MAVERICK SCIENCE
  The University of Texas at Arlington College of Science 2012-13  

Tribute - Truman D. Black (1937-2012)

Beloved physicist was a department pioneer

While never downplaying his considerable academic achievements, family, friends and colleagues of the late Truman Black made it clear what they will remember most about the man at a memorial service held in his honor on October 27.
It was Dr. Black's love of people, his never-met-a-stranger demeanor, his generosity and his zest for life which one speaker after another emphasized while recalling favorite memories of the longtime UT Arlington physics professor, who died September 12, 2012 at age 74.
"Y'all mattered to him and he really cared," Dr. Black's son, Bryan, said at the service, held in the Planetarium at UT Arlington. "My father believed his purpose was to be around people. He enjoyed all the laughs, all the arguments. He truly embraced the love y'all gave him. He never missed an opportunity to meet new people. He seemed to make everybody matter. ... He measured himself by his relationships."
Thurman Jasper
Truman Black
Dr. Black, a pioneering member of the UT Arlington physics department, retired in 2011 after 46 years with the department and received professor emeritus status soon after. His work in experimental solid state physics, electron paramagnetic resonance and optics, among other subjects, helped bring international attention and acclaim to the department. He played a leading role in transforming it from one primarily involved in teaching to one which today conducts cutting-edge research and draws millions of dollars in external funding. He also played a leading role in the creation and development of the department's graduate programs.
"Truman's impact was profound. He was one of the true pioneers of our department," said Alex Weiss, physics professor and department chair. "He was a kind and giving man. He was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was a good friend. He was a deeply influential teacher and mentor for multiple generations of students and colleagues."
Dan Dahlberg, a student of Dr. Black's in the early 1970s and now a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, credited Dr. Black with much of the professional success he has enjoyed.
"Truman was a man of integrity. He was my teacher in physics and life," Dahlberg said. "He was a mentor and dear friend to me. I saw him help every student who came to his door."
Speaker after speaker at the service spoke about Dr. Black's fun-loving nature, his natural curiosity and his wideranging influence as a mentor, both in the lab and in life.
"He was my mentor; I owe my success in my career to him," said Don Larson, who was a student of Dr. Black's and a research assistant in his lab. "There are a few men in my life who made a real difference. After my father, Truman is No. 2 on that list."
John Fry, a professor emeritus in physics who worked with Dr. Black for decades, recalled some of the many good times he and Dr. Black had together, from buying a sailboat with another friend and sailing it on Lake Arlington, to playing sports and traveling to conferences, where Dr. Black would sometimes forget to reserve a hotel room in advance and end up scrambling to find a colleague to room with.
"He was always about having fun," Fry said. "Rules were not Truman's concern. He loved to laugh and make others laugh."
Richard Claytor, who met Dr. Black when they were graduate students at Rice University in 1959, said he and his late friend reveled in tormenting one another with practical jokes.
"I considered Truman to be my brother," Claytor said. "We shared many loves – physics, messy offices and coffee among them."
John Fry, a professor emeritus in physics who worked with Dr. Black for decades, recalled some of the many good times he and Dr. Black had together, from buying a sailboat with another friend and sailing it on Lake Arlington, to playing sports and traveling to conferences, where Dr. Black would sometimes forget to reserve a hotel room in advance and end up scrambling to find a colleague to room with.
Dr. Black's daughter, Beth Drake, shared some of her memories of growing up with a physicist for a father. She told of the help he would offer while she did her math homework at the kitchen table, and how he always insisted that she not only find the answer, but that she know how she got it. She spoke of how that mentoring prepared her for her own teaching career.
"When I think of my father, I think of a teacher," she said. "A phrase I always remember him using was, 'You have to understand the physics of the situation,' even if I was just trying to build a sand castle. He really prepared me to be a teacher and a mentor."
Dr. Black's UT Arlington colleagues recalled fondly his passion for learning, his willingness to help and mentor young faculty and students, and his wellknown reputation for loaning equipment from his famously cluttered labs to others – and his persistence in seeing that the equipment was returned.
