|Leon Cooper's Genius|
I have interviewed applicants to Brown for many years. Leon Cooper’s story of being a Nobel laureate teaching undergraduates is always one I share with them (see “Last Class for a Nobel Laureate,” Elms,). Thank you for your contribution to the Brown experience!
After three years of tooting too much on my bassoon, I was told to change majors. After a year working at Harvard, I took Leon Cooper’s brilliant course on quantum mechanics, a subject that had always fascinated me. I aced both semesters and then went to work on atomic and laser physics. Cooper taught the course right out of Dirac! Every day he would enter the room and write the Schrödinger equation on the upper left hand side of the blackboard, and we would then analyze the Hamiltonian for a particular system.
When I interviewed at Brown my junior year in high school—the spring of 1962—I told Dean Doebler that I planned to major in physics and casually mentioned that I was fascinated by superconductors. Eighteen months later during Freshman Week, at the first meeting of incoming physics majors, a guy came up to me, read my name tag, and said, “Hi, I’m Leon. I’m your adviser.”
I joined Brown as a graduate student in the fall of 1972, the year Professor Cooper received the Nobel Prize. Coming from India, I had never seen a Nobel laureate before, so I was full of regard for such an eminent personality. I used to see Professor Cooper in the Barus and Holley building, where I had an office. I remember, in those days, I had written and talked to numerous Indian friends, announcing proudly that I was studying at a university where I saw a Nobel laureate practically every day. It was a very proud period of my life.
In the early days of the Cold War, one heard it said that, while World War I was the chemist’s war and World War II was the physicist’s war, World War III, if it ever came, would be the applied mathematician’s war. Those of us who have spent time with you, Professor Cooper, are optimistic about our common future.
I took a third-semester class from Professor Cooper, which was mostly relativistic quantum theory, QED, and intro to quantum field theory. He was a fantastic and inspirational teacher, as well as a great human being. When he later led the oral exam part of the PhD qualifier, I was terrified! But in hindsight, I can see that the grilling from one of the greatest minds in history was a character-building experience.
Although Professor Cooper is retiring from teaching, he will still be conducting research at Brown.—Editor