Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jim Brooks (1944-2014): pioneer in high magnetic fields

I was saddened to hear of the recent sudden death of Jim Brooks. He is the experimentalist who arguably has had the biggest impact on me scientifically and my career.

Jim grew up in Los Alamos in an extended family of physicists. He did a Ph.D at U. Oregon with Russell Donnelly as an advisor, working on low temperature physics.
I believe he may have been the first person to put a dilution fridge in a high field [30 tesla] magnet, while working at Boston University and the Bitter Magnet Lab at MIT. This was significant following the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect by Tsui and Stormer. After a sabbatical at Princeton with Paul Chaikin [involving the discovery of a quantum Hall state in the field induced spin density wave of a Bechgaard salt] he began to work almost exclusively on organic charge transfer salts. He made many studies that mapped out their rich phase diagrams [as a function of temperature, pressure, uniaxial stress, magnetic field, and chemical substitution] and "fermiology". The latter involved using high magnetic fields and low temperatures to use quantum oscillations [Shubnikov de Haas and de Haas van Alphen] and angle-dependent magnetoresistance oscillations [AMRO] to map out Fermi surfaces.

I first met Brooks in 1994 at a conference in Korea, just after I had moved to University of New South Wales. Later that year he came to UNSW to use the pulsed magnetic field lab, set up by Bob Clark, to perform a series or experiments on organic charge transfer salts, in fields up to 50 tesla. This led to us writing about half a dozen papers together. From 1995 to 2002 he hosted an (approximately) annual visit I made to the Florida magnetic lab. I benefited greatly from these visits.

The most significant scientific thing Brooks did for me was introduce me to organic charge transfer salts and to AMRO. This led directly to some of my best scientific work, such as a review on organics and showing that a 3-dimensional Fermi surface is not necessary for AMRO. My positive experience from talking (a lot) to Brooks heavily flavours the thoughts in my post on listening to experimentalists.

Several times Brooks wrote letters of reference for me that I think were probably very important in my survival/success in science.

Brooks was fun to work with and to be around. He was a bit of a clown. He really did not take himself very seriously, despite his professional stature. The first day he came into the lab at UNSW he arrived on roller blades with all his shirt buttons undone. I remember on one visit to Florida he had dinner with my family, when my kids were very young.  Brooks came out of the bathroom with strings of toilet paper stuffed into his nose! The kids loved it.

On the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory web site there are some nice tributes from a range of people. Brooks biggest legacy is probably the many young people he mentored and supported.


  1. Very nice tribute, Ross. Brooks was indeed one of a kind.

    Moses Chan gave a colloquium this past Thursday at FSU where he referred to Brooks, who he had known going back to his liquid Helium days, as a "physicist's physicist." Your comments capture some of the reasons that description rings so true.

  2. A terrible loss for the community.