Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Completing the Circle

Recently, one of the giants of condensed matter physics, Bill Spicer, passed away.

Again, this is one of those names that most people have never heard of (like Bardeen), and yet, his contribution to the advancement of knowledge is so immense, the results of his effort are being used by practically everyone! Best known for his development of the photoemission spectroscopy (especially angle-resolved photoemission) that is now one of the most important technique in condensed matter physics - the 3-step model of photoemission has always been known as the Spicer 3-step model. He left a huge legacy at Stanford where he has established not just a world-renown photoemission center, but his students have continued to expand the field and carried on his work.

I'm bringing this up because of a rather interesting coincidence. Bill Spicer, when he first started out developing the photoemission technique, studied photocathodes used to produce electrons for accelerators, synchrotrons, etc. One of his very last Ph.D students at Stanford before he retired became my postdoctoral supervisor. So after working in doing photoemission work for 2 1/2 years, when I informed my postdoc boss that I will be leaving to take a job at an accelerator facility to study and make photocathodes, he looked surprised and said "Well, that has gone full circle now, hasn't it?"

We both knew what he meant. What started with Spicer working with photocathodes, then evolved into a powerful technique to study a wide range of materials, came into its full potential with the discovery of high-Tc superconductors, then having the Spicer's legacy and pedigree passed down to his students, and indirectly, I acquired his influence through one of his students, and now I'm bringing it back to where it all started.

Being a physicist, I am constantly aware of all the great people who have made the progress I've seen and taken for granted. These are not the names that most people recognize, yet they have contributed to a tremendous amount of advancement in knowledge. In some small part of me, I know I'm carrying the legacy of Bill Spicer even though I've never met him. To know that I am going to use what he has help developed in going back to work in an area he started with is very humbling. I can only hope that I do justice to what he has left behind.



Agent4 said...

In the world of science, he was perhaps best known as one of the inventors of modern night vision devices, which provide the U.S. armed forces with the ability to see targets in the inkiest of nights. He made significant contributions to the development of night vision technology.

Wide Circles

Ron said...

Science is a so interesting that everyday you will get something new in it. Night vision devices are the most interesting and achieving thing.