James Chilton Thompson was born June 14, 1930, in Tarrant County, Texas, to Fred Moon and Anna Chilton Thompson. Both his parents were born in Tennessee. Fred was a carpenter. Married in 1929, the couple were 55 and 42 respectively when Jim was born.
“At Arlington Heights High School,” Jim says, “I found my career, ‘my life’--in physics, thanks to a forced science requirement and Miss Minnie Behrens (MA at UT in astronomy). I had to take a science course, however, I thought biology and chemistry too messy, so I chose physics. I found the combination of mathematics and experiment exactly what I wanted and have never regretted that decision at all. Behrens was also an inspirational teacher who drew her physics students into the lab at 7 a.m., an hour before school. She made even the simplest part of physics exciting to me. Our experiments were certainly limited in those days, but I found them fun; the math was also limited, but formed a synthesis with the ideas that drew me into the world. I can recall a question to the effect that: ‘mst + mst = mst + mst’ where we were to explain what it meant. After we floundered about, she led us to recognize that she was stating a heat transfer where the heating and cooling must balance and the m, s, and t were the different mass, specific heat and temperature change for the objects in question (without any identifying subscripts for the different objects). Maybe not for everyone, but it worked for me. As I was always lacking in religion, I saw the presence of a Bible question on her exams as her only flaw. I was annoyed that she always asked us to quote a verse, I used “Jesus wept".
“I attended Texas Christian University for my undergraduate studies. My father died in September of the year I entered TCU, and as I was my parents’ only child, my mother depended on me greatly. (He graduated in 1952 from TCU.)I attended Rice University between 1952–1956 for graduate work. I had applied at only two or three places; Duke is the only other one I recall. After I told Duke I was not coming, they raised the offer, but it was too far from Texas and my mother. I went to Rice so that visits back to Fort Worth would be easier. Fellow TCU students, John Henrick and then Theron Smith, had gone from TCU to Rice to do graduate work. Neither stayed long. Theron lasted a year until his obligations to wife and child forced him to return to Fort Worth and work at Convair. Their fate might have spelled rejection for my application, however, I was accepted before Theron left. I was guided by some of the TCU faculty, especially Sherer in math. So far as I can recall, no one from my high school went to Rice. In 1952, Rice was considered a premier school in the South and Southwest. Rice was the only real PhD option for me.
“I worked at the Naval Research Lab in the summer after earning my BA. I arrived at Rice late in registration week because I had worked over the Labor Day weekend so as to pick up a little more money. I had the impression they were afraid I would not appear at all. Sometime immediately after I arrived, there was a reception for the physics students in the garden outside of Cohen House, complete with snacks and greetings from faculty and their wives. I talked some with Professor Tom Bonner's wife, and she treated me like a real human instead of a student and totally wowed me.
”I had a TA that initially paid $84.10 per month after taxes and Social Security were deducted. It had to cover living in Houston, some clothes and the train rides back to Fort Worth. There was not much left over. The school soon recognized my money problems and I was assigned a 1.5 TA appointment and some extra pay for the extra work. Toward the end, Professor Squire, my supervisor, gave me a Shell fellowship, perhaps $125/mo and no teaching.
“One first year physics teacher was excellent: Bud Rorschach was fresh out of MIT and taught an excellent thermodynamic/statistical mechanics course (he was still teaching and still excellent when my sons, Kelvin and Alan, were there in the 1980s). Gerry Phillips taught a mathematical physics course. He used Rice Professor Houston’s book on the subject, but mainly he watched us work problems at the chalk board and commented. I knew a little bit of the subject from a reading course that used the books by Slater and Frank (from MIT, published in the green-backed series from McGraw-Hill that dominated physics books then). I had taken the course at TCU from Professor Morgan, so I could keep up even without much guidance from Phillips. Rorschach used a book by Morse at MIT. He was an inspired and inspiring teacher and I learned a lot-—not quite enough, though, as I got a B (2 in the scoring used then; I matched an A) the first semester. I had set myself the goal of an A as a test of whether I should do theoretical or experimental physics. I (and the faculty, apparently) decided on experimental physics.
“The process involved the faculty (all 15-20 of them) sitting down some afternoon in the spring and talking over the pros and cons of each student and then deciding who would go where. We were not asked much, as I recall. Certainly, I had a poor idea of what I would do—certainly I had a poor idea as to what could be done outside of nuclear physics. At any rate, I was assigned to Rorschach. But it did not stick as when Charles Squire returned from leave in the Fall he said Rorschach was too young to supervise a student, and I was given to him. Slavery did not end in 1865.
