F. Todd Baker
I came to Miami in 1959, part of the wave of American youth assigned to whup those Reds and their Sputnik. And what better place to learn physics—seasoned professional physicists, accomplished teachers, and lots of talented peers to learn to love physics with. I learned that there are few things on earth more rewarding and fun than solving a really hard problem. I had the joy of learning mathematical physics from the master when a text book was just a twinkle in his eyes. John Snider nearly flushed me out of the game in my sophomore year with E&M I was really not ready for yet—what in the world were all those del-cross, del-dot, etc. things? Nobody took calculus in high school back then. But, when testing out accounting as an alternative major, I was suddenly inspired to redouble my efforts to succeed in my first goal. I never really did learn to love E&M until, years later, I taught an intermediate-level course.
I graduated with an AB in ’63 and, since I had taken several courses for graduate credit, stayed around for a year to get an MA. I had planned to write my thesis under George Arfken and, when he left for the summer to go to Los Alamos, he charged me to learn general relativity. Well, I am afraid that I just did not find metric tensors all that arresting and went into a moderate depression wondering how I was going to push through the year. But, my senior year was when Miami got its first computer and Dave Griffing was one of the first faculty to get on board with programming and he had held a little informal seminar for students who wanted to learn how to do it. Although I think his main interest was the stock market, I started using the machine for doing things like calculating Hylleraas wave functions for the He atom (I can’t believe that I remember the name of that!). At the end of the summer, Joe Priest came home from a research stint at an old cyclotron in Cleveland, and he had a bunch of elastic alpha particle scattering data. Something called an optical model for elastic scattering had recently been all the rage, so it was decided that I would write a fortran code to do optical model analysis. So, Griffing coached me on scattering theory and Priest guided me on nuclear physics.
My experience calculating Coulomb functions for my thesis and Arfken’s pull at Los Alamos got me a coveted Summer Research Assistantship at Los Alamos the summer of ’64. A great experience and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the southwest. Then to University of Michigan to pursue the PhD. UM had a strange policy—no written prelim but you had to have a B+ average on all the graduate courses. Since I did not have the courage to test out of the several courses I had already taken at Miami, I drudged it out for two years, got promoted to candidacy, and quit! I went off to teach at Carroll College in Wisconsin. Those were the days when getting a teaching job with only an MA degree was easy. After two years I returned to UM and did two years of research at the cyclotron. I got my PhD in experimental nuclear physics and, because I finished earlier than I had anticipated, all I could scare up for a job was a one-year sabbatical replacement at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. A nice year to learn to ski and love watching hockey, look for a postdoc position, and write up the dissertation for publication.
From 1970-74 I did a three-year postdoc at the Nuclear Physics Laboratory at Rutgers. I made friends and colleagues, one of whom I collaborated with throughout my whole career. It was a lovely time, doing physics, growing, pursuing new things while expanding some of the old. But the early 70s were not a good time to be seeking an academic job and there were some close calls which fell through at the last moment at Purdue and Texas A&M. But then I landed a faculty position at University of Georgia where I had an active research program doing experiments at Oak Ridge Heavy Ion Facility, Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility, Indiana University Cyclotron, TRIUMF in Vancouver, KEK in Japan, and Saturne outside of Paris. A pretty wonderful life plus Athens, Georgia is a wonderful place to live and raise kids (of which I have four, aged 14-41). I snuck up through the ranks and spent nine years as Department Head. I retired in 2006 but still teach a course occasionally. I keep myself busy reading physics textbooks for Recording for the Blind, doing most of the homemaker stuff since my wife is “growing her career”, and running a website called AskThePhysicist.com. I have been back to Oxford only once—for a fraternity reunion in 2007—and I was really lucky to find Joe Priest in Culler Hall late on a Friday afternoon, even though he was retired; I was saddened to hear of his passing not too long after that, but had a wonderful conversation with him about “old times”.
I had some wonderful classmates, none of whom have submitted one of these little reminiscences. Hey, Louis, Russell, Norm, Eric (AKA Herb), George, Bill: where are you guys now?