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)

Level Crossing Spectroscopy


Robert R. Lewis, Professor of Physics Emeritus, University of Michigan

Comments and recollections (2005) on the genesis of the paper “Novel Method of Spectroscopy”

by F D Colegrove, P A Franken, R R Lewis and R H Sands, Phys. Rev. Letters 3, 420 (1959)



I have had genuine reluctance to talk about things which happened here 35 years ago, because of a belief in Satchmo Page’s approach to growing old “NEVER LOOK BACK – YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S BEHIND YOU!”. In fact, it has been fun to meet old friends and to remember the way things were. I’d like to thank Jens Zorn for prodding me into looking back at the work on level crossing spectroscopy. The recollections are necessarily very personal. But all four of the authors are here; in a few moments, the others will get their chance to correct my faulty memory.

Before the Level Crossing

The work was done in the summer and fall of 1959, just one year after my return to UM, and I was just getting settled into a new job and new house. We were expecting our fourth child, so our lives were very full. I was not a regular member of the resonance group, but I often joined the Saturday lunches at the Brown Jug, the nickel bets and the arguments about Resnick & Halliday problems. Physics was exciting then, or perhaps we were all more excitable.

To explain my particular point of view, I have to start the story one year before the experiment had begun. I had come to AA via a summer job at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as guest of M E (Morrie) Rose, a theorist at Oak Ridge and a UM graduate. We had a common interest in the angular correlation of nuclear radiation and had spent the summer in a fruitless search for “accidental degeneracies” between nuclear gamma rays. The entire theory of angular correlation rested on the interference of different paths in a decay scheme: with transitions A => B => C via a group of intermediate states B, usually the 2J + 1 states with “normal degeneracy” [Figure 1]. It was well understood that when the sub-states B were separated by more than their natural width, the angular correlation would change, leading to “perturbed angular correlations”. The theory of all this was thoroughly worked out in the literature, in part by Morrie Rose, and there were many experiments to illustrate it. This was the main “industry” for doing nuclear spectroscopy, determining spins and parities of nuclear level schemes.


In the summer of 1958, I had suggested to Morrie the possibility that in some nucleus there might be two ”different” groups of states B, B’ which nearly coincided, an “accidental degeneracy”. There should then be an anomaly in the angular distribution of the gamma radiation, due to interference of the paths ABC and AB’C [Figure 2]. We invested quite a lot of time looking through the nuclear data tables and talking to experimenters, without finding a good case.  It was the proverbial “search for a needle in a haystack”: nuclear levels have gamma widths Γ ~ 10-2 eV and separations ΔE ~ 10+5 eV, so we had a chance of success about 1 in 10 million! We never considered looking at atomic transitions, where the level spacings are much closer. And we never dreamed of moving the levels into degeneracy; we were thinking about nuclear physics where such things were not possible!


Near the Level Crossing

I first learned of the helium experiment about one year later . It had been underway for some time, and was originally planned as a search for the electron spin resonance in triplet helium. This required a strong magnetic field applied to a sample of metastable helium atoms. When the magnetic field was turned on, two strong resonances were seen unexpectedly at low magnetic fields, about 600 Gauss. From the beginning, it was understood that these resonances were at the location of the crossing of 3P levels; the results for the fine structure separation were presented at the optical pumping conference that summer (1959). The question was not “where” these resonances occur but “why”. Peter Franken went from door to door down the first floor of Randall (theory row), trying to interest people in this problem.


I was slow to respond because I didn’t really understand what they were doing. I had never worked in atomic physics and only knew what we had all learned from studying quantum mechanics. I was teaching the graduate courses in quantum mechanics and was immersed in the quantum description of everything. After several visits from Peter (he was very persistent!), I agreed to visit the lab one Saturday and look over the apparatus [Figure 3], a standard Varian magnet with a helium discharge lamp and a helium sample between the pole tips. I watched the scope as they tuned the magnet, giving a nice Lorentzian in the transmitted light, [Figure 4]. But I still didn’t understand what they were doing, and why the resonance was a problem.


What motivated me to continue was to explain it all in quantum language: I was struck by how much they used classical physics instead of quantum physics in their discussions. I’m sure I was a bit arrogant about this; it seems to me now that the essential (missing) point could have been understood either in quantum or classical terms. Nonetheless, I thought I understood the origin of a “Lorentzian resonance” in a quantum system, in terms of the effect of an oscillatory perturbation , a la Schiff. If the frequency ω were tuned to the energy difference (E1 – E2), the transition probability would go through a maximum [Figure 5]. Note that the abscissa in Figure 5 is frequency, whereas Figure 4 was drawn versus magnetic field; that detail had not penetrated my thinking. Actually, Schiff’s approach was appropriate for the ESR signal and most other resonances observed by the “resonance group”, and therein lay the puzzle. It simply didn’t predict anything special when two levels crossed!


Fortunately, after 35 years one forgets all the blundering and confusion, but I remember with startling clarity the time and place at which things suddenly “clicked”· It was a hot Saturday in July; we were getting ready for a cocktail party in our basement to avoid the heat and I was driving east along stadium Blvd, heading for the Party Store to get the drinks. As I approached the light at Main Street, it suddenly hit me: they were not tuning the perturbation a la Schiff, they were changing the magnetic field to produce an “accidental degeneracy”. Then things began to fall into place for me, the light not being emitted or absorbed but was scattering via two paths which were interfering when two levels overlapped. This was the optical analogue of the effect Rose and I had searched for in nuclear gamma rays, except that one photon was being absorbed and the other emitted, instead of two successive emissions [Figure 6). The intermediate energy levels versus magnetic field were being probed [Figure 7].


It was then a simple exercise in quantum mechanics to calculate the amplitudes of the various paths, adding them coherently at resonance and adding them in quadrature when they were far apart. It had all been reduced to algebraic tables of the dipole moments from Condon & Shortley. predict which level crossings would interfere, and how the results would depend on the light polarization.


My next most precious memory is another Saturday, probably just one week later; as I recall it, everything interesting happened on a Saturdays. I think I was busy with classes and other things all week long and was a “resonance physicist” on the weekends. There was a sacred tradition of contesting important ideas with “nickel bets”; the real money was involved, but the stakes were much higher than the coins we used. I remember winning three nickels from Peter IN ONE SATURDAY. Unfortunately, I can only remember what two of the bets were about; the third nickel has fallen through the cracks in my memory.


The first bet was about the dependence on the polarization: the “back of the envelope” algebra indicated a strong dependence on polarization but the polarization didn’t seem to affect the experimental signal. Peter became suspicious of the Polaroid they were using, so he cut two new pieces and rotated one in front of the other in the 1 µ light from the helium lamp; again nothing happened. What had been sold as a polarizing material simply didn’t polarize at 1 µ! Remember that the line was not visible, so one couldn’t SEE any of this. With a better polarizer, the dependence on polarization was observed and a nickel changed hands.