“I was unhappy for a variety of reasons working with Squire, but had no choice. He did, though, make one positive contribution to my life: he invited his students to his home whenever there was a party for a visitor. and I did the same here at UT. My MA project that evolved into my PhD project, Superconducting Transition in Sn, was started by Kurt Mendelssohn during a year-long visit before I reached Rice. And though I was Squire’s student, Rorschach was a lot of help. Jim's 1956 dissertation was entitled, The Paramagnetic Effect in Superconducting Tin, Indium, and Thallium. and was supervised by Professor C. F. Squire.
“Despite Rorschach, teaching was not always great; however, Larry Biedenharn was excellent and well organized, though he never used notes. The lectures contained so much material that Joe Price, Lyndon Taylor, and I organized a collective note taking: one took down everything from the board, another everything he said, and I took notes on what I thought he was doing. Immediately after class, we would go to an empty seminar room and put our notes together into a coherent whole, correcting his occasional missing π or 2 or 1/2. I learned a great deal about nuclear theory, Clebsch-Gordan coefficients and other algebraic approaches to quantum mechanics, but, as it was my last year, I had too little time from research to make above a B. I asked him about dropping, but we agreed upon a B if I just would keep trying. Squire published a book on low temperature physics and used it in a class. In my opinion, it was not very good, many derivations in it were right at the beginning, wrong in the middle, but still gave the right answer. I learned more from the books by Mendelssohn and by Schoenberg.
Carol May O'Connor and I married in June of 1955; about a year before I finished my PhD. That fall, I had been interviewed at Rice for a job at Los Alamos, and a trip was scheduled for early 1956. That would satisfy the idea of being close to Texas and both Carol May’s and my parents, but had the disadvantages of an unknown boss and the high probability of weapons work. Around Thanksgiving of 1955, there was a call to Rice from Emmett Hudspeth at UT with an inquiry about someone to work at low temperatures. I never knew how that area was chosen, though Walter Millett was working on the fringes at least part time. So, in early December, I drove up to Austin to give a colloquium on my work and explore the possibility of a job. Early in the interview, I came to realize that no one knew enough about superconductivity to understand the talk I had planned, so I reorganized everything to make the talk one on superconductivity instead of my own work. Much later, Wilson Nolle complimented me on the fine talk. I was also asked if I would be interested in an offer—with the stipulation that if they made an offer, I would accept it and not even go to Los Alamos for the interview. After some discussion with Carol May, I said "yes."
At right we see Jim and his mom, Anna, at the time of his graduation, TCU (BS) or Rice (PhD)?
Jim’s University of Texas Years
“In 1956, immediately following my graduation, I moved to Austin and the University of Texas. My early research at UT included properties of superconductivity, but I then moved to other low temperature experiments involving semiconductors. After only a very few years, a chance comment from my chemist wife, Carol May, introduced me to solutions of anhydrous ammonia and alkali metals that dominated my research for the next 30 years. (She later was co-author of a paper on the structure of solid Li(NH3)4. Solutions containing metal concentrations below, say, 5 molecular percent, were ionic in their electrical behavior while those above, say, 6 % were metalliC These solutions were not well regarded in the physics community in the middle 1950s because of a foolish report of superconductivity. The summary paper I wrote with Morrel Cohen in the middle 1960s served to make the subject respectable.
“My work began at about the same time that Nevill Mott started talking about metal-insulator transitions, so there was a community for the ammonia work to be embedded. And I got acquainted with Mott. My measurements of the liquid (of most of the alkali metals in NH3) included: phase diagram, resistivity, Hall effect, thermal conductivity, density, positron annihilation, optical constants, velocity of ultrasound, compressibility, and chemical potentials and critical exponents. From the beginning, Peter Antoniewicz was an important coworker. Uzi Even became an active collaborator in the mid-1970s and Cleon Yates's magic glassblowing made many measurements possible that otherwise might never have succeeded.
“A mixture of 4 parts NH3 with 1 part Li yielded a metallic solid below the freezing point of 88.8 K. My measurements on the solid included: the phase diagram, resistivity, Hall coefficient, magnetoresistance and thermoelectric power, and heat capacity. Much of this work was collected in a review of the ammonia-metal solutions published in 1976 by Oxford Press.
