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Professor Jack Dodd

John Newton Dodd (1922–2005)

Text by Crispin Gardiner

Born in Hastings to parents who encouraged a lively intellectual atmosphere in the home, he was deliberately given a middle name to inspire his interest in science. By the time Jack began school, his family had moved to Dunedin, and over his school years he developed a passion in number of areas, becoming an accomplished musician and graceful dancer. Although his wide ranging interests were sometimes detrimental to his academic studies, he was a student of outstanding ability, and entered the University ofOtago to study physics in 1940. Jack threw himself fully into University life, and served as President of the Otago University Student association, before completing his BSc in 1942. He then went into war service, working on scientific problems, before returning to Otago to complete his Master’s degree in 1945, and a year of Honours mathematics in 1946.

In 1947 he was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship for doctoral study in Birmingham, where he wrote his thesis in nuclear physics. With characteristic energy, he made time for outside activities, including playing in the British open bridge championshipsin 1948 and representing New Zealand at an International Students Union Congress in Paris in the same year. That year was also a personal landmark when Jack met his future wife Jean, and they married in Coventry in 1950. He completed his doctorate in 1952, and although it was normal at that time for outstanding young New Zealand physicists to remain abroad permanently to further their careers, Jack chose to return to the University of Otago to take up a lecturing position. He was a visionary, with the ambition to establish physics research of international quality in New Zealand,and since it was not practical to continue in nuclear physics, he started afresh in the field of atoms and electromagnetic radiation. This was an area that was surging ahead with the impetus of recently developed electronic technologies such as radar, and hebegan working to explain some new and puzzling observations in atomic spectroscopy. His development of some original ideas in this field led to the award of a Nuffield Fellowship to Oxford in 1959. During that year he developed a close collaboration and lifelong friendship with George Series, as they formalized his ideas to produce a proper theoretical description of the phenomenon which became known as quantum beats. Thecentral idea was that incident radiation could establish a coherent quantum superposition between two atomic levels of different energy, which would subsequently reradiate with a temporal intensity modulation that would characterize the superposition.Jack’s first public presentation of his ideas was given under the stern gaze of Willis Lamb, Professor at Oxford and Nobel laureate for his own work on atomic spectroscopy. Lamb’s initial response was sceptical, but within a few days he reversed his view, and endorsed Jack’s theory. The elegant paper [1] published to report the findings became widely known as "Dodd and Series" and proved extremely timely, with the field of spectroscopy about to experience explosive growth under the revolutionary impact of the laser. This classic paper was one of a number that helped establish the theoretical foundationsof the new field of laser spectroscopy, and later quantum optics, and was widely cited for many years.

When Jack returned to Otago in 1960, he set about creating a research group, and he recruited a team of outstanding students and colleagues. Over the next decade they extended the initial ideas, and carried out a series of experiments which cemented the ideas into wide acceptance. Jack was an inspirational leader, and a generous and loyal supporter of his colleagues and students. Many of the group from those years have gone on to forge outstanding academic careers in New Zealand and Australia, and he took great pleasure in the success of those who succeeded him. Recognition for his achievements came from a number of sources. In 1967 he was awarded a Visiting Fellowship for a year at JILA, a joint institute between the US National Bureau of Standards andthe University of Colorado. Jack became a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1964, and was appointed Beverly Professor of Physics at Otago in 1965, a position he held until his retirement in 1988. He was awarded the Hector medal of the Royal Societyof New Zealand 1976 in recognition of his research achievements. The connections he pioneered with Oxford and JILA have been fruitful and enduring ones for Otago that have benefited many staff and students, and have led to reciprocal visits from colleagues at JILA and Oxford.

[1] J. N. Dodd and G. W. Series, Theory of Modulation of Light in a Double Resonance Experiment, Proc Roy Soc A, 353-370 (1961)