Another bet concerned the behavior in the forward direction: the detector was mounted straight ahead of the sample, but our algebra said the total cross section should not show a signal. We eventually agreed that the observed signal was due to the forward scattering of light, which should show a signal, not to the attenuation of the incident beam, which should not. So nickels changed hands, we became proficient in doing the algebra and we gained confidence that we had understood the essential features of the signal. It was due to the interference of paths when the levels were in “accidental degeneracy”. The PRL article was written and quickly submitted.


It was also recognized that this is the high field analogue of the “Hanle effect”, seen in the 1930’s near zero magnetic field, when the “normal degeneracy” was removed by the Zeeman effect. This effect had in fact been interpreted classically. Peter arranged a visit to AA by Hanle a few years later, and there is a nice photo of us (minus Don Colegrove) taken by Jens Zorn at the Resonance Colloquium.



After the Level Crossing

What happened after the submission of the paper reveals a lot about our motivation. Don Colegrove went on to finish his thesis in optical pumping; he mostly wanted to get his degree and a job. Dick Sands went on to further work in electron spin resonance; he really wanted to do biophysics.

I was fascinated not with the atomic physics, but with the quantum mechanics. I worked out (but did not publish) the line shape at a level crossing of higher order, where the levels “kiss” instead of ”cross”. It was an interesting mathematical possibility of no earthly importance, and it was never published. I also presented a paper on level crossing at a local meeting of the AAPT in Flint. It proposed using level crossing as a demonstration of the principles of the famous “two slit interference” discussed in every book on quantum mechanics. My talk there was a bomb because everyone else was more interested in Ohm’s Law than in the principles of Quantum Mechanics. Thirty five years later, I still feel that it is a beautiful visualization of the interference of paths, and I have waited patiently for someone to make a visible demonstration using diode lasers and sunglasses. I did not consider writing a longer paper on the angular distribution including level crossings, because I felt that the theory of angular correlations of nuclear radiations could easily be adapted for that purpose.


Peter went on sabbatical leave to Oxford and wrote a basic paper analysing the level crossing as a general method in atomic spectroscopy. It is interesting that he discussed it with Morrie Rose, as well as with Willis Lamb and others. He treated level crossing as a general method of spectroscopy, a useful tool for making precision measurements of level widths and energy separations. Peter deserves all the credit he received for spreading the message of ”level crossing spectroscopy”. In the decades since then, level crossing has grown to become a line item (#32.80Bx) in the PACS classification of topics in physics!

Michigan’s first woman PhD in physics

Katherine Chamberlain: A Snapshot of the Life

By Matthew Geramita
University of Michigan Honors Thesis

Chamberlain Geramita

The picture shows black lines on a muted gray background; they are less than a millimeter wide and a few centimeters tall.  Varying line thickness and irregular spacing add the only contrast to the photograph.  At a glance it seems a failed picture; residual marks on film discarded by an amateur. Few would imagine that it helped to reveal the secrets of the atom.  In fact this image, taken in an X-ray spectrograph in the early 1920’s, provided some of the first tests of predictions made by quantum theory.

This photograph tells a much more personal story as well. It represents the first professional accomplishments of a true pioneer. Dr. Katherine Chamberlain was one of the first few scientists to study X-ray spectroscopy. In 1924, she received a PhD in Physics from the University of Michigan for this work, the first that the University had awarded to a woman. There would not be another for eight years. Dr. Chamberlain became a committed Professor of Physics and Mathematics, a advocate for world peace in a time of chaos, and a tireless promoter of the study of science. Her life story reveals a lost era of academic life and inspires us to renew our commitment to the scientific community.

Early Life

Katherine McFarlane Chamberlain was born on June 28, 1892 in Saginaw, Michigan to Fenton and Elizabeth Chamberlain.1 By 1900, the family, which included Katherine’s younger brother Elmer, moved to Port Huron. 2 Given a camera by an aunt at the age of ten, Katherine’s lifelong love of photography quickly emerged. Pictures taken of a nearby oil refinery adorned the darkroom her father built for her. 3 Chamberlain’s passion for photography never waned. Later in life she would enlist it as an innovative tool for the teaching of science.

After graduating from Port Huron High School in 1909, Katherine taught grammar school for two years in Port Huron while also working toward her degree at the University of Michigan.  Upon receiving her B.A. in 1914, Katherine focused on education; teaching in Saginaw for a year and Port Huron for another two. In 1917, she returned to the University of Michigan to work toward her master’s degree but continued teaching high school chemistry in Detroit from 1917 to 1922. 4

Research and the University of Michigan

After completing her Master’s degree in 1919, she pursued her doctorate under the guidance of Professor George A. Lindsay. 5 At that time, the University of Michigan was one of the leading institutions in the world in the area of spectroscopy. Chamberlain took advantage of the university’s prominence, corresponding with the leading spectroscopy researchers in the world.6 Working with Lindsay, she devoted her time toward using the new technique of x-ray spectroscopy to study the atom.

Earlier in the century, Niels Bohr’s quantum theory revolutionized the study of physics. Bohr’s theory predicted that the electrons that surround the nucleus of the atom could only have distinct energies.  Electrons could move from one energy level to another by absorbing or emitting packets of light, known as photons.  The electron would only make the transition if the photon’s energy was the same, to within the limits of the uncertainty principle, as the difference the between the energy levels. If an electron absorbed a photon, it would move to a higher energy level, and, similarly, if an electron emitted a photon, it would move to a lower energy level.  Scientists could deduce the energy levels of the atom by measuring the energy of the photons that were absorbed or emitted. However, quantum theory also required scientists to change the way they conceptualized the energy of light.

Before quantum theory, scientists elieved that the energy of light depended on its intensity. However, a consequence of quantum mechanics was that the energy of a photon depended only upon its frequency.  This proved monumental for physicists because they had known for some time that they could separate light into its various frequencies through a phenomenon known as diffraction.  With quantum mechanics, separating light based on its frequency meant separating the photons of light based on their energies.  Physicists such as Chamberlain used these ideas as the basis for their spectroscopy experiments.

In x-ray spectroscopy, scientists produced x-rays with a wide range of energies with a high voltage source. The x-rays bombarded a sample of atoms, and each atom absorbed a different amount of energy and moved to a different energy level.  As the electrons decayed back to a lower energy level to assume a more stable configuration, the atom emitted a photon with an energy corresponding to the difference between levels.  With a spectrograph, scientists used diffraction to separate the photons based on their energies.  Every photon with the same energy would hit the same place of the photographic plate and produce a line.  The lines produced a sort of map, known as a spectrum, which transforms energy into position.

Manne Siegbahn of the University of Lund in Sweden pioneered the field of x-ray spectroscopy by creating and using the first x-ray spectrographs.  For his contributions to the field, Siegbahn won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1924.  As a testament to the University of Michigan’s leading role in this area at that time, George Lindsay translated Siegbahn’s definitive 1925 work, “The Spectroscopy of X-Rays” for publication in the United States.7  Dr. Chamberlain and Dr. Lindsay worked alongside the University of Lund to advance the field by finding the spectra of various elements.