“As the ammonia work wound down, my work turned, slightly, to metal mixtures (such as Ga-Te, In-Te, Cs-Tl and Na-Cs) that displayed electronic phase changes, in some ways similar to those in ammonia-metal mixtures. In another detour, I worked on studies of electron injection into fluid NH3 from metals and semiconductors, which led to estimates of the band structure of NH3. These many investigations resulted in about 35 PhD dissertations and well over 100 refereed publications. I also organized several conferences in this general area. I was chosen a Fellow of the American Physical Society in the 1970s.”
Jim's enthusiasm in the classroom and his cheerful banter were much appreciated by students. The 1958 photo, at right, provides the hard evidence for collegial treatment of students. He maintained that his first love was research, but teaching was clearly a close second. His contributions to classroom and laboratory teaching included: introducing statistical mechanics into a course in thermodynamics, re-structuring and teaching the upper-division modern physics laboratory course. He always employed undergraduates in his lab and was especially sensitive to making sure women undergraduate and graduate students had research opportunities. David J. Cowen, a student of Harold Hanson, tells a story about Jim in the classroom, “In the fall of 1957, I was taking Physics 452 from Jim Thompson. I think the name of the course was Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism. One October day, he came into the classroom and slammed his book and notes on the desk. Sputnik had just been launched and it seemed as if he thought it was our fault. American science had been upstaged and Jim wasn’t happy. I knew from then on that the course was going to get much harder.” Jim and his wife established the The Carol May and James C Thompson Scholarship in Physics which supported an undergraduate physics major, with the proviso “Among equally qualified students, preference shall be given to women students.”
Jim retired to half-time beginning September 1992 and taught his last class in spring 1994. Jim's wife, Carol May, died in early 1995 after a long illness.
In 2000, Jim married Kathleen I. Wilson, a school librarian. Kathleen has written occasional articles and essays which have been published in newspapers and magazines. Jim and Kathleen have traveled (see photo of Jim below) to a dozen countries for fun. They volunteer in Democratic political campaigns in this country. A photo from their wedding is at right.
Ben Younglove, Thompson’s student. Ben contributed the following story and some of the pictures in the album below.
“Regarding stories, I thought of the time that Bill Wollett appeared in your lab doorway one morning. (I know I told this to you not too long ago.) He said, "I am a low temp technician. Do you have anything for me to do?" You immediately took him over to the Collins LHe cryostat and related your efforts to make liquid Helium. You had put thermocouples in the well—looking for hot spots, I think. And then you went off to teach a class. When you returned after class Bill W. was standing there leaning casually on the Collins, and you sensed something big was up. Taking the flashlight you peered into the cryostat to see LIQUID HELIUM. You almost threw the flashlight, but your mood was now too happy to do that. I can't recall all that Bill said he had done, but implied that removing the thermocouples was a large part of the fix. “
More stories from Jim's other students following the Photo Album below.
THOMPSON, James Chilton James Chilton Thompson, age 88, of Austin, passed away July 16, 2018 with family and friends at his side. Jim was a beloved physicist, researcher, educator, husband, father, mentor, and friend. He enriched the lives of all who met him. Jim was born June 14, 1930, in Fort Worth, the only child of Fredrick Moon Thompson and Anna Chilton Thompson. He graduated from Texas Christian University in 1952 with a BA in Physics. He continued his Physics studies at Rice University, receiving an MA in 1954 and a PhD in 1956. He met his first wife, Carol May O'Connor Thompson, at Rice, and they married in 1955. They moved to Austin in 1956, for Jim to join the faculty of the Physics Department at the University of Texas. Jim and Carol May made their lives and careers and together in Austin for thirty-nine blissful years, until Carol May's untimely passing in 1995. They raised three sons, Kelvin, Denis, and Alan. Jim led the family in many adventures of traveling, sailing, canoeing, and enjoying the culture of a growing city.
Jim married the second love of his life, Kathleen Izod Wilson in 2000. Together they traveled the world, pursuing their mutual love of art and fine dining. They were active supporters of the Democratic party, and campaigned for their candidates both locally and nationally. At home in Austin, they enjoyed sharing time with a wide network of friends and family. Jim first discovered his love for physics at Arlington Heights High School in Fort Worth, inspired by a dedicated science teacher. He pursued this passion until his retirement in 1995.
During his long career studying condensed matter physics, he authored the book Electrons in Liquid Ammonia, and published over 200 refereed articles and book chapters. He supervised over 40 PhD dissertations, and welcomed countless undergraduates into his lab, office, and home. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. After his retirement, Jim shifted his research efforts toward genealogy. He traced many branches of his, Carol May's, and Kathleen's family trees, following some leads as far as England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Germany, and New Zealand. Jim was preceded in death by his parents, Fred and Anna, and his first love, Carol May.
