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John T. Tate

"In 1916, the University of Minnesota hired John Torrence Tate (b. Iowa, 1889) as Instructor in the Physics department.  By 1919, Tate had been promoted to full professor.  He was part of a group of brilliant young researchers that President Vincent hoped would turn the University into a first-class graduate and research institution.

That they did (in Physics, the ambitious young research faculty actually took courses from each other).  Tate was an experimental physicist (quantum mechanics; mass spectroscopy) who demanded both innovation and precision from the graduate students he advised, and his long editorship of The Physical Review, plus his founding of two other physics journals, brought him manuscripts of the most cutting-edge physics research in the world.  (Tate once inadvertently insulted Albert Einstein by sending out for peer review an article he had submitted to the journal; Einstein withdrew the article in a huff.)  Tate incorporated those articles into his “Seminar in Contemporary Experimental Physics,” where he explicated current theoretical problems and various experimental approaches to solving them.  The course was so exciting that graduate students would take the seminar again and again (only once for credit).  As graduate adviser Tate directed and mentored a significant number of world-class scientists like Alfred Nier (nuclear scientist who first isolated U235) and Walter Brattain (Nobelist who invented the transistor), among many others. Tate also became Dean of the University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1937, a position his war work would force him to resign.

During World War II, John T. Tate worked for the government as Chair or Vice-Chair of several Divisions of the [civilian] National Defense Research Committee: on Submarine Technology, Operations Research (e.g., the effects of the atomic test blast on the Bikini Atoll), and Rocket Ordnance. He won American and British medals for this work.

From 1919 to the outbreak of World War II, John T. Tate and his family lived in Como, at 1011 14th Ave. SE.  There, his son, John T. Tate, Jr., renowned number theory mathematician who taught 45 years at Harvard University, was born and raised.

The elder Tate died in Minneapolis in 1950.  The American Institute of Physics founded the John Torrence Tate International Gold Medal in his honor. And in 1966, the University of Minnesota Physics Building was re-named the Tate Laboratory of Physics."

Como People of the Past article
By Connie Sullivan

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