While Dr. Chamberlain conducted her research, she used a spectrograph designed by Siegbahn and built at the University of Michigan. Chamberlain and Lindsay based their research on the work that was taking place in Lund under Siegbahn’s chief researcher, Dirk Coster.  Coster had previously earned his Ph.D. under Niels Bohr and moved to Lund to study the nature of x-rays.  In a 1924 paper by Coster, he described a white line on the photographic plates of his spectroscopy experiments that could not be identified using Bohr’s theory.8 These results startled many people because Bohr’s theory should have been able to predict every electron transition for each element.  An additional line meant that Bohr’s theory did not provide a complete picture of the atom.

Chamberlain read Coster’s article and believed she had an explanation to his problem.  Scientists at the time knew that each element could exist in one of a few different states.  The number of electrons that could be in the highest energy level, known as the valence shell, determined the state of the element.  Each different state, known as an oxidation state, had its own distinct spectrum.  When an element changed its oxidation state, it would either be oxidized or reduced depending on whether the number of electron in the valence shell increased or decreased.  Oxidation referred to a decrease in the number of possible electrons of the valence shell, while reduction referred to an increase. Chamberlain believed that during the experiments the x-rays were changing the oxidation state in the atoms of the sample.

Chamberlain took time away from her spectroscopy experiments to test her theory.  In her experiment, she first took the compounds that Coster used for his sample and exposed them to x-rays.  Since most of compounds that Coster used were highly oxidized forms of the element, Chamberlain chemically tested the samples to determine whether any had been reduced by the x-rays.  The results of the experiment confirmed her hypothesis and showed that the x-rays had reduced a portion of the sample.  Chamberlain then used her spectrograph to find the spectrum of the reduced form of the element. She found that its spectrum contained a line that corresponded exactly with the unidentified line in Coster’s experiment.  Chamberlain published her findings in an article in the November 1924 edition of The Physical Review titled “The Fine Structure of Certain X-Ray Absorption Edges.” 9

Chamberlain’s paper called for the research into the reduction potential of x-rays and work toward an explanation of this potential using Bohr’s quantum theory.  More importantly, in the last parts of her paper, Chamberlain proposed that this type of research could “…give the key to the solution of that vastly more difficult problem of what occurs in the human body when x-rays are used as a therapeutic agent.” With her paper, Chamberlain earned the respect of Coster who she thanks in the paper’s acknowledgments for “…his interest in my preliminary report and for the encouragement he offered to carry the work farther.” 10

In 1924, Dr. Chamberlain finished her thesis, “The Determination of Certain Outer X-Ray Energy Levels for the Elements from Antimony (51) to Samarium (62).” Upon finishing it, Chamberlain received her Sc.D. (Doctorate of Science) and became the first woman to ever receive a doctorate in physics from the University of Michigan.11  Her thesis was not published, however, until October 1927 in The Physical Review.12

After earning her doctorate, Chamberlain took a job as a senior mathematics instructor at the City College of Detroit.13 While teaching, Chamberlain submitted her paper on the reducing potential of x-rays to the Association to Aide Scientific Research by Women. Every year since 1911, the association awarded The Ellen Richards Prize of one thousand dollars to the world’s best scientific publication written by a woman.  Since its inception, the Ellen Richards Prize became one of the most prestigious awards for female scientists in part due to the rigorous standards set by the association’s review panel. Before 1925, the Association offered the Ellen Richards Prize fourteen times, but, due to the lack of scientific merit, only awarded it six times.  In 1925, Chamberlain as well as the seventeen other scientists from South Africa, England, Wales, and the United States applied for the grant.  Chamberlain was awarded the prestigious Ellen Richards Prize in the fall of 1925 even though Chamberlain’s research did not meet the exceedingly high standards of the association. However, her work “…was of such outstanding character that suggestions in paper should be followed-up.” 14  X-ray therapeutics was a rapidly developing field at that time.  Consequently, Chamberlain’s suggestion that her research could provide significant insight into the effect of x-rays on the human body intrigued the Prize committee.15

Even today the magnitude of Chamberlain’s ideas can be understood.  People can only receive a certain number of x-rays each year, and lead screens need to be in place to minimize the amount of x-rays that the body absorbs.  In the 1920’s, people knew that x-rays were harmful but no one knew why.  Chamberlain showed that x-rays can significantly change the chemical makeup of matter.  She speculated that if x-rays could reduce the samples in her experiments, they might have a similar effect on human tissue and cause significant damage.  These ideas paved the way for research in the area, and the Ellen Richards Prize provided a fitting tribute for such an influential idea.

As a recipient of the Ellen Richards Prize, Chamberlain joined the company of some of the most famous women in science history.  In 1924, Marie Curie, the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different areas and pioneer of the science of radioactivity, received the Ellen Richards Prize.  Other recipients included Lise Meitner (1928), who discovered nuclear fission, Annie Jump Cannon (1933), who applied spectroscopy to catalogue thousands of stars, and Nettie Stevens (1905), who discovered that the presence of the Y chromosome was the single factor that determined sex.  Although Chamberlain’s relatively small number of scientific publications may be the reason she never achieved the distinction of these other scientists, the significance of the Ellen Richards Prize provides a glimpse into the magnitude of her work.

To continue her research, Chamberlain used the prize money to study in Europe.  For most of her year abroad, she worked under J.J. Thomson, Nobel Laureate in 1905 for the discovery of the electron, at the famous Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge’s Girton College. After her time at Cambridge, she spent time visiting the famous physics laboratories across Europe. During her travels, she met noted physicists such as Albert Michelson, Marie Curie, and Lord Rutherford.16

Although Chamberlain devoted a significant part of the rest of her life to teaching, she never completely left the research arena.  As a professor at Wayne University, she periodically published papers on various aspects of photography and spectroscopy.  In 1933, Chamberlain and Harold Cutter worked in the laboratories of the University of Michigan to explore the infra-red spectrum of water.  The Physical Review published their research in a December 1933 article titled “New Bands in the Electronic Band Spectrum of Neutral OH.” 17

A few years later, Chamberlain worked at the University of Michigan to study the growth of potassium bromide crystals.  In the 1930’s, most spectroscopy research used prism spectroscographs, and growing pure crystals for the prism was very challenging.18  Chamberlain’s research, published in the October 1938 volume of The Review of Scientific Instruments, included a detailed description of the procedure for the growth of pure crystals.19 In Chamberlain’s last venture into research, she helped a graduate student, Emil Kaczor, earn his master’s degree.  The two studied the spark produced between the electrode gap of high voltage sources.  The Journal of the Optical Society of America published their work, “An Air Interruptor for Use with the A.R.L. Spark Source,” in November 1949.20



Even though Chamberlain’s research interests varied greatly, her passion to teach never wavered.  When she became an associate professor of physics in 1927, she began teaching various physics courses including an introductory course on the science of photography.  She continued to teach the course after she became a full professor of physics in 1945 and only stopped when she retired from Wayne State in 1959.  The combination of her passions for photography and teaching drove Chamberlain to teach the course for twenty-three years.21

Initially, Chamberlain strove to teach physics not only because of her personal interest but also because of her belief that problem solving was an essential skill.  Every college student, she believed, needed a full liberal arts education that required an introduction to the physical sciences.22  In the preface to her 1942 textbook, First College Course in Photography, she argued that “…the unique contribution that science offers to a liberal education lies in the cultivation of the spirit of careful inquiry, in the unprejudiced appeal to experiment, and in the opportunity so frequently offered to test our opinions and learn definitely whether or not they are valid.”23 Chamberlain believed that the old introductory courses were failing to interest students, and her course in photography could provide “…an opportunity to introduce many students to the subject matter and methods of the physical sciences who would not have met these otherwise.”24 With her course, she created a new path for students to better appreciate physics and learn vital problem solving techniques.