Jim is survived by his wife, Kathleen Wilson, and by his sons and their families: Kelvin and Susan Thompson, and daughters Charlotte and Molly; Denis Thompson and Katy Brown and daughter Lark; and Alan Thompson and Sarah Wayland, and sons Justin and Oliver. Jim also dearly loved Kathleen's children and their families: Margaret and Darryl Roberts, and their children Alec and Katie; Richard Jenkins and Susan Hays, and their son Max; and Robert Jenkins and Claire Mitchell, and their son Colin. A memorial reception will be held at 2:00 p.m. July 28, at Green Pastures (Marion Hall), 811 West Live Oak St, Austin. Memorial contributions can be made to the James C Thompson Endowed Fellowship in Physics: cns.utexas.edu/jim-thompson-fellowship.
|James C Thompson Photo Album
(Thanks to Kelvin Thompson for some of the photos in the album)
|James C Thompson's Students (PhD and Master's)
(Thanks to J. J. Mack for making these available)
Billy Joe Sandlin PhD 1960
Billy Joe Sandlin was born January 10, 1927. He served in the US Navy during World War II and Korea as an electronics technician radar 2. He was a member of the Physics faculty at Texas Tech University from 1960 to his retirement in 1990. Dr. Sandlin passed away on September 12, 1999, in Lubbock TX.
Ben Younglove PhD 1961
(Other UT Degrees: BS Physics 1951)
“I was his second graduate student; actually, I thought I was the first but then Jim would tell me “no, you were the second.” Jim was my pick of the physics faculty; he was in low-temperature work. He had a good personality, and I was almost as old as he was due to my Navy service. There was some concern about me having proper respect for my supervisor but that was never a problem. (Check with Jim.)
I fondly remember Professor Jim Thompson, the University of Texas, and Austin. What a combination!
It was Jim who put me onto my future place of work, the Cryogenics Lab at the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder. He had a copy of Physics Today which had an actual advertisement for the place. It look good to both of us and so it was. I spent my career at NBS. My favorite contribution was the work on the properties of liquid hydrogen. We published the results in several papers and a couple of monographs or books.”
Paul G. Varlashkin PhD 1963 (Deceased: August 28, 1931 - April 17, 2017) Link to obituary: PaulVarlashkin
(Other UT degrees: BS Physics, 1952, MA Physics 1954)
Paul Varlashkin was a Professor at Physics, first at Louisiana State University from 1963 through 1972, where he oversaw the Positron Annihilation Laboratory, and then at East Carolina University from 1972 to his retirement in 1995. Dr. Varlashkin published many papers, including in Physical Review A, Physical Review B, and the Journal of Chemical Physics.
William “Bill” J. McDonald PhD 1964
Bio and memory from this alumnus forthcoming
David S. Kyser PhD - 1965
(Other UT degrees: BS Chemistry 1958, MA Physics 1963)
Occupation listed as “Physicist,” Employer Unknown
William T. Cronenwett PhD - 1966
Retired Consulting Professional Engineer
Kent McCormack PhD 1966–(Deceased May 26, 1939 - Jun 17, 2012 )
(Other UT degrees: Bs Physics, ’61)
Kent McCormack married his wife of over 50 years, Linda, in 1961 while they were both students at UT. Kent then earned his PhD in physics under Jim Thompson at UT Austin in May of 1966. His first patent came in 1967, a simple dockside device for detecting oil spills three miles off the coast. The patent is still in use for that purpose today. In 1966, Kent achieved an understanding of what makes infrared work, and, by 1977, he built Texas Instruments' first infrared lab. He became TI's senior tech in 1979 and a TI fellow in 1985. Kent passed away in June of 2012.
Don E. Bowen PhD 1966
Retired senior level administrator at UT - El Paso, Missouri State University, Stephen F. Austin State University and the United Arab Emirates University.
Reynaldo Morales PhD 1967
Santa Fe, NM
Physicist, Retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory
Rey was a graduate student of Walter Millett. Rey writes of Jim,"Jim had a laboratory in the basement of the old physics building and his lab was next to Walter’s lab in Room 10. Jim Thompson was an outstanding and enthusiastic professor. Many of us graduate students envied his students because he was so supportive of them. Jim would periodically organize weekend parties for his and Walter’s graduate students."
Jerry A. Morgan PhD 1967
(Other UT degrees: BS Physics 1962, MA Physics 1965)
Boulder City, NV
Paul L. Oertel PhD 1967
Senior Research Fellow, EI Dupont De Nemoirs and Co.
