Remembering Brian R. Judd, Professor Emeritus

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Professor Chia-Ling Chien prepared the following remembrance of Brian R. Judd, Gerhard H. Dieke Professor Emeritus, who passed away on April 8, 2023.

I was saddened to hear that Brian Judd had passed away.

Long before I met Brian Judd, he was already famous during my thesis research in the 1970’s.  I studied his theoretical papers on angular momentum and hyperfine interactions.  To many physicists Brian Judd has been known as the “Angular Momentum Judd” in part because of his book Angular Momentum Theory for Diatomic Molecules.

After I came to Hopkins, I made an appointment to see him in Rowland Hall, now Krieger Hall.  I had no idea how intimating the revered physicist might be.  To my relieve, Brian was mild manner, tall and handsome, soft-spoken, in jacket and tie, a true English Gentleman.  His office was spotlessly clean.  Only a few things were displayed neatly on his meticulously organized desk.  For all the years I have known him, Brian has always been this way.  I have seen him without a tie only twice; once during the physics picnic, the other on Saturday.  On both occasions, the jacket was still there.  

In his office Brian had a few dozen notebooks on his bookshelves, all purchased from the same stationary store in London.  The research results of his entire professional life were handwritten into these notebooks.  I once had a question about his theoretical results.  In some publications in that era, the forward slash “/” means division.  I wondered whether the several factors to the right of the slash “/” were all in the denominator in one formula.  Brian thought for a moment and took out one notebook from the bookshelves.  In a few minutes, he found the formulae and clarified the ambiguities.  

When the physics department moved from Rowland to Bloomberg in the 1990’s Brian’s office was on the 5thfloor.  Once he told me that the custodian had smoked in his office and used his phone.  I could understand the smoking part because of the tobacco smell, but using his phone?  Brian explained that the cord of his telephone was always looped in a particular way when he used the phone.

Brian came to Hopkins from Oxford via Berkley.  He came as a bachelor and lived in the nearby Hopkins House apartment, at the corner of University Parkway and 39th street for many years.  In addition to being conveniently located, he also met Josephine also living at the Hopkins House.  They later moved to the house on Malvern Ave in the county, where we played piano four-hand and chamber music with other members in the physics department.

Brian was an accomplished pianist.  Through Brian I learned that the British had strange names for music terms, such as quaver and crochet, for the eighth and quarter notes respectively.  Brian is an excellent sight reader of music, probably due to years of training looking at the 3-j and 6-j symbols in angular momentum.  Brian had a vast collection of music scores, literally a roomful in the Malvern Ave house, including some very rare pieces.  Before the internet, one’s first encounter with a piece of music was either through a music score or by a live performance or recording.  I encountered some rarely heard pieces of music at Brian Judd house, such as Cantabile and Contradance by Chopin, and the piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies by Liszt.  That room was full of treasures.

The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is the most authoritative publication in music, with 20 plus volumes in each edition, occupying more than 8 feet of shelve space.  It teaches everything one ever wants to know about music except how to play it.  After the first Grove edition published in 1840, a new edition appeared every two decades or so.  The mighty JHU Milton Eisenhower Library had only two different editions of Grove, Brian had three.  

The best story related to Brian was when he first came to Hopkins in the 1960’s.  He went into a classroom for his lecture, and the blackboard was fully covered with notes from an earlier class.  He proceeded to wipe clean the blackboard and announced to the class that he expected a clean blackboard in his class.  The American students did not take seriously the demand of the British professor.  On the next day, the blackboard was again full of formulae from the earlier class.  Brian cleaned the board again and made the same announcement again.  On the third day, the blackboard was still not cleaned.  This time Brian did not clean the blackboard.  He started his lecture and proceeded to write formulae and notes in the small spaces between the lines.  He soon filled up all the small spaces.  Now he must clean the board as the class thought.  He did but only his own notes in the small spaces between the lines.  Henceforth, Brian always had a clean blackboard when he entered the classroom.  

The last time I saw Brian and Josephine was in 2018 or 2019 in the Wilmer Institute in Greenspring Station while we were waiting for our eye exam.  They were already in wheelchairs. Brian was still, as always, mild manner, soft-spoken, and in jacket and tie of course.  To my newer colleagues, I wish you could have met him.