At this early stage in Chamberlain’s teaching career, she began to reach out to other groups to teach the benefits of a sound background in physics.  In 1938, she wrote a textbook on math and optics for the Foundation of Optometry in Boston titled, What Kind of Education?  The textbook contained short discussions of certain topics that were essential for future Optometrists to gain a solid background in problem solving and physics.25  After the textbook’s publication later that year, Chamberlain received distinction for her teaching techniques from the Distinguished Service Foundation of Optometry in Boston.  The foundation awarded her a medal and citation for distinguished service to the field and provided Chamberlain with an honorary membership.26 After this recognition of her teaching ability, Chamberlain realized that she could take physics to a larger audience.

In order to most effectively reach a larger number of people, Chamberlain turned to her college course in photography.  Instead of solely being a means to teach college students problem solving techniques, she believed her course could teach any photography enthusiast to appreciate physics.  In an initial attempt to reach out to photographers, she published a manual called A Darkroom Handbook, in 1948.  The manual contained a collection of techniques and experiments to help readers solve common problems faced in developing photographs.27

Chamberlain believed she could reach an even wider audience because the handbook lacked a complete explanation of why a photograph can be made.  In 1951, she modified her college course to make it more understandable for readers without any scientific background and published it.  Chamberlain’s book, An Introduction to the Science of Photography, catered to “…those who are studying without a teacher” and contained a complete guide to understanding the fundamental interactions of light and matter that make photography possible.28  With her book, Chamberlain taught photographers that they could only master their art through an understanding of the underlying physics.

After publishing her book, Chamberlain’s focus for her college courses changed: she no longer only wanted to expose students to physics. She believed that introductory physics courses should try to entice students to consider a career in physics. In an attempt to improve the physics curriculum at Wayne State University in the early 1950’s, Chamberlain compiled her observations from twenty-five years of teaching. She submitted them to the board of education, calling them “A Study of Certain Trends in the Teaching of Physics.”29 At that point in time, most students were exposed to general physics because it was required by most other concentrations.  Chamberlain saw this as an opportunity to draw students into physics, and in order to achieve this goal, the introductory physics classes needed to change.30

Chamberlain’s major suggestions called for an increase in the number and quality of demonstrations and laboratory experiments. She believed that long derivations and complicated mathematics typified introductory physics courses for most students. Improving the demonstrations could spark student interest. In order to do this, Chamberlain called for the department to replace the ancient demonstrations being used with new ones that students could relate to.  In a quote from her paper to the board of education, she explains that a student

   ‘…takes a dim view of those 1870 experiments that merely confirm general principles that he feels not the slightest urge to question anyway. But, give him an instrument of a type that is in industrial use today and he will gladly let you tie all the principles you please to it and will think as hard as you wish about why these are as they are.’ 31

The physics department, Chamberlain argued, should no longer be at the mercy of other departments that used general physics as “…an elimination contest that will remove the unfit…”32 Chamberlain urged that the sole goal of general physics should simply be to “…cause students to want more…” physics.33

Service to the Community

Although Chamberlain spent the majority of her life dedicated to her research and students, she found time to devote to a number of causes.  Many of her pursuits centered on improving the quality of women’s experiences at the University of Michigan. From 1938 to 1940, Chamberlain worked as the women’s scholarship coordinator for the University of Michigan Alumni Council.34  In addition to her responsibilities as scholarship coordinator, Chamberlain began filming an alumni movie in 1938 depicting the everyday lives of women on campus.35  She filmed many events in the 1938-1939 academic year and released the film after graduation. Additionally, from 1947 to 1952, Chamberlain worked to raise money for the Alice Lloyd Memorial at the University.36

In addition to these large contributions to the University, Chamberlain made a point to dedicate time to other community groups dedicated to giving women a greater voice. In 1953, Alice Tarbell Crathern published a history of the women of Detroit entitled In Detroit Courage Was the Fashion; The Contribution of Women to the Development of Detroit from 1701 to 1951.  Chamberlain planned the illustrations for the book and was one of four women on the book’s editorial committee working to mark Detroit’s 250th anniversary.37 Chamberlain was also involved with other community groups such the Inter-group Council for Women as Public Policy Makers, where she was vice-chairman from 1947-1949, as well as the Women’s City Club, where she served on the board of directors.38  Chamberlain effectively channeled her experiences in the male-dominated field of physics into being one of the leaders in the fight for a stronger community of women.

The other major avenue to which Chamberlain devoted herself involved educating the public about the social implications of atomic energy.  Chamberlain lost her beloved brother, Elmer, in World War II39 and focused her grief on arousing the public to take action to calm the current international tensions.  In a 1946 article in Science Magazine entitled “Another Chain Reaction,” Chamberlain spoke to the scientists of the world and urged them to band together to work toward banning the use of atomic research for military purposes.  Scientists, she reasoned, had the responsibility to take control of the regulation of atomic energy. In the article she explains,

‘This is in no sense a proposal that we scientists should become the self-appointed guardians of civilization.  But, as the group that is in the best position to appreciate the disastrous potentialities of atomic energy without adequate control…we should be able to arouse other people to the realization that nothing else greatly matters if this problem is not solved.’40

Chamberlain embraced the quest to spread the word about atomic energy and continued the pursuit for many years.

In 1947, Chamberlain joined the Detroit chapter of the United World Federalists and was elected to its board of directors later that year.41  The United World Federalists strove to create a stronger United Nations that could control the proliferation of atomic energy.  Members included, among others, Albert Einstein and Kurt Vonnegut.  As word spread and membership in the society grew, the movement came to be known as “Atoms for Peace.”

