Joe Trodahl’s 70th!

Joe Trodahl’s 70th!

oe completed his undergraduate degree at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA in 1963.  After Moravian, he went to Michigan State University for his doctorate in Physics working with Frank J. Blatt (author of “Principles of Physics” among other tomes).  His thesis work was entitled “Quantum Oscillations in the Peltier Effect in Zinc”.  Joe was then a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia working with David Williams (a very common name for great scientists it would seem J) on among other things the Gorter experiment, detecting nuclear magnetic resonance by the temperature rise of samples as they went through resonance.

JOn 1 December 1971 Joe started as an academic staff member in the then Department of Physics, Victoria University of Wellington, a position he was enticed to through his associations with David Beaglehole.  He is quoted to have said “I thought it was a terrible mistake for the first three years.  There was not much in the way of facilities; and because it was so remote, it was hard to communicate.”  Clearly now slightly more than forty years to the day of his commencing at VUW somehow these ideas got turned around and it has even been said that “when he shows slides of Wellington’s harbor, backed by spectacular mountains, he’s as enthusiastic as a travel agent about the beauties of the country he has long called home”.

Joe has during the past forty years spent considerable time working in a number of international laboratories including CSIRO Sydney, Chalmers University (Sweden), The Max Planck Institut: Festkoerperforschung (solid state research) (Stuttgart, Germany), Imperial College London, Centro Atómico at San Carlos de Bariloche on the shores of Lake Huemul in the mountains of Patagoinia (Argentina), University of Valencia (Spain), EPFL (Switzerland), Sheffield University (England), Technical University (Darmstadt, Germany) and the stunning fjords around The Norwegian Technical University (Trondheim).

Joe has extensively collaborated over the years with national and international colleagues in the semiconductor, Raman, astronomy and sea ice communities but most importantly with his current and previous students who he says have been his strongest influence.

His scientific interest and expertise is expansive and impressive.  In the 1970s his focus was astrophysics, sharing many a late night at Mt John with VUW colleague Professor Denis Sullivan before reigniting his condensed matter career during his first time in Stuttgart in the late 1970s.  During the next decade Joe publish two Nature papers, one on his work investigating sea ice and the other as part of the explosion of science around high-temperature superconductors.  Joe is an expert in Raman spectroscopy and applies this technique to elucidate behaviour in a wide range of materials focussing more recently on nitride films including the new area opened by himself and Ben Ruck (VUW) of rare-earth nitrides.

Apparently he retired in 2002, but there has been no evidence in him reducing his high level contribution to fundamental research investigation throwing himself into new domains of ferromagnetic, ferroelectrics and multiferroics – will he ever stop – not likely J.

There is no doubt that Joe’s contribution has been extensive and influential and that he has been a central instigator of several fundamental physics advances.  How did he get to be so productive and quite frankly formidable?  – this little story might give us a clue. He met Philip W. Anderson and Sir Nevill Mott, two of the three Nobel co-winners of 1977, while doing research in Göteborg, Sweden.  Anderson, then of Bell Labs, was a notoriously argumentative man. “One of the highlights of my career,” Trodahl smiles, “is that I had a scientific disagreement with him.”


Congratulations to Geoff Jameson (an Associate Investigator at Massey University) who was elected to the Australian Synchrotron User Advisory Committee.  Geoff’s term is for 2 years and starts immediately.