Robert C. Cate PhD 1967
Colorado Springs, CO
Robert D. Nasby PhD 1968
Rondon (“Don”) L. Schroeder PhD 1968
Robert B. Somoano PhD -1969
La Canada, CA
Retired, Jet Propulsion Lab/CalTech
Henry Teoh PhD 1970
(Other UT Degrees: Unknown masters, 1966)
Old Westbury, NY
Professor of Chemistry and Physics, SUNY Old Westbury
Edwin W. Le Master PhD 1970
Las Vegas, NM
Emeritus Dean, UT Pan-American College of Science & Engineering
John A. Vanderhoff PhD 1970
I obtained a master's degree from Wichita State University (1967) before transferring to UT. While at WSU, I completed the ROTC program and was delayed from active duty to pursue graduate studies. This delay was only granted for a year at a time and thus, I felt it important to select a thesis advisor that had a good time record for completion of a degree. This consideration, along with the enjoyable solid state physics class I had with Jim, prompted me to ask about a degree under his guidance.
We settled on the topic of “Hall Effect in Metal-Ammonia solutions.” In my experimental hindsight, this was a poor choice. The Hall signal is tiny; orders of magnitude smaller than a variety of noise sources. Moreover, the sample systems were highly reactive, especially when measurements were done with metal electrodes. During the course of completing Hall measurements, a postdoc (Walter Mueller) was finishing optical measurements in preparation for starting work at DuPont. This work interested me and so we continued the optical property measurements to further fill in Mueller's effort.
Here, I was impressed with the ease of obtaining experimental measurements spectroscopically. This experience influenced my way of doing experimental diagnostics in later years.
About half of the time I was in Jim's lab, he was gone; off to study amorphous semiconductors with Ovshinsky at Energy Conversion Devices. Peter Antoniewicz loosely supervised the graduate students for this period.
There was a time Jim almost kicked me out of the program. It involved starting an alkali metal fire in the lab. My involvement was not known until Edwin LeMaster, suffering from a guilty conscience, confessed. His confession included naming me. The initial verdict was that LeMaster was let off since he confessed, but since I didn't confess I was out. I then related my side of the story about saying don't do it, but after Edwin's insistence about seeing what would happen, I decided to participate rather than leave him alone. The participation mostly involved assistance with putting out the fire. I had high school experience in lighting an alkali metal fire and knew how difficult they are to extinguish. The fire was put out with a lot of sand and gravel and that would have been the end of story if not for the confession. After hearing this, Jim decided to take a day to make a decision. Whew, I was allowed to continue the program.
The time I did spend doing thesis work with Jim helped prepared me for things to come. After graduating, I served two years active duty at the Ballistic Research Laboratory of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. I was subsequently hired as a civilian and had a thirty-year career there. During this time the Ballistic Research Laboratory was reorganized into the Army Research Laboratory. One highlight of my career was guiding the studies of National Research Postdoctoral Fellows.
William “Bill” H. McKnight PhD 1975
San Diego, CA
(Retired?) Physicist, Space & Naval Warfare Systems Center
Kenneth E. Bailey PhD 1973
Bennett A. Joiner PhD 1975
Retired, Freescale Semiconductor
Paul L. Sherrell PhD 1975
Silver City, NM
Retired, Senior Project Engineer, Freeport-McMoRan
Shelie M. Granstaff PhD 1975
Retired, Bell Labs
Richard “Rick” D. Sivan PhD 1977
The grad student period with Jim and his other students was immensely impactful upon my life. Beyond the stimulating physics activity, we enjoyed canoe trips and swim parties, courtesy of Carol May, Jim and their sons. It was special that Jim welcomed us to his home to meet renowned solid state physicists such as John Ziman, Neil Ashcroft and Morrel Cohen, among many others. As I recall, we also met the PhD supervisor of Brian Josephson who told us at a gathering at Jim’s home how Brian, as a grad student during a colloquium at Cambridge, queried Professor Meissner (colloquium speaker) whether he had applied a general relativistic correction to Meissner’s data. The correction resolved the curious discrepancy in the data. Afterward, the famous visitor asked Josephson’s professor, “Who was that faculty member who asked the brilliant question?” and was astonished to hear that Josephson was merely a student!
Jim was known for his rapid gait. On those occasions when we students accompanied him to some campus destination or to lunch, matching his stride was sometimes a challenge even for us twenty-somethings.