As a part of the society, Chamberlain organized a World Government Week in Detroit in April of 1948 to raise awareness for the need of a stronger United Nations.  Obtaining signatures for a petition urging the government to strengthen the UN was the main goal for the conference.42 As a member of the advisory committee for the conference, Chamberlain helped to carefully plan how to effectively reach the largest percentage of the Detroit area. The committee decided to invite representatives from a wide variety of Detroit organizations. In preparation for the conference, Chamberlain wrote to Albert Einstein, a member of the United World Federalists and founding member of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), to explain the purpose of the World Government Week in Detroit.  Einstein had recently published an article in The Atlantic Monthly titled, “Atomic War or Peace” in which he argued that the only solution to the international tensions caused by atomic warfare was the creation of a much stronger UN. Einstein sent Chamberlain one thousand copies of his Atlantic Monthly article and a written statement by the ECAS urging citizens that by banding together they could have a profound impact on the government.43

At the conference held on April 19, 1948, the national president of the United World Federalists and renowned peace advocate, Norman Cousins, gave the keynote address.44 As a testament to her stature in the community, the committee chose Chamberlain to give the closing remarks at the conference.45 Although the attendance for the conference only totaled sixteen hundred, the careful planning of the advisory committee spread the message of the conference across southeastern Michigan.

In addition to her work done for World Government Week, Chamberlain published pamphlets and postcards for distribution throughout the Detroit area.  In the late 1940’s, Chamberlain published a list of common misconceptions about nuclear research in The Newsletter of the World Study Council of Detroit entitled “The Atomic Bomb Versus Civilization: A Primer for the Atomic Age.”46 In it, she posed questions including “Suppose we stop making bomb. What assurance have we that some other country will not keep on and some day conquer us with its atomic bomb?” and “How much sovereignty should we have to give up in order to achieve international control over aggressor nations?”47   Chamberlain used her experience as a part of the science community to answer these questions. She urged people to “…talk about it to everyone who will listen…”48 Chamberlain also published a postcard for wide distribution through Wayne State University which described “The Six Steps in the Atomic Age.”  The steps led to a conviction to urge the government to create “…a stronger World Authority.”49

The University of Michigan noted Chamberlain’s work in the field of energy public policy. In 1952, the University asked Chamberlain to join a group called the Memorial Phoenix Project.50   In 1947, the University created a War Memorial Committee to find the best way to commemorate those members of the University community lost in World War II.  The Memorial Committee decided that the most suitable way to honor those lost would be to create a nuclear energy research center.  In 1948, the Memorial Phoenix Project began with the aims to explore the possible benefits of nuclear energy.  The Phoenix Project grew to encompass both the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory and the Ford Nuclear Reactor. Both research institutes grew and came to the forefront of energy research.51   Chamberlain’s contributions to the Project came as a member of the National Advisory Committee.  Determining the research done at the centers became the primary focus of the Advisory Committee.52 With Chamberlain’s technical experience as well as her leadership skills, she became a valuable member of the committee on which she served for nearly a decade.

Chamberlain’s influential contributions toward her many avenues of service did not go unnoticed.  In 1957, The Detroit Free Press named Chamberlain “…one of Detroit’s Ten Top Working Women…”53 The University of Michigan followed suit in recognizing her efforts. Chamberlain received the 1960 Distinguished Alumni Service Award.54 Additionally, at the 1961 Alumni Week, where Chamberlain was the featured speaker, she received a service citation from the Alumni Council for her contributions to the women’s community at the University of Michigan.55

As Chamberlain grew older, she took a step back from the public eye to enjoy the later years of her life.  Wayne State University named her Professor-Emeritus of Physic upon her retirement in 1958.56 She moved back to Ann Arbor where she spent the rest of her life concentrating on her photography.57 Chamberlain passed away on January 9, 1977 and was buried in Evard, Michigan.58

The fact that Dr. Katherine Chamberlain contributed to such a broad number of areas makes gaining perspective on her accomplishments difficult.  A quote by Chamberlain from a 1938 meeting of the Alumni Scholarship Committee might be able to shed light on her life’s goals. In the quote, she tries to explain what type of person most deserves the most prestigious academic scholarships.

‘Rhodes Scholars are rarely distinguished in after life for outstanding intellectual achievement, perhaps because the criteria for selection demand that they be too versatile to be remarkable in any definite field. On the other hand, the person exceptionally gifted in a particular direction often suffers from personality defects that make her difficult to assimilate in a group.’59

Chamberlain understood that the delicate balance between achieving expertise in a specific area while establishing a base intellect in a wide range of fields was an impossible goal.  However, Chamberlain believed that the pursuit of that balance would be the most effective way to make the most impact on her community.

As a physicist, Chamberlain pioneered not only the field of x-ray spectroscopy but, more importantly, the community of women in physics.  As one of the first handful of women to earn their doctorate in physics, Chamberlain embodied the successful woman in science and, throughout her life, sought to empower women to become influential members of their community.

As a teacher, Chamberlain broke barriers in the teaching of introductory physics. Her ideas sought to improve introductory physics by inspiring students through experiments and demonstrations.  Her unique method of using photography became a valuable tool that motivated students and photographers alike to gain a new appreciation for physics.

As an activist, Chamberlain harnessed her personal experience with the horrors of war and worked for world peace on multiple levels.  Realizing that she had a responsibility as a scientist to educate the public on the potential dangers and benefits of nuclear energy, Chamberlain urged her fellow scientists to join the movement. She took it upon herself to help lead the greater Detroit community toward an understanding of the consequences of living in the emerging nuclear age.  Her experience in physics also drove her to help direct the new path of nuclear energy research.

Being a part of such a wide range of social communities allowed Dr. Katherine Chamberlain to enact change in many ways.  However, one common bond united each area that Chamberlain immersed herself. Basic passions for science and teaching provided the driving force for each aspect of Dr. Chamberlain’s life.  One can examine the many things that Chamberlain accomplished and, most likely, come to different conclusions about their significance.  However, Chamberlain’s example that passion alone can drive change can hopefully withstand the test of time and continue to be her greatest legacy.



1.  Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

2. Wayne State University press release regarding Katherine McFarlane Chamberlain, July 1958, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

3. Rancont, Diane, “Specialty of the House,” Ann Arbor News, 24 January 1963, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

4. Katherine Chamberlain Biographical Information Form-Wayne State University Staff, undated, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

5. The Michigan Alumnus, Vol. 31, p. 649, 1925, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

6. “The Department of Physics” The University of Michigan, An Encyclopedic Survey, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

7. Siegbahn, Manne. The Spectroscopy of X-Rays. Oxford University Press: London, 1925, Shapiro Science Library, University of Michigan.

8. Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Fine Structure of Certain X-Ray Absorption Edges,” The Physical Review, Vol. 26, No. 5, November, 1925, p. 525-536.  Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

9. Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Fine Structure of Certain X-Ray Absorption Edges,” The Physical Review, Vol. 26, No. 5, November, 1925, p. 525-536.  Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

10.  Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Fine Structure of Certain X-Ray Absorption Edges,” The Physical Review, Vol. 26, No. 5, November, 1925, p. 525-536.  Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

11. “Selected Features of the History of the University with Especial Reference to the Department of Physics,” Physics Department Vertical File, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

12. Chamberlain, Katherine and Lindsay, George, “The Determination of Certain Outer X-ray Energy Levels”, Physical Review, Vol. 30, No. 5, p. 369-77, October 1927, Dissertation, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

13. Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

14. “Winning Thesis May Revolutionize X-Rays: Detroit Instructor Granted Women’s Research Prize to Continue Studies,” The Detroit Free Press, 9 May 1925, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter. P. Reuthers Library, Wayne State University.

