The department’s success has been shaped by the talent, dedication, and vision of gifted scientists over the decades—some with full-time university appointments and others with connections that strengthened our research profile and broadened opportunities for our faculty and students. We were saddened by the loss of so many of them in 2021.
John Cooke passed away on January 5. He was a theoretical condensed matter physicist and an expert in magnetism who was instrumental in promoting the joint faculty program between the physics department and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Cooke earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in physics from Georgia Tech and joined the ORNL Solid State Division in 1966. He was a fellow of the APS. After retiring from ORNL, Cooke maintained close ties with the physics department, taught graduate courses, and made it a point not to miss the weekly colloquium.
Tom Ferrell passed away on October 18 after a brave battle with ALS. He was a research professor with UT Physics and a distinguished staff scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Ferrell earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Auburn University and a PhD in physics at Clemson University. He joined ORNL's research staff in 1978 and was named a group leader in 1980, the same year he joined UT Physics as a research professor. In 2004 he was elected a fellow of the APS for his invention of the photon scanning tunneling microscope; that same year he moved his research group to UT’s campus.
Ferrell worked with colleagues in UT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science as well as ORNL on instruments and devices for biomedical and condensed matter systems. He also worked closely with the late Rufus Ritchie, a distinguished physics alumnus whose research on surface plasmons opened an entire new vista in physics research.
Paul Huray, a UT Physics Distinguished Alumnus, passed away January 28. A gifted researcher and teacher, he helped found the university’s Science Alliance Program and served as its first director. The Science Alliance became the home of the Distinguished Scientist program, which has brought outstanding scientists to the university, especially in physics.
An Oak Ridge native and UT graduate, Huray earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics in 1964 and a PhD in physics in 1968. In 1969 he joined the physics faculty, conducting magnetic studies research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and winning an outstanding teaching award in 1976. He also served as associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts (now Arts and Sciences). In 1985 Huray became a senior policy analyst for the White House. Three years later, he was invited to become the senior vice-president for research at the University of South Carolina, where he was named was a Carolina Distinguished Professor and continued promoting outstanding research and math and science education.
In 2010 the department honored Huray with the Distinguished Alumni Award "for leadership in establishing and directing the science alliance and building the relationship with oak ridge national laboratory, his excellence in teaching physics, and his research in solid-state physics."
Gerald Mahan, one of the original UT-ORNL Distinguished Scientists, passed away November 22. He was the first UT faculty member to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1995) and leaves an impressive legacy as a scientist and a professor.
Mahan was a theorist who described his research in solid state physics and materials as part pure research and part applied technology. On the pure research side was the theory of many-electron systems and their response to external probes such as light. His work involved insulators, semiconductors, and metals, and considered photon frequencies from the infrared to the x-ray. He wrote several landmark papers on the theory of photoemission when the experimental developments were still in their infancy. He also investigated the theory of transport of current, heat, and light. On the applied side he was using an understanding of materials to engineer new ones by combining three or four elements, or by envisioning artificially structured materials such as thin film superlattices.
In 1984 Mahan was one of the first two professors to be appointed a Distinguished Scientist in a new Center of Excellence, the Science Alliance. The Distinguished Scientist program recruited internationally prominent scientists to jointly-appointed faculty positions at the university and research positions at ORNL. Mahan’s respective homes were UT Physics and Astronomy and the ORNL Solid State Division. He left the university in 2001 to become a Distinguished Professor at the Pennsylvania State University and was a Distinguished Emeritus Professor there when he died.
Mahan was also a prolific author, not only of scientific papers but also of textbooks, including Many Particle Physics, Condensed Matter in a Nutshell, and Quantum Mechanics in a Nutshell. His scientific contributions won numerous accolades, including: Outstanding Achievement in Thermoelectrics Award from the International Thermoelectric Society (2015); Erasmus Mundas Lecturer of the European Union (2011); Foreign Member, Royal Society of Arts and Sciences, Göteborg, Sweden (2008); Eberly College of Science Medal (2007); and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2005).