In Memoriam: Benjamin Chalmers Frazer

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Posted: January 11, 2013

Benjamin Chalmers Frazer

Benjamin Chalmers Frazer, whose contributions in BNL physics spanned 1952 to 1983, died at 87 on June 23, 2010.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Frazer attended Auburn University from 1940 to 1943, then joined the U.S. AAF 1943-46, where he served as First Lieutenant, Navigator, Air Transport Command. Returning to Auburn, he earned a BS in engineering physics in 1947 and his MS in physics in 1948. He moved to Pennsylvania State University in 1949 and received his Ph.D. in physics in 1952.

Frazer first joined the BNL Physics Department as a guest research associate for a month in the summer of 1952, from July 16 to August 1. On September 15, 1952, he became a visiting associate physicist until July 29, 1955. Then, from August 1, 1955, through February 28, 1958, he held the title of guest associate physicist at BNL while he was also a research physicist at Westinghouse Research Labs in Pittsburgh, PA.

Frazer’s career as a BNL employee started on March 1, 1958, with his appointment as an associate physicist in Physics. On July 1, 1959, he was named a physicist, and he was granted tenure three years later, in 1959. In 1965, he was made Acting Head of the Solid State Physics Group until, on January 1, 1967, he was named Deputy Department Chair. In July he was promoted to senior physicist while continuing as Deputy Chair. In 1974, in addition to becoming Managing Editor of The Physical Review, he served as Associate Department Chair from July 1, 1974, until his return to research as a senior physicist on September 22, 1975. Frazer was a Fellow and Adviser-to-Council of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Crystallographic Association. His special research interests included neutron and x-ray scattering, synchrotron radiation, structural phase transitions, and ferroelectricity. He retired on December 29, 1983.

Frazer also served as Managing Editor for The Physical Review from 1974 to 1981 and moved to Washington D.C. in 1984 to assume the position with the United States Department of Energy as Chief of Solid State Physics and Materials Chemistry. Upon his retirement in 1991, he received a lifetime achievement award for managing a research program of the highest quality in Solid State Physics and Materials Chemistry, including the design, construction, and operation of major synchrotron and neutron research facilities which provide the Department of the Energy and the Nation an invaluable resource for research and technology.

Chalmers Frazer was a resident of Bellport, New York. He is survived by his wife, Ylia, son Jack (Carol), daughters Rowena and Hallie, grandchildren Rowen, Cliff, Ylia, Ian and Dylan, and great-granddaughter, June.

Several colleagues have sent remembrances of their friend and colleague.

Reminiscences from retiree Dave Cox of BNL Physics

Soon after I joined Gen Shirane’s group at the Westinghouse Research Laboratories in 1959 following my graduate work at Imperial College in the UK, Chalmers dropped by on a visit to see the newly installed diffractometer at the Westinghouse Research Reactor (and perhaps, not incidentally, to participate in a hastily-arranged poker game that evening). So it was my pleasure to meet Chalmers both professionally and socially in one day, a relationship that I am happy to relate has lasted for many decades. On a subsequent visit to Brookhaven in 1962, it was Chalmers who showed me around and greatly impressed me with his gracious manner and vision, and later offered me a position in the rapidly expanding neutron scattering group – a position that I eagerly accepted.

After joining the Lab in early 1963, I worked extensively with Chalmers investigating and trying to solve the magnetic structures of a variety of fairly complex materials using neutron diffraction techniques, first at the Graphite Reactor and later at the High-Flux Beam Reactor. The idea of looking at low-symmetry structures at that time was rather novel and challenging in view of the poor resolution achievable with the first generation of reactors like the BGRR, but Chalmers’ previous experience with ferroelectric substances suggested to him that interesting things would happen in magnetic systems (which they did), and that we would be well-prepared for such studies with the much higher resolution and intensity of the HFBR when it came on line. He also encouraged us (George Will and myself) to look into the problem of analyzing this low-resolution powder data in collaboration with the crystallography group in the Chemistry Department using the powerful (at that time) mainframe computers at the Lab, an ingenious approach which had some limited success, and in a sense anticipated the much more comprehensive technique developed by Hugo Rietveld in Holland in the late 60’s and revolutionized powder diffraction as a research tool. He was also among the first to explore the magnetic structures of uranium compounds, which has subsequently proved to be a rich field of research.

It was always a pleasure to work with Chalmers — he had an infectious sense of enthusiasm and an unending source of amusing anecdotes which he told with his rather dry and self-deprecating style, many of which I still cherish. He was a gracious and patient colleague, always supportive of the junior members of the group and the technical staff, and I count myself very fortunate to have come under his wing at an early stage of my career. However, he could be a formidable opponent on the golf course (taking great pleasure in winning the hole for a modest bet), or at the poker table with a winning bluff (for a more substantial bet!).

Chalmers took a keen interest in the “Atoms for Peace” program in the early 60s, and invested considerable time and effort in helping to set up a viable research program at the Mayaguez Nuclear Center in Puerto Rico. Some of my fondest recollections are of our visits there and being introduced by him to the Spanish Caribbean culture that he so enjoyed. During that time he also served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids (later as Editor) and recruited me as Assistant Editor, albeit with some misgivings on my part. I need not have worried – he gave me guidance and discretely kept a watchful eye until I had got the hang of things.

I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with and learn from Chalmers during these years. He is a true gentleman in the old-fashioned sense and I count myself fortunate to be one of his friends.

Remarks from retiree Joe Weneser, a former Chair of BNL Physics

I served with Chalmers in the BNL Physics department administration during some hard times. We faced difficult budgets, lay-offs, and a cost over run on a solid state physics project. Chalmers had principal oversight of Solid State, and he did everything he, or anyone, could to solve the problems, and bring Solid State Physics through to a healthy future. He worked to smooth the transition from the Reactor-based research to the new facilities promised by the Synchrotron Light Source then being completed. On a personal note: he was a wonderful co-worker, loyal and caring of the Department’s several missions and its people.

Last Modified: January 11, 2013