15. “Winning Thesis May Revolutionize X-Rays: Detroit Instructor Granted Women’s Research Prize to Continue Studies,” The Detroit Free Press, 9 May 1925, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter. P. Reuthers Library, Wayne State University.

16. Yaroch, Patricia, “Physicist Voices A-Warning,” Detroit News, 1 April 1958, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter. P. Reuthers Library, Wayne State University.

 17. Chamberlain, K., and Cutter, H.B., “New Lines in the Electronic Band Spectrum of Neutral OH,” The Physical Review, Vol. 43, 1933, p. 771-772, Electronic Journals, University of Michigan.

18. Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Growing of Large, Single Crystals of Potassium Bromide,” Review of Scientific Instruments, Vol. 9, 1938, p. 322-324, Electronic Journals, University of Michigan.

19. Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Growing of Large, Single Crystals of Potassium Bromide,” Review of Scientific Instruments, Vol. 9, 1938, p. 322-324, Electronic Journals, University of Michigan.

20. Chamberlain, K., and Kaczor, E., “An Air Interruptor for Use with the A.R.L. Spark Source,” Journal of the Optical Society of America, Vol. 39, No. 11, November 1949, p. 917-919, Electronic Journals, University of Michigan.

21. Magid, Martin.Katherine Chamberlain: Above All, a Teacher,” The Photogram: Newsletter of the Michigan Photographic Historical Society. November-December 2005. Collection of Martin Magid.                    

22. Chamberlain, Katherine. First College Course in Photography. 1942. Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

23. Chamberlain, Katherine. First College Course in Photography. 1942. Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

24. Chamberlain, Katherine. First College Course in Photography. 1942. Buhr Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

25. Chamberlain, Katherine. What Kind of Education?, undated, Katherine Chamberlain Publications File, Walter. P. Reuthers Library, Wayne State University.

26. Detroit Collegian,9 April 1938,  Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

27. Chamberlain, Katherine. Darkroom Handbook. Ziff-Davis Pub. Co.: Chicago, 1947.  Burh Remote Shelving Facility, University of Michigan.

28.  Chamberlain, Katherine. An Introduction to the Science of Photography. The Macmillan Co.: New York, 1951. Art Architecture and Engineering Library, University of Michigan.

29-33. Chamberlain, Katherine. “A Study of Certain Trends in the Teaching of Physics,” Katherine Chamberlain Publications File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

34. Alumni Council University of Michigan, Box 2: Correspondence 1926- 1957, Minutes from 17 June 1938, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

35. Alumni Council University of Michigan, Box 2: Correspondence 1926- 1957, Minutes from October 1938, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

36. Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

37. The Michigan Alumnus, Vol. 60, p. 145, 1953, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

38. Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

39. Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

40. Chamberlain, Katherine, “Another Chain Reaction,” Science, Vol. 103, No. 2667, 8 February 1946, p. 158-160, Electronic Journals, University of Michigan.

41. Vera B. Baits to Harvey M. Merker, 7 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

42. Katherine Chamberlain to Albert Einstein, 28 March 1948. Correspondence of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists: Box 3.023, Courtesy of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Special Collections.

43 Katherine Chamberlain to Albert Einstein, 4 April 1948. Correspondence of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists: Box 3.023, Courtesy of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Special Collections.

44. Katherine Chamberlain to Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, 19 May 1948. Correspondence of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists: Box 3.023, Courtesy of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Special Collections.

45. Katherine Chamberlain to Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, 19 May 1948. Correspondence of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists: Box 3.023, Courtesy of the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, Oregon State University Special Collections.

46-48. Chamberlain, Katherine, “The Atomic Bomb Versus Civilization,” III News Bulletin, Supp. Edition, World Study Council of Detroit, undated, Katherine Chamberlain Publications File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State Univeristy.

49. Postcard: “The Six Steps into the Atomic Age,” Katherine Chamberlain Publications File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State Univeristy.

50. Alexander Ruthven to Katherine Chamberlain, 18 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

51 Gnagery, Laurel Thomas.  “Phoenix Project Scope Expanded,”The University Record Online. 27 September 2004, <>

52. Alexander Ruthven to Katherine Chamberlain, 18 June 1951, Folder “Topical 1: Katherine Chamberlain,” Box 8, Memorial Phoenix Project Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

53. The Michigan Alumnus, Vol. 64, p. 321, 1957, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

54. List of Distinguished Alumni Service Award Winners, Home Page of the University Alumni Association. <>

55. The Michigan Alumnus, Vol. 67, p. 343, 1961, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

56. Routine Notification on Retirement and Emeritus Appointment, 16 May 1960, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

57.  Rancont, Diane, “Specialty of the House,” Ann Arbor News, 24 January 1963, Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

58. Magid, Martin.Katherine Chamberlain: Above All, a Teacher,” The Photogram: Newsletter of the Michigan Photographic Historical Society. November-December 2005. Collection of Martin Magid.

 59. Alumni Council University of Michigan, Box 2: Correspondence 1926- 1957, Minutes from 17 June 1938, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Images from the Life of Katherine Chamberlain

Chamberlain Geramita 2Katherine Chamberlain’s X-Ray Spectrograph that she used for her research at the University of Michigan.
(Spectrograph courtesy of Jens Zorn and the Physics Department of the University of Michigan)

Chamberlain Garamita3

“Winning Thesis May Revolutionize X-Ray,” The Detroit Free Press, 9 May 1925,
Katherine Chamberlain Vertical File, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

Chamberlain farRight 1961

Dr. Chamberlain (far right) was the featured Alumni speaker at the 1961 Alumni Week.
The Michigan Alumnus, Vol. 67, p. 343, 1961, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Chamberlain Garamita 9

Photograph of the Absorption Edges of Copper by Katherine Chamberlain and George Lindsay, from
“The Determination of Certain Outer X-ray Energy Levels”, Physical Review, Vol. 30, No. 5, p. 369-77, October 1927,
Dissertation, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Chamberlain Garamita4

Title page of Dr. Katherine Chamberlain’s 1951 book
An Introduction to the Science of Photography. The Macmillan Co.: New York, 1951.
Art Architecture and Engineering Library, University of Michigan.

Chamberlain Garamita6

Photograph from Dr. Chamberlain’s  An Introduction to the Science of Photography
Spark produced in electrode gap of a high voltage source.

Chamberlain Garamita 10

Chamberlain Garamita 8  Picture of an emission spectrum from Dr. Chamberlain’s An Introduction to the Science of Photography.
The Macmillan Co.: New York, 1951. Art Architecture and Engineering Library, University of Michigan.

Matthew Geramita, then a senior honors undergraduate in biophysics at the University of Michigan, wrote this biography of Katherine Chamberlain in 2007 with encouragement and direction from Professor Timothy McKay.   Geramita presented his work at the 2008 March meeting of the APS in New Orleans.  His talk to the Forum on the History of Physics was entitled  “X-Ray Spectroscopy, the Ellen Richards Prize, and Nuclear Proliferation: The Inspiring Life of Katherine Chamberlain.”

