Professor Emeritus of Physics
In his autobiographical essay, Einstein wrote "Here I sit in order to write something like my own obituary." I feel much the same way. But here goes. I was born in Brooklyn, NY, and lived there until age 11, when my family - my parents and three younger brothers - moved to Manhattan. By this time I had outgrown the cowboys and fireman phase and had already become interested in science. My hero and role model was Albert Einstein. I guess that was in part because he was considered the smartest man in the world, a physicist, and physicists had helped end the war. So that was what I wanted to be. New York City had three high schools that specialized in science, with admission based on a competitive exam. I took the exam and was admitted to the Manhattan school, Stuyvesant High School. The physics curriculum at SHS was crippled by the outdated NY State Regents requirements (levers, pulleys, etc.) It was a real disappointment to me, and it was mathematics that turned me on. I joined the Math Team which won the NYC championship. I won the outstanding math student award at graduation. From Stuyvesant I went off to college at Cornell. My parents couldn't have afforded the tuition at an Ivy League school (the tuition was $750 per year, room was an additional $250), but I won a NY State scholarship, which Cornell supplemented to full tuition. I began trying to do a triple major: physics, math, and astronomy. Eventually, the latter two became minors. At Cornell I got my first experience teaching. The Math department was shorthanded and Prof. Mark Kac, one of my favorite teachers, offered me the job of teaching introductory calculus. I really enjoyed the experience, and it confirmed my desire to pursue an academic career. During summers I worked on Wall Street, which was walking distance from my home. There were no NSF programs like REUs. But between my junior and senior years I got a summer job at IBM's World Headquarters via a national competition. I learned computer programming (assembly language) on one of the first large-scale scientific mainframe computers, the IBM 704. I helped write some routines for a new higher-level language called Fortran, which was then under development at IBM. This experience almost started me on a second career! Following Cornell I went off to Harvard to work for a Ph.D. I was lured there by a friend, Gordon Baym, who told me about the great work being done by Julian Schwinger. Unfortunately, upon my arrival, I discovered that Schwinger was in the second year of a three-year cycle of courses, ostensibly quantum mechanics but highly individual in language and methods (based on variational principles and "measurement algebra"). Although I had studied QM at Cornell with Philip Morrison and Hans Bethe, I was still mystified by many aspects of the subject (and I probably still am today!), so I decided to begin with first-year QM taught by Wendell Furry -- an excellent if traditional course -- but with an impedance mismatch with Schwinger. Thus it was a couple of years before I could approach Schwinger and ask him to direct my Ph.D. research. I was also able to use my programming skills, rare at the time, to help a particle physics group analyze data on Harvard's Univac I computer. When I finally began to work with Schwinger I chose two problems but after much effort, neither of them worked out. By this time I had used up my time as a full-time grad student and had taken a job in industry at a company called AVCO. I worked with a small very talented talented group of mathematicians in a department called "Scientific Problems." My job was to interface between the scientists and engineers and the mathematicians and computer programmers. The atmosphere was very stimulating and I rose to become head of the section. After my first year at AVCO I got married. My wife, Eileen, also a New Yorker, found adjustment to life in the Boston area easy. After a couple of years the company started deviating from working on the space program to working on weapons for the Vietnam War, which I strongly opposed. I decided to make another push for a Ph.D. dissertation so that I could return to academia. Schwinger suggested that I look for an application of his Coulomb Green's function which he derived using group theoretical methods. I applied the method to evaluating the Lamb shift, and found that a previous result was slightly in error (but since confirmed). The thesis was accepted and published. With my new Ph.D. in hand I left AVCO and accepted a post-doc (at about half my AVCO salary) at New York University, to work with Larry Spruch. Schwinger recommended this because of very interesting work Spruch had been doing on variational principles in scattering theory. Here began the next theme in my career: scattering theory and the quantum three-body problem. Larry was an ideal advisor -- brilliant, avuncular, and kind. New York was an excellent place to be. Not only were there exciting things going on in the physics world at NYU, Columbia, Rockefeller University, City University -- more than I could keep up with -- but top physicists from all over the world frequently passed through New York and I got to meet many of them. My wife and I lived in a 19th floor faculty apartment owned by NYU, and enjoyed living in Greenwich Village with its boutiques, ethnic restaurants, and varied nightlife. Our son, Ken, was born the year after we arrived. [He is now a senior engineering test pilot at Cessna.] As for physics, I did some work on the Casimir effect, a quantum electrodynamic effect in which a force attracts two conducting plates in vacuum because of the fluctuating zero-point energy in the space between them. But the major work that I did involved non- relativistic quantum scattering for the three-body problem. In particular, we gave a rigorous derivation for the Kohn variational principle for breakup interactions, where particle 1 strikes a bound state of particles 2 and 3, and all three particles emerge freely: 1 + (23) --> 1 + 2 + 3. This became a major theme for much of the rest of my career! But the pathologies of the Coulomb potential meant we had to restrict ourselves to short-range potentials. When my two year post-doc was up the academic job market in physics was abysmal. I sent out about 200 letters and got no nibbles. So Larry offered me a third year of post-doc research. The next year we tried again, and this time I got a few possibilities. I attended the January 1970 APS meeting in Chicago, and met with Profs Steve Day and Charles Richardson from the University of Arkansas. I was invited to come to Fayetteville and give a talk. I went down in April, and talked about the Casimir effect and the Lamb shift. By the end of the month I had two offers, and the one from the U of A was the more attractive to me, so I accepted. The rest, as they say, is history. There is no way to briefly summarize the next 41 years, I have seen the University grow from 11,000 students to 23,000, the city from 29,000 to 73,000 (and much growth in sophistication). The Physics faculty grew from eleven to nineteen, and the Physics building, largely through the efforts of Raj Gupta, was turned from an ugly factory-like building to a decent and attractive if still inadequate facility. I have seen faculty come and go. When I served as department chair (1983-1986) I probably knew more people around campus than before or since, as my seniors retired and were replaced by newcomers that I never got to know. A graph of the number of people one knows vs. time must look a lot like the St. Louis arch! The research emphasis in the physics department went from atomic physics to lasers/optics to high-temperature superconductors and now to nano/bio physics. There was always some condensed matter research throughout. As a small department it is wise to not attempt to be too broad. But this means we lose the ability to teach special courses that attract students, advanced undergraduates in particular, such as elementary particles. I had a good 15-year research collaboration with Fui Tak Chan (known to all as FT). Some of this work was funded by the US Department of Energy. FT transitioned to high temperature superconductor research when Allen Hermann left. So I started a brief collaboration with Jim McGuire, then at Kansas State (now at Tulane). It was there, in 1987, that I devised but did not publish a diagrammatic analysis for the three-body capture problem. But Jim christened it the "Lieber diagram" and published it (with full credit to me) in one of his papers and in the Handbook of AMO Physics. Together with my last Ph.D. student, John Carter, we have explored this diagram much more fully. Later I met a physicist from Uzbekistan, Akram Mukhamedzhanov, who had made a significant breakthrough in three-body Coulomb scattering. I arranged for him to spend a semester in Fayetteville, and we were able to improve his earlier result. He got a permanent job at Texas A&M where he is flourishing. I wish we could have kept him here! On the personal side, my first daughter, Laura, was born in 1972. She is now an associate professor of Religion at Duke, and my second daughter, Deborah, was born in 1976. She is now an M.D. practicing locally. It took some adjusting for the adults to life in Fayetteville after Greenwich Village, but we learned to love it, except for the distance from our families. Because of the rapid growth life here is much better now than in 1970!