Jim welcomed requests for consultation about matters of physics and personal issues. Jim offered helpful advice in all areas. He was, and remains, my dear friend.
On a sabbatical from University of Tel Aviv in 1975, Uzi Even worked closely with Jim, other faculty and the grad students. Subsequently, he made other visits to work with Jim on experiments and joint professional papers. Uzi demonstrated his brilliance in areas of not only physics but in electronic instrumentation and measurement techniques.
Uzi came to Austin for my PhD dissertation defense/cruelty session. I have little recollection of the defense inquisition itself, other than that Jim, Uzi and Len Kleinman were the chief antagonists. That builds character, or so I am told. My sweaty palms and armpits were undeniable evidence of the stress.
My postdoc at the University of Tel Aviv resulted not only in productive research with Uzi Even and his students, but an introduction by Uzi to the woman (Rachel) who in time agreed to marry me before my return to the States. Uzi asks provocative, insightful questions. He has a low tolerance for sloth and those who waste his time. Uzi exhibits a sharp sense of humor and enjoys laughing robustly. He has contributed significantly to various fields of solid state physics and to the social and political conscience of the country that he loves. Uzi remains my close friend.
Prior to the conclusion of my postdoc, Jim’s strong network at Bell Labs (Murray Hill) resulted in an interview for me and then a job offer. Rachel and I moved from Israel to NJ in 1980. What an exciting place Bell Labs was prior to the divestiture! I only spent two years at Murray Hill before we moved back to Israel, but the connections forged at that prestigious institution remained strong and professionally beneficial throughout my career.
The bulk of my professional life was in the semiconductor industry, primarily at Motorola Semiconductor. I was sent back to Israel by Motorola at one point to run a circuit design center for three years. In 2005, I joined a California company, International Rectifier, where I worked until I retired.
My retirement led to our return to Austin where our two daughters live. Rachel and I are spending more time each year in Israel visiting our son and Rachel’s family. We have three children and welcomed our first and second grandchildren in 2017.
Donald M. Trotter PhD 1977
I came to UT in the fall of 1973, and joined Jim’s lab provisionally in the summer of 1974. Paul Sherrill, Bennett Joiner, and Shelie Granstaff were well advanced in their projects when the new guy showed up, but they were all, particularly Shelie, gracious and helpful about showing me the ropes. Jim gave me a couple of small projects to see if I could do lab work without hurting myself or anyone else. I muddled thru with no permanent injuries and both eyebrows, and Jim took me on un-provisionally in the fall. Chris Krohn, and Rick (Swenumson) Sivan joined at around that same time, and Uzi Even made the first of his series of extremely valuable visits from Israel.
Before I settled into my PhD project, I made some measurements of the pressure dependence of the optical absorption constant of amorphous Cd6Ge3As11. While disassembling the pressure cell, I discovered that if one were not careful, the sapphire window could drop down into a position which jammed the plug which had to be unscrewed to get the window and sample out. Bennett Joiner advised me to get the shop to fabricate a tool with a long lever arm and force the plug out, which would probably wreck the window. (It worked; don’t remember what happened to the window, but I learned that sometimes brute force is the answer). After sweating for a few hours, I went to Jim to tell him what had happened. His response: “The only way to never break anything is to never go into the lab. And that’s not what we want.” I found more than one occasion to use Jim’s line later in my career.
I eventually completed my thesis project on the optical properties of molten semiconductor alloys with a lot of help from Uzi, who could design electronic circuits in his head. I’d found time between experimental runs to write a few science fiction stories, and even managed to sell a couple, but had kept the fact quiet for some reason. The name card outside Jim’s office read “J.C. Thompson”. Someone had defaced it to read “J.(esus) C.(hrist) Thompson” and the traces of the editorial were still visible. This worked its way into a story called “Marsman Meets the Almighty” featuring “A.(l)M.(ighty) Thorsen”. (This may have factored into the reason I kept my writing activities private.) But even before WikiLeaks, information wanted to be free, and it became apparent that Jim had read the story when, as the last question of my thesis defense, he asked me a question about it! Um, well, you see…
After that memorable defense, I went to Cornell for a postdoc with Al Sievers (thanks entirely to Jim’s contacts), met and married Karen, and we moved to Corning when I went to work in the R&D labs of Corning Glass Works (later renamed Corning, Inc., despite me voting my stock against the change). Karen had just completed her masters in pharmacology, and commuted back and forth to Ithaca while working on her PhD in bacteriology. When she finished and got a job at Cornell, we moved back to near Ithaca, buying an old drafty farm house on 35 acres so that she could have horses. The house had been rented to students (including Hugh Anthony Cregg III, who later called himself Huey Lewis, and several members of Orleans) for 20+ years, so we learned way too much about home renovation (pro tip: your most useful tool is a check book). I commuted to Corning while Karen taught in the Vet School. I found that Corning’s management had a short attention span and was easily distracted by shiny objects, so, in a checkered career, I worked on a large variety of projects including photochromic and photosensitive glasses, capacitors, metal monoliths for emission control, glass-ceramic pipe coatings for the petrochemical industry, thin-film transistors for flat panel displays, GRIN lenses, glass polarizers, and a bunch of stuff I’ve forgotten. I wrote a couple of popular articles for Scientific American, published a few scientific papers, and invented some things that got patented. I got to travel to, and collaborate with, Corning’s labs in France and Japan, and was visiting Samsung-Corning in Seoul, South Korea, on September 11, 2001.