Matthew Geramita <> is now (2013) in the MD-PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh.

Crane & Halpern detect neutrinos in 1937

There were many efforts to find the neutrino after Pauli proposed it in late 1930s. Though it was hardly a quantitative experiment, what is generally regarded as the first observation of neutrino momentum was made in 1936 by Alexander Leipunski. He measured the distribution of momentum in nuclei that were recoiling from the beta decay of carbon-11 and found more recoil momentum than could be attributed to electrons whose beta-ray spectrum had been previously measured.   Discovery of the neutrino is commonly attributed to Cowan and Reines for their 1956 experiment in which neutrinos incident on protons produced neutrons that underwent detectable capture as well as positrons that annihilated with emission of characteristic gamma rays:   ν + p+  –> n0 + e+ .   This was certainly convincing evidence.

But almost two decades earlier, in 1937, Crane and his postdoctoral associate Jules Halpern had used a cloud chamber to observe, in individual events, not only the recoiling nucleus but also the associated beta particle. They put a chlorine-38 beta source in the chamber and applied a magnetic field so that the beta particle momentum could be determined from the curvature of its track. Although the recoiling nucleus did not leave a track long enough to have a discernable curvature, its motion did generate ionization that they assumed to be proportional to the kinetic energy of recoil motion. To measure that energy, Crane and Halpern shut off the clearing field in the cloud chamber for a fraction of a second before expanding the cloud chamber. This gave the ions time to diffuse several millimeters outward before droplets condensed around them. The well-separated droplets could be counted, thus providing a measure of the kinetic energy of the recoiling nucleus. With this experiment Crane and Halpern became the first to measure the recoil momentum of both charged particles in a given beta decay and to show thereby that the neutrino must carry momentum if energy and momentum are conserved in the decay.

Going further, Crane recognized that it would be good to do an experiment in which a neutrino passing through a target material would produce an element not present in the target.  Since sulfur-35 undergoes beta decay to chlorine-35 with a half-life of 80 days,

                                               35S –> 35Cl + e + ν,

he set out to detect the inverse process by putting a source of neutrinos (1 millicurie of radium) into a 3-pound bag of table salt, waiting 3 months, then testing for the presence of radioactive sulfur.  This established an upper limit of 10-30 cm2 for neutrino capture by chlorine-35.  Crane then described how a modest extension of his experiment could rule out the possibility that capture processes prevent neutrinos from escaping from the sun. That work was submitted for publication in January of 1939.

Almost a decade later, Crane was asked to contribute an article to the upcoming 1948 Reviews of Modern Physics issue that was to be a festschrift for Millikan’s 80th birthday.  Crane chose to write on energy and momentum relations in beta decay and on the search for the neutrino. Comprehensive, broad ranging, and admiringly cited by many, this review article was Crane’s way of closing his involvement with the neutrino problem.
Crane and Halpern: New experimental evidence for the existence of a neutrino. Phys. Rev. 53:789-794, 1938.   And later: Further experiments on the recoil of the nucleus in beta-decay. Phys. Rev. 56:232-237, 1939.
Crane: Energy and momentum relations in beta decay and the search for the neutrino.
Rev. Mod. Phys. 20:278-295, 1948.

Mike Sanders and his Students

In 2007 the students of Mike Sanders gathered to celebrate his 80th birthday.  in 1963 and then on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, Mike joined the Michigan faculty from which he retired in 2000.


Don Meyer: Spark Chambers and Early Experiments

Presented by Donald Meyer at the memorial symposium for
Kent M. Terwilliger held at the University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor, on 13-14 October, 1989

 In 1954 I was at Brookhaven for a couple of years, shortly after the bubble chamber was invented. Don Glaser brought a small bubble chamber to Brookhaven with a group including Marty Perl, Dave Rahm, and John Brown. They needed help learning their way around Brookhaven, and not yet being deeply involved in a project, I joined their group to learn how bubble chambers worked. As a result of this interaction, I came to Michigan in 1956 as an Assistant Professor. When I arrived in Michigan I worked with Don Glaser’s group for a year, after which Marty and I decided we wanted to do our own thing, as young physicists often do. Marry went to work with Larry Jones, and I went to work with Kent. While still working with Don Glaser, I had been trying to make a gas tracking detector by putting a large microwave field on a gas filled cavity, the idea being that the microwaves would localize the gas discharge. I fiddled around with this for about a year and managed to get the chamber to the point that it was sensitive to radiation, but I never could get any spacial resolution. As soon as the gas started to ionize, ultra violet light went in all directions, and the whole chamber lit up. About this time, I got a call from Leon Lederman who, it happened, was doing the same thing, with the same results at Columbia. While I was pondering ways around the problem, Fukui and Myamoto published their first paper on the spark chamber. When I read the report I talked to Kent, and he said “You know, MURA is sort of winding down, I’d like to start doing some physics, let’s try to build a spark chamber and see if we can do some physics with it”. In approximately a week, Kent and I put together the necessary ingredients to make a spark chamber work. Kent’s very thorough knowledge of how to use high voltages made this particularly easy. He even knew where to go in the department to find the proper thyratrons to make the circuits. This was the start of our collaboration which lasted for 6 or 7 years, until I went to CERN on sabbatical.

After we’d made the original little spark chamber, which was about 3″ in diameter, we decided we should plunge into an experiment. Again, being young people and very enthusiastic, we put together a large spark chamber to do experiments at the Cosmotron. It was about 2 feet on a side, with thin foils for electrodes, and again, being very impatient, we didn’t even bother to make a jig to stretch the foils. We just glued the chamber together, with one of us holding the foils tight, while the other epoxied it together. The problem was, the epoxy took about an hour to dry, but we decided that this was the fastest way to get a chamber made so, I would hold the foil for about 15 minutes, then Kent would come into the room and hold the foil for about 15 minutes. After an hour it was set. Then we’d start on the next foil. In a few days we had a chamber that was about 2 feet thick and it turned out to be the best spark chamber that I ever saw. It was exceedingly efficient, worked exceedingly well, and it was only later that I found out how important it was to control gas impurities, and put in the right kinds of things like methane and so forth, in the right proportions, in order to really make things work right. But this chamber worked the first time we turned it on. It was just absolutely beautiful.

I know everybody has seen spark chambers now, but at that time no one had seen a spark chamber work. Kent already had tenure. I didn’t. I was still an Assistant Professor, and Kent said “I’m going to get you tenure, we’re going to have you give a colloquium on the spark chamber, and we’re going to show them the spark chamber”. So we took the spark chamber to the colloquium and I thank Kent because, I got tenure 2 months later. Kent operated the spark chamber, I talked, and the combination was devasting. As soon as we turned out the lights, and turned on the spark chamber, the whole room broke into applause. There was no question as to whether it was a success or not. We took the spark chamber to the Cosmotron, and did a couple of experiments that involved looking at associated production of A°s and Y*s. This was our first experiment together. It was a big success because at that time there were very few associated production events which had all been obtained in diffusion cloud chambers. There just weren’t very many.

