Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michael Tinkham (1928-2010)

I am a bit slow on news. I just learned that Michael Tinkham died late last year. There is a nice (but short) obituary in Nature by Malcolm Beasley. Let me know if you know of other obituaries.

I really only knew Tinkham through his classic book Introduction to Superconductivity. It is interesting that when I was in graduate school (1983-1988) the book was out of print but my advisor Jim Sauls taught a whole course based on the book and arranged for us to get reprints (of mediocre quality). However, high-Tc changed all that and there is now a Dover Edition.
[His book on Group Theory and Quantum Mechanics is also hard to surpass.]

I did finally meet Tinkham at Harvard in 1996. I asked him if we could talk about organic superconductors because I was starting to get interested in them. He replied something like, "I know nothing about them. Lets talk about something else."
I don't recall whether Tinkham's comment eventually made me more or less inclined to work on organic superconductors.

I think Tinkham then told me about some recent experiments in his lab measuring electronic excitations on single nanometre sized metallic grains. [They added electrons one by one to the metallic grain and saw the effect of the "superconducting" energy gap]. Only later I appreciated how amazing these experiments were when later (by circumstance) I moved to UQ and  collaborated with some mathematical physics colleagues on papers inspired by those experiments.


  1. There was one in Physics Today a few issues back, by John Clarke, http://physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v64/i5/p61_s1

  2. I'm still amazed that Glover and he were able to do those experiments (and realize their significance pre-BCS!) in 1956. Those are extremely challenging experiments even today.