University of Colorado Physics Professor Emeritus Richard C. (Dick) Mockler passed away April 6, 2011 in Los Alamos, NM. He is survived by his sons Ted and Fritz.
Dick was born in Middleton, Ohio in 1925. He earned his B.S. in chemistry from Northwestern University in 1948, his M.S. in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1950 and his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1954. He was an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky 1953-1954.
From 1954 to 1965, Dick Mocker was the Chief of the Atomic Frequency and Time Interval Standards Section of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), later the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), in Boulder, Colorado. He was Chief of the Quantum Electronics Section of NBS 1965-1966. During his time at NBS, Dick was the scientific leader responsible for the construction of NBS-1 and NBS-2, the earliest NBS Cesium atomic clocks. Four decades of subsequent atomic clocks, NBS-3 through NBS-6, were based on the same fundamental design principles as NBS-1 and NBS-2. Dick’s influential paper “Atomic Beam Frequency Standards” in Advances in Electronics and Electron Physics (Academic, New York, 1961) assembled and synthesized many aspects of atomic clock construction and is still widely read by scientists today.
Dr. Mockler was awarded a Department of Commerce Exceptional Service Gold Medal Award in 1961 for “scientific leadership and personal technical contribution of the highest order in the achievement of a frequency and time interval standard of previously unknown accuracy, one which has brought the U.S. frequency standard to a level of accuracy and precision believed to exceed any other similar standard in the world.”
While at NIST, Dick was also a Professor Adjoint in the University of Colorado Department of Physics from 1960-1966. In 1966 he joined the faculty of the Department of Physics as a Full Professor. During his tenure at the University of Colorado, Dick’s research field evolved to experimental condensed matter physics. His laser scattering measurements of the critical properties of fluids in collaboration with William J. (Bill) O’Sullivan led to 38 papers in the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, they jointly supervised an excellent series of graduate students including Bruce Ackerson (Oklahoma State University), Stephen Casalnuovo (Sandia National Laboratories), Alan Hurd (Los Alamos National Laboratory), Ken Lyons (AT&T Labs) and Chris Sorensen (Kansas State University).
Dick was instrumental in the design and construction of the Duane Physical Sciences Complex at the University of Colorado, especially those underground low vibration laboratory spaces that laser scientists love. He was an excellent teacher and a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Dick retired in 1990 and later moved to New Mexico. He left lasting and tangible legacies at NIST and the University of Colorado. He will be missed.
Dick Mockler, a requiem
by Bill O’Sullivan
Dick Mockler was my primary research colleague from 1969 until my retirement at the Century’s turn. The story behind the formation of our unique two-faculty research group is worth telling: The Experimental Solid State Physics Program at CU became lifeless in the late 1960s. I was hired from Sandia as Professor sans tenure with the promise of a $500K startup package (that’s a half a Mil in 1969 dollars!) to bring to CU a successful, but narrowly focused research program in pressure effects upon the energy band behaviors in solids. Duane Physics was a deep hole in the earth with a smattering of concrete and steel eruptions signaling progress and hope. Our Department’s home was the pre-remodeled Ramaley, and I was assigned lab space in the sub-basement of the building.
The greatest fear I had upon arriving at CU was how I could manage to spend all my startup funds on a limited scope research effort without ending up in Canon City. Serendipity stepped in! The weight of the massive Varian Electromagnet that was central to my research exceeded the floor loading capacity of the lab. I was informed that it would have to be warehoused for the two years or so that it would take to complete Duane. This disappointment for me led to a common change in both Dick’s and my future, beginning with our first meeting within the bowels of Ramaley that we were to share.
But first the space: Imagine perhaps Cavendish’s personal lab after it had been struck by a disaster of natural or otherwise origin. Dark, light bulbs hanging down, ceilings 5’10’’ to 6’ high composed of some earthy material that continued to drop scabrous pieces of itself on the concrete floor; scattered about my part of the space were huge Ammeters. Voltmeters, numerous other brass objects of obvious historical import, old ionization tubes with curling bare wires hanging from their ports, old tables, benches, and on and on. And there was Dick emerging from another dark recess away from mine. Dick was short and moved about easily. I was 6’4” at the time and was forced to crouch. Dick was a senior Atomic Physicist who had come to CU from NBS after playing a key role in the development of the earliest Atomic Clocks. His equipment comprised a nice vacuum chamber with a function opaque to me, and no research funding. In addition to the half Mil of startup funds, I came with assured DOE support for the program I’d exported from Sandia. But I had no program to pursue! We were a perfect fit!
Dick and I began talking about what we might do with my money and his brains. I had started my first student Dennis Toms on a project involving Raman Scattering from single magnons in anti-ferromagnets. Dick had harbored an interest in studying phase transitions in fluids with lasers. We cobbled together our first proposal to the Department of Energy where much surprise was evinced at my sudden change in direction from pressure effects on solid state electronics to light scattering near fluid phase transitions,. But funding came and was maintained for another 25 years.
We occupied most of the basement research area in Duane when it opened and named our enterprise “Underground Quantum Optics”. We had the “Underground” right, but neither of us had a background in the “Quantum Optics” part. We attracted and lived off great students! The list of our students is extensive and includes University Distinguished Professors, Lab Directors, Science Advisors to Governors, and, perhaps closest to Dick as any, Christopher Sorensen, the 2007 National Professor of the Year in the Research University category.
Dick loved his research. He was a fine teacher, on “top” of every subject he taught. He was a quiet, serious man, a gentleman. I treasured him as a colleague, a friend and mentor to our students, and a friend of mine. He battled multiple sclerosis for years. He was an avid gymnast, and when we first met he was an advanced performer on the parallel bars. As time progressed, so did the disease, and his moves were less vigorous and impressive. But he fought on; never quit. Eventually, after his beloved wife Nina died, and after retiring from his professorship, Dick required the help of others and moved to New Mexico to live with his son.
I’ll leave it to others to assemble and discuss the numerous items of recognition assigned Dick by his colleagues in the community of physicists. I’ll remember Dick as my alter ego at CU, with whom I shared many laughs, very few times of discord, and as I think back now, many wonderful experiences. I miss him. His students will miss him.