We managed to collect something of the order of a 1,000 to 2,000 K ° – A ° events in a very short run. For a first experiment, it was very good. The things we put up with at the time were characteristics of the era, and people these days do not really appreciate these things. We didn’t have very much money in our DoE contract, we rented a house on the north shore of Long Island. Tris Coffin had joined us by that time. Tris, Kent and I, with 3 graduate students (one of whom is here, Larry Curtis), the six of us, lived in a I bedroom house that had enough sleeping capacity for about 4 people if you used the couch in the living room. It was quite a summer. There was a nice beach about 2 blocks away. We would go down to the beach to swim, but we really kept the beds warm all the time. It was lucky we were running 3 shifts a day or we would never have been able to stand each other. The experiment was a success. I was back looking at Larry’s thesis a few days ago, and I found we actually measured the spin of the Y*. I had forgotten that. We measured the spin and the parity of the Y*. The experiment was really a success.

I think the most interesting thing about it, was working with Oreste Piccioni. Oreste was using the same beam we were. We had an agreement with the Cosmotron that we would run for 3 weeks and then be off for 3 weeks. Oreste would take the beam 3 weeks, then we would take 3 weeks. Oreste has no sense of time. He would come in when he felt like coming in, and would leave when he felt like leaving. Sometimes there was no one running on the Cosmotron, the beam was going around the machine, and the beam was coming out, but there was no one there, and there were other times when we were both trying to use the machine. It was amusing. The other thing that happened was that Kent and I became known as spark chamber experts. Mel Schwartz was just starting work on the Neutrino chambers for the AGS experiment, which was so successful. We had many conversations with Mel giving him advise on what to do, what not to do, and so forth.

One of the things that we realized during this experiment was that you collected enormous amounts of data, very very fast. When we finished the experiment, we decided to spend some time developing an automatic scanning system for spark chambers. At that time, all spark chamber data was recorded photographically. As spark chambers developed, of course, magnetic readouts were used but in these early days, up to 1966, when I went to CERN, all spark chambers employed photographic techniques. Kent and I tried to put money together to buy a computer, so we could develop an automatic scanning system. The best that DoE could do for us was a half of a PDP-1, a giant computer that occupied an enormous fraction of a room and did almost nothing by present day standards. We bought half of the PDP-1. The other half was funded by psychology. So we had psychology experiments going on in the same room that we were trying to do automatic scanning. We eventually bought a somewhat bigger computer as we became more experienced, and could get more money together. We were able to develop a reasonably good automatic scanning system for which Kent deserves most of the credit.

One of the things I should remark on is that Kent never really gave up being an accelerator physicist. Wherever we went, whether it was Brookhaven, or Argonne, he was always designing magnets, always designing beams for the experiment. He loved that kind of work, he was good at it, he loved it, and any time there was a beam to design Kent was there. This was really his forte; this is what he really enjoyed the most.

In looking back over students theses, and looking back at the way in which experiments were done in those days, there are two things that contrast greatly with the present. Between 1961 and 1966, Kent and I did 4 complete experiments on 3 different accelerators. This was typical of the time. When I look around now and see experiments, including our own last experiment, that go on for a decade I am amazed. I don’t think it’s just because we worked faster. The experiments have increased so much in complexity, and the accelerators have gotten so much more complex to run, that it is inevitable.

The other thing that has changed is the group size. We had 3 students and 3 faculty members on our first Brookhaven experiment which was relatively typical of the time. When I look at present collaborations I just shake my head. How do you know all the people who axe on them? What are they all doing? Why don’t they get in each other’s way? That’s what surprises me the most. Why aren’t they fighting for positions around the experiments? I just don’t understand. Well I do understand of course. I’ve been involved with it myself. It’s really quite a different lifestyle.

The last experiment that Kent and I worked on together was the first experiment of the ZGS. We did a very extensive elastic scattering experiment, Tris Coffin, Kent and I worked together on a very extensive experiment in pion-proton elastic scattering. Looked at in retrospect, the physics was not as interesting as a lot of things one might do. Again this is a contrast between the physics then and the physics now. Particle physics, when we first worked in the field, from 1961 almost up until the discovery of the psi was to a certain extent unfocused. You didn’t know where you were going. You were collecting data, hoping eventually it would fit into some kind of a pattern that would be useful. Now the experiments that are done, because there is better theoretical understanding largely due to the earlier exploration, are much more focused. You are looking for very specific things. You are disappointed if you don’t see them. I have a hunch that we may go back to the other scheme. Maybe we are again at a stage in physics where there is going to have to be a lot of data gathering and searching. We are entering a new realm of High Energy Physics now, with these bigger machines.

When I returned from CERN, Kent and my physics interests diverged. We have never collaborated on experiments again, but were always close friends. We ate lunch together many times a week. Our families grew up together. In the past few years while Kent was associate chairman, and I was in charge of space planning for the department, we consulted with each other many times each day. I always enjoyed working with Kent. He was a great person.


Franken’s black-belt in administrative Ju-jitsu

Peter Franken was a member of the Michigan physics faculty from 1956 until 1973 when he became the founding director of the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona.  Prior to 2005, this unit was among the world leaders in optics research; moreover it had a strong teaching component.  But it did not have full authority to determine curricula and academic promotions.  For administrative reasons the OSC had been under repeated, increasing pressure from the provost to join one of the existing colleges such as the College of Science or College of Engineering, but the Optics people were not enthusiastic about that.

Now quoting from R.L. Shoemaker’s article in “Optics and Photonics News”, October 2005, pp 12-14:    “The last time the University asked  OSC to join another college, the provost told the Center’s director that OSC could join any existing college that they wished — but he ultimately regretted the wording of his request.   Franken, the Center’s director at the time, responded that the OSC would like to join the College of Medicine, with salaries adjusted to be commensurate with those of the well-paid faculty there.”      Franken’s response ended the attempts of the provost and, finally in 2004, the OSC became the College of Optical Sciences with the authority and profile of a self-standing academic college within the University of Arizona.

Location for “Off Axis Holography”

Physics Office Staff -1990’s

in the 1980’s, the growth of administrative burdens led to an increase in departmental staff.  Among those helping to manage student services were Joyce Cox and Mark Nelson.

Physics Emeritus Lunch Group

For some years there has been a weekly lunch meeting of dozen or so retired physics professors.  It’s an informal gathering and there is usually no agenda.   I’ll post information about this group from time to time.  For starters, here are photographs taken in 2010 when Don Meyer was showing a large polyhedron that he had built in his wood shop.  Dan Sinclair was in town for this particular meeting.

Clockwise, from the head of the table: Tris Coffin, Ted Hecht (checked shirt), Byron Roe, Joachim Janecke, Dan Sinclair, Don Meyer (checked shirt), Larry Jones, Sam Krimm, Jack Van Der Velde


I will add photos that show other members who are/were regular attendees.