I took early retirement in 2002, wrote some SF novels, sold none (a successful novelist, John Scalzi, is right: “Kids, take it from me. It’s not the writing of a novel that breaks your heart, it’s the attempt to sell it.”). Eventually I abandoned writing and turned to volunteering, which pays the same. I’ve been heavily involved with our local Friends of the Library for the last 8–10 years, serving as Secretary, President, and (next year) Treasurer. We run one of the largest book sales in the country with annual revenues over $500,000; the profits go to support local libraries and groups promoting literacy. Check out our web site: booksale.org. I’ve also recently been appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Tompkins County Public Library. No kids, sadly no longer any horses, but two cats and two dogs. And the house renovations are nearly done!”
David L. Johnston MA 1977
“As I was reading your email I realize how much my studies under Dr. Thompson have influenced my career. My first job was building and designing a particle accelerator only 2" in diameter, using the tritium-deuterium fusion to produce a neutron for logging of oil wells. Another job was building the Applied Material etch machines for memory chip fabrication. Then, just this year, I have taken a position at the University of Texas as a physics and mathematics tutor in the athletic department.
I am very thankful to Dr. Thompson the other students in his lab for all that I learned about physics, operating a lab and earning my masters degree.”
Randall B. Davis MA 1978
ENT Specialist, Fayetteville Ear Nose and Throat Clinic
Christine E. Krohn PhD -1978
Retired Senior Research Associate, Exxon Mobil
Tai-Sone Yih PhD 1981
Professor of Physics, National Central University
Daniel K. Blanks PhD 1982
Another fun story -- the coaxial arrangement of the electrodes was not the original design. The first experimental apparatus had the metal electrode and the wire screen poking into an evacuated glass tube. The light was beamed through the glass tube. This arrangement acted as an antenna picking up all of the electronic noise emitted by the strobe light we used as the first light source. The noise was horrendous and killed the initial measurement of the signal. I tried shielding the setup as much as I could, but it was still a big problem.
Thompson suggested I ask Uzi Even for suggestions. I always found going to Uzi to be rather daunting. He had a razor sharp mind and without really meaning to had a way of making you feel that whatever question you asked him was so simple that anyone should know the answer. Still, I was desperate, so I went to his office and presented the problem to him.
I figured he would take some time to think about it. And he did.
For like, 30 seconds.
Then he sketched the coaxial electrode setup. Beautiful. Elegant. Simple. Effective. Something I would have never thought of. It took him less than a minute. To this day, he is one of the smartest persons I ever met.
Victor M. Anderson PhD 1982
Wellington, New Zealand
Principal Advisor, eHealth Programmes: National Health IT Board of New Zealand
Raul Fainchtein PhD 1983
Principal Scientist, John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab
Glenn T. Bennett PhD 1984
Scientist, Lockheed Martin
Rebecca “Becky” B. Coffman PhD 1986
Principal Member of Technical Staff, AT&T Labs
Gayle K. Weber MA 1987
Broken Arrow, OK
Self Employed Analyst
Eduardo Gonzalez Hernandez MA 1987
Juan Carlos Villagrán PhD 1987
As promised, please find enclosed some photos of the lab and in particular, Raul Fainchtein´s experiment in 1984. I took these pictures before I joined Jim Thompon´s group as a PhD student. You may remember that, at that time, a PhD student had to take the big seven courses, one of which was experimental physics. For my experimental physics course, I was introduced to Raul´s experiment in optical properties of molten materials. This was the first time I saw a real experimental physics set up.
