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Obituary of Gerald J. Dolan

29 September 2008

Gerald J. Dolan, a retired Professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, died on June 17, 2008 in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania at age 63 following a long illness. He was widely known for his fundamental experimental work in condensed‑matter physics. In his short career he and his colleagues authored some 50 papers, many of major impact. His most cited paper, from 1987, described an experimental tunnel‑junction device (later called a single‑electron transistor) that showed clearly the effects of the electrostatic energy changes involved in the tunneling of individual electrons. In recognition, he received a share in the 2000 Oliver E. Buckley prize of the APS, which cited his "pioneering contributions to single‑electron effects in mesoscopic systems".

Jerry was born in Philadelphia on May 27, 1945. He received an A. B. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967 and a Ph. D. from Cornell University in 1973. His thesis work, with Professor John Silcox, involved Bitter‑pattern imaging of magnetic structures in superconducting thin films.

He joined the Physics Department at SUNY at Stony Brook in 1974 as a Post‑Doctoral Fellow. There he studied Josephson weak‑link devices.

From 1976 until 1987 he was a Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. and there was a valued partner in many collaborations. Often his experiments involved producing some pattern of thin films of < 0.1 ╡m dimensions. This usually employed a thin‑film lithographically‑defined stencil, with overlapping of successive evaporations or ion milling at various angles used to produce features much smaller than the stencil openings. This simple but powerful technique was originated by J. Niemeyer. Jerry discovered it independently and used it to great advantage. Some highlights of his work from this period concern weak‑localization effects in the resistance of thin Li films, photoluminescence from InGaAs/InP 300 ┼ dots, images of hexagonally ordered flux quanta in YBa2Cu3O7 superconductors and the single‑electron transistor.

In 1987 Jerry joined the IBM Research Laboratories in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. There he collaborated in significant further studies of magnetic flux lattices in YBa2Cu3O7.

In 1989 he joined the Department of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania as Trustee Chair Professor of Physics. There he assembled an experimental laboratory, taught courses, and directed graduate students in research, this while coping bravely with the onset of a progressively worsening illness. His research involved tunneling into 50‑┼ diameter crystals of semimetal Bi in a challenging and successful experiment. Sadly, his declining health eventually prevented him from fulfilling his research and teaching duties at the level he required of himself, and he chose to retire from his beloved Penn in 1996 at age 51.

He continued until 2000 as a consultant in medical physics at the Immunicon Corporation, work begun in 1992. There he and colleagues developed a novel magnetic‑susceptibility trap for sorting and holding individual cells in a blood specimen, facilitating optical studies of abnormal cells. According to Paul Liberti, then‑CEO of Immunicon, "Jerry's work was crucial in the development of our product Cell Search ‑ a test that finds cancer cells in blood and analyzes them".

Jerry's colleagues knew him as a man of great scientific and personal integrity. He had a sharp sense of humor and was a master of the rejoinder. He had a quiet demeanor but could be outspoken. He held strong convictions about right and wrong both in life and in doing science. When a scientific question caught his interest and he thought of an experimental test, he would work non‑stop on the issue, with little use for distractions. He had high standards for himself, and would do nothing halfway. His experimental samples were works of art. Yet at times he sincerely dismissed his insights and accomplishments as mere "common sense" and "no big deal". His religious and social conscience led him often to question whether his life would be better spent in more direct service to others. In this vein, he was very active in volunteer service in his church and in the community. His decision late in his career to pursue medical research reflected these feelings, and he took s! pecial satisfaction from this successful final work. He never married, but was a beloved brother and uncle of his siblings Kay, Michael and Tom and their families. He spent much effort in caring for his mother Alice, particularly in her declining years. In turn his family took him in their care in his decline. He was a good and caring friend and the best of colleagues to those fortunate enough to have known and worked with him.

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