Michael Tinkham, superconductivity pioneer, passes away at 82

Broad thinker advanced both the theoretical and experimental understanding of superconductivity

November 5, 2010

Michael "Mike" Tinkham, whose latest appointment was as the Rumford Research Professor of Physics and Gordon McKay Research Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Physics, passed away on November 4, 2010. He was 82 years old.

Born on February 23, 1928 in Green Lake County,Wisconsin, Tinkham earned his undergraduate degree at Ripon College in 1951 and his Master's and Ph.D. degrees, both in physics, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1951 and 1954 respectively. He also spent a year at the Clarendon Laboratory of Oxford as a postdoctoral fellow.

He joined the University of California,Berkeley in 1957, rising to full professor, and then left in 1966 for Harvard, where he remained for the rest of his career.

Tinkham's research focused primarily on superconductivity, as captured in his classic text, Introduction to Superconductivity.

In his later years he was active in studying the unique properties of materials when sample dimensions are reduced to the nanometer range.

In the Journal of Superconductivity, Tinkham's former student Christopher Lobb '80 (Ph.D., Applied Physics), wrote:

"The opportunity to work with Mike ... was one of the greatest experiences of my life. As a researcher, Mike's rare combination of experimental and theoretical ability has kept him at the top of the field for decades.

"As a teacher, Mike worked constantly to make things understandable, and did so with enthusiasm and wit. Any success I've had since leaving his group has largely been due to what I learned from him ..."

Tinkham's awards and honors included election to the National Academy of Sciences; the receipt of the Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize; and the Fred E. Saalfeld Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Science in 2005.