One of the most amazing things I saw in Professor Thompson lab was the huge inventory of chemical elements in their most pure state, like sodium, potassium, selenium, tellurium, gallium, silicon, and other chemical elements. For me this was amazing!
I will always be grateful to Professor Thompson for allowing me the opportunity to conduct three types of experiments while I was in his laboratory: one dealing with optical properties of molten materials (Raul´s experiment), another one dealing with thin films (my PhD dissertation on surface plasmons); and another one on photo'emission of thin films of silver. I will also be forever grateful to Prof. Thompson for helping me start a research programme in experimental physics in Guatemala.
Some of the PhD students I interacted with during my time at Prof. Thompson's lab were Glenn Bennett, Becky Anderson, Hsue Tao Chou, Mr. Kim, and Thomas Koschmieder. And being able to learn how to conduct experiments in physics in his lab was the experience of a lifetime for me.
Douglas Plotkin MA 1988
Director, Deloitte Consulting
Chi-Woo Kim PhD 1989
Seoul, South Korea
President & CTO APS Holdings, Adjunct Professor at Seoul National University
Dorothy “Kitty” Knebel Emerson MA 1990
Position and Employer Unknown
Hsueh T. Chou PhD 1990
Associate Professor of Electronic Engineering, National Yunlin University of Science and Technolgy
Thomas H. Koschmieder PhD 1991
Staff Scientist, Cirrus Logic
Paul Schumann BS 1959; MA 1960
Futurist & Innovation Consultant, Glocal Vantage Inc.
David J. Cowan PhD 1965
Recorded in Physics Department History as a "student of Harold Hanson" with connections to Thompson
Katherine A. Holcomb PhD 1986
UT alumna, Physics PhD Advised by R. Matzner. Co-authored paper with JCT.
Mary Edgerton BS 1976
Associate Professor of Pathology, MD Anderson Cancer Center
Donald “Don” L. Hampton BS 1986
Associate Research Professor of Space Physics, University of Alaska Fairbanks
David Reitze PhD 1990
Executive Director, LIGO Experiment
“Jim served on my qualifying exam and thesis committees. He gave me a very hard time during my qualifying exam on a particular point related to ultrafast plasmon recombination, challenging me on many points during my presentation. I recall it as one of the most difficult experiences I’ve had in front of a scientific audience. I honestly thought I was going to fail my qualifier! I didn’t, though, and passed thanks to Jim’s support. I interacted with him from time to time during my PhD research, and Jim was instrumental in supporting a nomination for an Outstanding PhD Dissertation award for my research.”
Uzi Even Post-Doc 1976
Professor Emeritus of Physical Chemistry, Tel Aviv University
”I met Jim at a conference in Israel in 1975. While strolling on the Galilean Hills we became fast friends, and a year later I joined his group as a postdoc, and kept coming for many years later as a fellow scientist in his group.
I always enjoyed the scientific discovery atmosphere that he managed to impart to his group and enjoyed many discussions and arguments about science, politics, social events and extra-curricular activities that he organized. I felt like being part of a family group organized around his vital personality and relentless push to excellence in what he does.”
|JAMES C. THOMPSON ENDOWED GRADUATE FELLOWSHIP IN PHYSICS
Friends, former students and family of Emeritus Professor Jim Thompson have joined together to establish the James C. Thompson Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Physics. This endowment will not only honor Dr. Thompson’s teaching and research but also the invaluable friendship and mentoring he shared with students across his 40 year career at the University of Texas at Austin. Funds distributed annually from the James C. Thompson Endowed Graduate Fellowship in Physics will be used to support graduate students studying Physics at the University of Texas at Austin.
For more details and information on contributing, please click here: JC Thompson Endowed Graduate Fellowship.
Standing: Rey Morales. Seated from left: Mary Edgerton (B.S. 1976); David Johnston (M.A. 1977); Bennett Joiner (Ph.D. 1975); Raul Fainchtein (Ph.D. 1983); Jim Thompson; Dan Blanks (Ph.D. 1982); Paul Oertel (Ph.D. 1967); Don Bowen (Ph.D. 1966); Edwin LeMaster (Ph.D. 1970) Seated on floor: Rick Sivan (Ph.D. 1977) Occasion: May 6, 2017 at the celebration honoring Jim with the establishment of the James C. Thompson Graduate Fellowship at the home of Eva and Peter Riley
|Photos from Celebration of Establishment of the James C. Thompson Graduate Fellowship in Physics
(Thanks to Rick Sivan for these photos)
|Jim Thompson Album