assistant professor of physics. He was promoted to associate professor in 1961 and professor in 1966.Image
Professor Meyer’s initial work at the University of Michigan involved bubble chamber experiments. Later, he collaborated in work on strong interactions and the associated production of strange particles. During this period, he worked on a technique for modulating the voltage on the cathode of a photomultiplier as a means of achieving very good time resolution. He also collaborated on the development of a spectrometer magnet and on optical spark chambers.

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Professor Meyer collaborated on hadronic physics experiments at Fermilab. Later, he and colleagues helped initiate the multi-university high-resolution spectrometer collaboration at the positron-electron collider storage ring at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. In the 1990s Professor Meyer collaborated in a gamma ray astronomy program at the Whipple Observatory in Arizona. Using Cerenkov radiation from gamma-ray air showers, the group employed a large mirror with a matrix of photomultipliers as its focus to observe photons with energies 10,000 times higher than could be studied by satellites. This resulted in detection of the first extra-galatic source seen at these energies, Markarian-421.
Professor Meyer initiated a joint program between the Department of Physics and the College of Engineering to train Ph.D. students in practical applications of modern physics technologies, which led to the highly successful Program in Applied Physics. He also took leadership roles in the recently completed renovation of the Randall Laboratory and West Engineering buildings and helped design the new Physics Research Laboratory. In recognition of his role in helping to create the physics department’s outstanding physical facilities, the physics meeting room in 335 West Hall has been named the Donald I. Meyer Commons.
The Regents now salute this faculty member by naming Donald I. Meyer professor emeritus of physics.



Obituary (from from April 18 2012)
Donald Irwin Meyer, 86, died peacefully on April 13, 2012 in hospice at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital following a stroke. A private family service was held on April 15th. Donald had been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1956. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 13, 1926, son of Irwin Julius Meyer and Louise (Ruga) Meyer.

While working on his BS degree in Physics and Electrical Engineering at Missouri School of Mines at Rolla, he was drafted into the Army in 1945. He served during World War II at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and received his BS degree in 1946. He then completed a PhD in Nuclear Physics at the University of Washington in 1953. In 1957, after briefly working at the University of Oklahoma and Brookhaven National Laboratory, he joined the Physics Department at the University of Michigan where he was on the faculty until he retired as a full Professor in 1997.

During his tenure at the University of Michigan, he worked on experiments at CERN (Geneva, Switzerland), Argonne National Laboratories (Argonne, Illinois), Fermilab (Batavia, Illinois), and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (Stanford, California), in addition to publishing over 100 papers. He oversaw a $60 Million project to renovate and construct new facilities for the Physics Department in Randall Laboratory and West Hall. He also conceived and worked to establish the very successful Applied Physics PhD program.

Donald is survived by his wife of 61 years, Lee Meyer (formerly Mary Lee Rogers), whom he married on September 8, 1950 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also survived by his children Kurt Meyer, a resident of Ann Arbor; Karla (Meyer) Oshanski, a resident of Northville, Michigan; Kraig Meyer, a resident of San Francisco, California; grandchildren Nicole (Oshanski) Massey, a resident of Allen Park, Michigan; Ashley Meyer, a resident of Boston, Massachusetts; Kari Oshanski, a resident of Columbus, Ohio. He is predeceased by several years by his sister, Virginia Henderson, who was a resident of Fairfax Station, Virginia.

His passions included skiing, gardening, woodworking and his grandchildren. He served as an officer in the Ann Arbor chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, and on the board of the Ann Arbor Orchid society. Donations may be sent in memory of Donald Meyer to either the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, 608 E. William St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104 or to the University of Michigan Physics Department Strategic Fund, 3003 S. State St, Suite 8000, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.


Blog readers are invited to contribute their recollections of Don Meyer