The TSRC gets Started!
Why didn’t Carl Lineberger and I want to help Steve start the TSRC in the early 1980s? Carl and I were close friends, Professors of Chemistry, and also Fellows of JILA (a world class quantum institute a joint enterprise of NIST and the University of Colorado, or CU), and we both knew Steve well. Steve tried to convince Carl to move to the University of Chicago: they were both interested in atomic electron affinities, among many other things. In return, when Carl and I were co-chairs of Chemistry, in Boulder, 1977-1980, we tried to get Steve to move to Boulder to Head CIRES (an Environmental Sciences Institute co-sponsored by CU and NOAA). We almost succeeded!
The three of us were often in Aspen, Steve and Carla having a home there, and Carl and I sharing his Condo, all making use of the facilities of the Aspen Center for Physics, especially its Library, where Steve ran workshops, and was also on the Board of Directors. Carl and I used Aspen to escape the Chemistry Chairmanship for a few months each summer, to get papers and proposals written, and to let our minds wander into new areas., Aspen was only a slightly more than three-hour drive from Boulder, at least in the summer, and what a lovely drive.
But suddenly things changed! Aspen Physics (…a great error….) decided that Steve’s work in Thermodynamics, beginning to move into Finite Time Thermo, didn’t belong in Aspen. After all, hadn’t everything worth knowing about Thermodynamics been worked out in the 19th Century? So, Steve, with his former student and close colleague Peter Salamon, started talking about setting up a new Theory Center, focused on Chemistry, and Chemical Physics, in Telluride. Would Carl and I switch from Aspen to Telluride to join them? We could run workshops there.
At that moment, with Carl owning that Condo in Aspen, and our use of Aspen being the freedom to write and think, with the support of a fine Library (computers not being what they are now….), and not to run workshops. And we didn’t want to turn a 3-hour drive into 7 or 8 hours, as Boulder was so much closer to Aspen. This was not an issue for Steve (from Chicago) or Peter (from San Diego), so for both either Aspen or Telluride were a long way from home, and only worth the trip to undertake serious business, and long-term stays. So, Carl and I said, “no way,” but thanks and good luck!
But then, suddenly things changed again. My wife Katrina and I had moved to The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, in the spring of 1984, and three life changing events took place almost at once! Frist we realized that for all the intellectual and cultural values of Philadelphia, summers were just “Too Darn Hot.” Second, I (with no prior expectation of this at all) was appointed Chairman of Chemistry, a rapidly changing and growing department, with the Chair seriously involved in fund raising, and many other interactions with the University as a Whole, not just Chemistry. So, I would need an escape plan, one that included science, and a break from city life for our two young children. I wanted them to see, and become a part of “Wilderness,” not just “City Life.” Thirdly: Peter Salamon, also unexpectedly and magically, showed up at our house for dinner one night in Philadelphia, and said that he and Steve were dying for me to start a Chaos Theory Workshop in Telluride! Well, Telluride was now a Town of a Different Color, and we immediately agreed that I’d start a new workshop and spend a month in Telluride starting the Summer of 1985.
Chaos theory was a very young and new part of Theoretical Chemistry in 1985, coming out of Math and Physics, where even there it was a new and developing direction. It was in organizing and holding that first Chaos Theory workshop in Telluride that I realized exactly how unusual and special the programs that Steve and Peter envisioned were, and that their views fit exactly into what was needed to get Chaos Theory well developed and well placed in both Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry.
Here is where Steve and I really became friends, as I learned that his view of a “workshop” was totally unique. I’d, of course, been to summer Gordon Conference, where cutting edge research was presented in the mornings and evenings, with afternoons free for intense informal discussion, and, or course, a walk or two for relaxation. But Steve’s thoughts about what a Workshop at the TSRC might be were of a completely different nature! The purpose of a Berry Workshop was not to talk about past accomplishments, but to think out, and plan, for the future of a discipline, or sub-discipline, which did not yet exist. Why was it needed; how would it be defined; what problems should be attacked first, answered by long argumentation about which were most important; how should those first attacks should best proceed. Could the work be divided up, so that workshop members & their groups could work in parallel during the regular academic year, and then return the following summer to Telluride to put the parts together?
In those days Telluride was wide open, not yet gentrified, quite inexpensive, so the majority of workshop participants, in those early days, could easily be, and were, graduate students, postdocs, new young faculty, with only here or there a more senior person, to facilitate, but not even necessarily lead those discussions. The local organizer and facilitator of our existence in the Town of Telluride, was the wonderful Wendy Brooks, well connected to the local public-school system, and just founding and starting The Telluride Academy, an out of doors program for young children, and they were happy to take on ours, even though they were only 3 and 5 years old! So, we were at once hard at work, free of a large part of looking after our own children, and intellectual imagination our priority. Wendy lived across the street from our summer rental house, and a block behind her was Elaine Fischer, artist, political activist, who was to serve on the Town Council before becoming Mayor of Telluride, and then County Commissioner for four terms. The Steve, Peter, and I and the TSRC worked closely with Wendy and later with Elaine so as to become part of the fabric of intellectual life in a Town, already well known for skiing in the winter, and many Art and Music and Film festivals in the summer, the last of these now of great international fame.
So, Steve had picked the perfect place for a fledgling young scientific organization; the TSRC had no special outside funding to get started, as we were fortunate enough to be in a perfectly affordable place.
But interestingly in that first summer of 1985, I was only slowly to discover that Steve and Peter had a fortuitous additional reason for having invited me to start the 3rd TSRC workshop in that particular summer: they would both be on Sabbatical over the 1985-86 academic year, and thus absent for the summer of 1986! So, their question was: would I be willing to become President of the TSRC, and keep things running over that next year and summer workshop season. So with their help and blessing I became President for the period 1986-89, at the end of which time the size of summer program had well more than tripled. For example, my small Chaos Theory Workshop or 8 to 10 young theory students, had evolved to a full workshop of almost 40, and consisting of as many experimentalists as theorists. We’d indeed founded and defined a new part of physical chemistry. Peter and Steve’s own workshops had been taken over by their younger protegees, from Denmark and England, and a large, and largely separate, group of folks from Los Alamos National Laboratory, just a few hours away in Northern New Mexico, had started an independent series of workshops on robotics and artificial intelligence, or AI. So, we stated “public lectures,” open to all workshop groups, and also to the interested general public too, knowing that that would keep things from becoming too technical. Turned out that some of that AI was very interesting indeed. These small and informal public lectures continued, but also gave birth to the R. S. Berry Public Lectures, and Pinhead as well, held up at the sparkling new Mountain Village auditorium, and most often attended by hundreds of summer visitors, to the delight and pleasure, as well as the actual learning about new facets of science, of all, including the lecturers.
Peter later told me that they both had feared that they might return in the summer of 1987 and find that all had disappeared. But then Steve and I, by 1988, were already discussing the downside of success: with larger numbers, suddenly completely free-from discussions became lectures with question and answer sessions following. Still, we had the beauty of Telluride to pull us all outside, and there the independent and free ranging discussions would continue.
Professor Emeritus, Chemistry, University of Washington, Seattle
Second President of the Telluride Science Research Center
September 1, 2020