University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy
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Carlos Avery (Ph.D., Physics, 1967; M.S. Physics, 1965; B.S., Physics, 1960)


I began one of the best ten years of my life at the
University of Minnesota in 1956.

I won a prize in the high school state science fair that year for a “smoke tunnel” project. I was selected for a student research assistantship in Ben Lazan’s affi liated Mechanics & Materials (M&M) Department. Then I took Edward Nye’s sophomore physics course, and I decided physics was where I ought to be. I transferred, and was delighted to get Ed as my undergraduate advisor. He was a role model for me. He was my idea of a real physicist: smart as hell, funny (sometimes a bit risqué: e.g., his Lorentz Contraction limerick) and a true “character,” with his red high-top sneakers, Marlboros, and Norwegian sweaters. Despite transferring, I kept my undergrad aero-related scholarship and the M&M job (full time in the summer, half-time during the school year), which enabled me to pay for my undergrad education. I stayed on at Minnesota for graduate work. I joined Alfred O. C. Nier’s group in mass spectrometry, working on small mass-spec machines in Aerobee rockets to probe the composition of the upper atmosphere at 100-210 km altitude above White Sands Missile Range. I did my thesis work under Nier on atomic oxygen, measuring recombination coeffi cients of O on various surfaces-numbers necessary to make corrections to the readings of the spectrometer to account for surface losses in the instrument. I worked with Jeff Hayden (B.S.,Physics, 1969), Charlie Tschetter and John Ristow on the devices and with Al Hedin (M.S., Physics, 1961; B.S., Physics, 1958) on developing a computer program to correct the telemetry data for these losses as well as the motion and orientation of the rocket as it spun and traversed its parabolic trajectory [See Hedin, Avery, Tschetter, JGR Vol 69 #21 (1 November 1964)]. As an experimental physics major and lab grunt, I learned some glass blowing, silver soldering, a smattering of electronics, how to work a lathe and milling machine. I also learned about keeping the liquid nitrogen traps fi lled to maintain high vacuum during long lab runs over several weeks at a stretch, necessitating never being away from the lab for more than 15 hours. The professional shop staff, “Buddy” Thorness, Don Schifferl, Herb Ballman [See Newsletter,#8, December 2007.], and Marvin Dynes, were lifesavers in helping me build my experimental apparatus. I passed my final oral exams in February 1967, and hosted the requisite “beer bust” for the department at Manning’s up on Como Avenue. I then reported to the dream job I had in mind for the previous four years. When the “007” fi lms hit the scene in the early 60s, I had daydreams about working in the CIA. I spotted a small ad in the Scientifi c American, advertising for physicists and engineers for the CIA. I hung on to that festering thought. I applied when the light at the end of my thesis tunnel was in sight. I accepted an analytic position and reported to work in March 1967. I stayed with “The Company” for 40+ years, retiring in January 2008. I said all that I will say about that job in a newsletter issue last year. After an 11-day “retirement,” I went back to work as a contractor with CENTRA, where
I plan to hang on at least another fi ve years. The professors that had the most impact/influence on me and my career choice, who exposed
me to much more than I comprehended or assimilated, were Ed Nye,
Al Nier, Michael Sanders, Edward Hill, Donald Yennie, Walter “Cork”
Johnson [Newsletter #9, July 2008], Norton Hintz, Karl Quisenberry, and (in the math department) Warren Loud and James Serrin. I had a great bunch of colleagues in my classes and in the labs: Jacque Hohlfelder, Gunnar Modin, Earl Kyle, Jay Benson, Richard Ries, Richard
Damerow (Ph.D., Physics, 1963; M.S., Physics, 1960; B.S., Physics,
1958), Arnold Dahm (Ph.D., Physics, 1965), Fred Gillette, Chester
Hwang, Dieter Krankowsky. I have fond memories of playing passable
bridge with some of these guys in the basement MS lab at lunch. I
found out that I really sucked at the game of “Go.” What was really
humbling, however, were the outstanding physics students who were
a year after me or in some of my classes: William Bardeen (Ph.
D., Physics, 1968) [I remember Bill would walk out of two-hour exams
after an hour or so (with all answers right, of course) while the rest of us average folks hung on to the bitter end of the test period.] and Stanley Brodsky (Ph.D. Physics, 1964; B.S., Physics, 1961) [Brodsky and Bardeen were both winners of the Sakurai prize. Pretty impressive--and statistically interesting], George Gamota Ph.D., Physics, 1963; B.S. Physics, 1961), the Hager twins Ralph Hager (B.S., Physics, 1961, Deceased) and Richard (B.S., Math, 1961), James Haijicek (B.S. Physics, 1961 Deceased), Charles Reinert (Ph.D., 1969; M.S., Physics, 1963; B.S., Physics, 1961).