"Qualities such as amazing, unique, interesting, engaging, delightful, jovial, kind and caring were common in the responses of the UTA community to the news about Truman," said Roy Rubins, professor emeritus in physics, who came to UT Arlington in 1969 and was a frequent collaborator and close friend of Dr. Black. "Those qualities were in evidence in his 46 years on the physics faculty at UTA, undiminished over time, and not even by the health problems which clouded his later years. He was interested in everyone from university presidents to janitors, and treated all with humor and affection, always ready to engage in discussion on any topic."
Dr. Black's generosity was lauded by numerous colleagues.
John Fry, a professor emeritus in physics who worked with Dr. Black for decades, recalled some of the many good times he and Dr. Black had together, from buying a sailboat with another friend and sailing it on Lake Arlington, to playing sports and traveling to conferences, where Dr. Black would sometimes forget to reserve a hotel room in advance and end up scrambling to find a colleague to room with.
Suresh Sharma, who met Dr. Black upon coming to UT Arlington in 1976, had lab space next to Dr. Black's labs in the basement of Science Hall and also had an office next to Dr. Black's for years. The pair collaborated on research and co-authored numerous publications.
"Truman was a good physicist and a good colleague, with a friendly and interesting personality," Sharma said. "On one occasion, I attended a party at his house. A number of students, faculty, and friends were there, and Truman was in his full chef gear – apron, chef's hat, spatula, etc. He was cooking pizza. His hands and face were covered with flour, and it was spread everywhere in the kitchen. Some may call it a mess, but Truman was full of laughs – loud belly laughs – and having a wonderful time!"
Interesting and amusing stories involving Dr. Black abound. Doug Coyne, who supervises the department's laboratory facilities, shared his memory of the time Dr. Black met the comedian Gallagher, who was to perform a show on campus that night.
"I walked into the physics library and Dr. Black was sitting at the long table that used to be located there," Coyne said. "Sitting beside him was Gallagher, who had developed a fascination with Chaos Theory because of his famous watermelon-smashing routine. Dr. Black spent much of the day with Gallagher, even driving him to the store to get the materials necessary to perform the trick for that night's show."
Asok Ray, a physics professor who came to UT Arlington in 1982, remembers Dr. Black as one of the driving forces behind the department's growth, including the donations and in-kind gifts of equipment Dr. Black secured from area businesses.
"When I came to the Physics Department years and years ago, Truman was one of the four or five physicists at UTA who did research," Ray said. "Our department has come a long way since then, and Truman has always been an integral part in the development of the department. Apart from inspiring generations of students in physics and science, in general, he has been instrumental in building relationships and partnerships with local industries. I will miss him as a trusted colleague and a friend."
Although he did important and influential research and was instrumental in raising the department's profile, Dr. Black's most significant contribution was to the dozens and dozens of students he mentored. They have gone on to be highly successful in both business and academia.
"I was highly impressed by his strong focus on student mentorship," said Manfred Cuntz, associate professor of physics. "Many students chose careers in physics or related fields because of his influence."
Dr. Black was born on September 30, 1937 in Houston to Burl Clifton Black and Margaret Elizabeth Black. He graduated from Milby High School in 1955 and went on to earn a B.S. in Physics from the University of Houston in 1959. He then went across town to Rice University, where he received an M.S. in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Physics in 1964. After earning his Ph.D., he went to work for Texas Instruments in Dallas before deciding to go into academics. He came to UT Arlington in 1965.
Dr. Black established the department's High Power Laser Laboratory, one of the first such facilities at the University, from a major equipment gift by Mobil Research. His Laser and Spectroscopy Lab was the first major optics facility at UT Arlington and spawned research labs across the campus.
Famous for his liquid nitrogen demonstrations, his visits to area elementary schools to introduce young minds to physics educated and entertained hundreds of wide-eyed children over the years.
Dr. Black was a gifted athlete, and he liked to work with his hands, building anything from kayaks to houses. He and his wife, Marjorie, loved to host parties and travel the world – especially trips to Hawaii. Later in life, he devoted himself to his grandchildren.
Dr. Black was preceded in death by his parents and by a sister, Barbara Faye Black.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Marjorie; daughter, Elizabeth Drake and husband, Trey; son, Bryan Black and wife, Cindy; grandchildren, Kandi Meyers, Donnie Black, Justin Meyers, Eli Drake, Mina Drake and James Drake; brother, B.C. Black and wife, Katha; sister-in-law, Shirley Griffin and husband, Richard; and numerous cousins and nephews.
A scholarship has been established in Dr. Black's memory. Donations may be made to the Truman D. Black Scholarship Fund at The University of Texas at Arlington, Office of Development, Box 19198, Arlington, TX 76019-0198.