A (Brief) Early History of TAMOC
The first meeting of TAMOC was held in Storrs, CT on May 19, 1984 at the annual meeting of the Division of Electron and Atomic Physics (DEAP). Attended by 32 people, the meeting was organized by Lloyd Armstrong, Alex Dalgarno and Neal Lane in response to concerns about the health of AMO theory. During the two hour meeting several concerns were discussed including funding, supply of graduate students, the scarcity of AMO faculty positions at top universities, and the lack of representation of AMO theory at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Possible actions to address these concerns were raised and discussed. A theory center was proposed to host workshops and provide high profile postdoctoral positions as a springboard to good faculty positions as well as to set up a visitors’ program to promote opportunities for informal scientific interactions.
At the end of the session the participants declared themselves “a group” and made plans to meet again at the next DEAP meeting in Norman, OK. Assignments were made to coordinate the following working groups: fellowships – Tony Starace, theory institute proposals- Eugene Merzbacher, interesting problems in AMO theory - Jim McGuire.
One year later at the Norman DEAP meeting on May 19, 1985, the second meeting of AMO theorists was held under the name – “Theoretical Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Community in the Next Decade.” Chaired by Joe Macek, reports were given by Tony Starace on fellowships, Alex Dalgarno on the possibilities for AMO theorists at the Santa Barbara Institute, and Eugene Merzbacher on the five preliminary proposals for an AMO theory institute (University of Tennessee, Texas A&M, University of Southern California, Louisiana State University and a joint proposal from Nebraska-Kansas State). Norman Bardsley reported on funding possibilities at NSF for an AMO theory institute. Jim McGuire presented information on a report being prepared entitled, “A Brief Overview of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Theory,” to be submitted to the National Academy of Sciences Panel.
By January 1986, the fourth newsletter reported that three Santa Barbara Institute proposals were in various stages of development, and three institutions were applying for funds to establish an AMO Theory Center namely, Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska, and Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The chair at that time, Aaron Temkin, suggested that the name of the group be abbreviated from the unwieldy “Theoretical Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Community in the Next Decade” to TAMOC.
The third TAMOC meeting held in Eugene, OR on June 18, 1986 was chaired by Aaron Temkin with George Victor as secretary. Reports on the status of the theory institute proposals were given. Lloyd Armstrong announced that the Committee on Atomic and Molecular Sciences (CAMS) report “The State of Theoretical AMO Science in the U.S.” would be published by the National Research Council in January, 1987.
On May 17, 1987 in Cambridge, MA, at the annual DAMOP meeting, TAMOC met for the fourth time. Tony Starace presided with George Victor as secretary. More than 150 people attended. Lloyd Armstrong reported on the CAMS report issued in April 1987 which documented the need for more support of AMO theory especially at the top 20 universities in the country. It was announced that NSF would issue a call for centers in September, 1987. Four universities were then developing proposals for an AMO theory institute: Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska, Harvard-Smithsonian, and Cal Tech-USC. Chris Bottcher reported on a supercomputer workshop; Bill Reinhardt gave a report on the Telluride summer research center, and Joe Martinez summarized DOE support for AMO theory.
The fifth meeting of TAMOC on April 17, 1988, at the April meeting of the APS in Baltimore was chaired by Tony Starace with Jim McGuire as secretary. Dick Pratt from NSF reported that $250,000 had been set aside for the support of an AMO institute. The number of proposals for a theory institute now numbered six with new proposals coming from Louisiana State University and JILA. Alex Dalgarno reported that the first program in atomic physics was held at the Santa Barbara Institute on relativistic QED effects organized by Walter Johnson and Peter Mohr. George Csanak announced that the first Atomic Physics Summer School for first year graduate students would be held in July at Los Alamos, and Hal Graboske presented data on the short supply of atomic physics faculty at top universities, with the top 15 universities having no positions and only 5 universities having 3 or more AMO theorists.
In the fall of 1988 a special edition of the TAMOC newsletter announced that the National Science Foundation had funded an Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Department of Physics at Harvard University. The Institute’s goals were
- to attract and train graduate students in AMO theory,
- to maintain an active visiting scientist program, and
- to establish a strong post-doctoral fellowship program.
Furthermore, to achieve the goals of the Institute, a faculty position had been created in the Department of Physics at Harvard University which would be supported jointly by the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard University.
On May 16, 1989 the annual meeting of TAMOC was held in Windsor, Canada at the DAMOP meeting with Tony Starace as chair and Jim McGuire as secretary. Alex Dalgarno gave a report on the new Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics (ITAMP) which officially began under his direction on November 1, 1988. Kate Kirby was serving as Deputy Director, and George Victor was overseeing the Visitors Program. Two postdoctoral fellows had been hired with plans to hire a third by 1990. Two undergraduate students would begin the predoctoral program for the 1989-1990 academic year, and a computer physicist staff position had been filled.
John Reading discussed a proposal for a Center for Theoretical Atomic Physics at Texas A&M. Chris Greene discussed plans for a theory center at the University of Colorado. A.L. Merts reported on the Theoretical Atomic Physics Summer School at Los Alamos now in its second year. The previous summer 20 students attended the school.
In November of 1989 the TAMOC newsletter announced that the National Science Foundation had funded an Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics Theory center at JILA. A new faculty position would be created in the CU Physics Department with support shared between NSF and CU for five years after which the University would assume full support.
Five years after the initial meeting of TAMOC a major goal of the theoretical AMO community had been achieved. Two new theoretical institutes had been funded offering opportunities for workshops, postdoctoral fellowships, as well as new faculty positions. This success could be directly traced to the annual TAMOC meetings which had provided a forum for the discussions and ideas of the community. The CAMS report had also provided strong support for the calls for an AMO theory center.
On May 21, 1990, the seventh annual TAMOC meeting chaired by Steve Younger was held in Monterey, CA during the annual DAMOP meeting. Chris Greene presented a report on the new Theory Institute at JILA and the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado. An international search was ongoing for the permanent faculty member. A visitors’ program and a series of summer workshops were planned.
In April, 1991 the annual TAMOC meeting was held in conjunction with DAMOP meeting in Baltimore, MD with Steve Younger as chair and David Norcross as secretary. A discussion was held on the increasing pressure to justify research as contributing to national vitality. Meeting participants discussed the risks and benefits of coordinating AMO physics priorities in the US.
The 10th annual TAMOC meeting took place in Reno, NV on May 16, 1993 chaired by Kate Kirby with Dave Norcross as secretary. Reports were given from ITAMP, the JILA Theoretical Institute, the LANL summer school, funding agencies including NSF (Barry Schneider), DOE (Joe Martinez and Mike Crisp) as well as reports from three workshops. The new I.I. Rabi Prize in AMO physics was announced which would be awarded bi-annually to a scientist either theoretical or experimental within ten years of his or her Ph.D.
In a March 1994, the TAMOC newsletter reported that Eric Heller had moved to Cambridge to assume the joint position in the Harvard Physics Department and Senior Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. In November, 1993, he had also assumed the directorship of ITAMP.
The annual TAMOC meeting was held April 17, 1994 in Crystal City chaired by Kate Kirby with David Norcross as secretary.
Ten years after the first gathering of theorists in Storrs, CT, the community was enjoying two new theoretical institutes, increased opportunities for workshops, prestigious fellowships for postdocs and a lively interaction between members of the community at annual TAMOC meetings.