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                        Seminars in Theoretical Physics: The Early Years

“In the beginning”, there were three main areas of Theoretical Physics research at Sussex: Particle Physics, Nuclear Physics, and Solid State Physics. The Field Theory and Particle Physics seminar series took place on alternate Mondays at 2.15pm, interleaved with the Nuclear Theory series; the Solid State series was on Tuesdays, I think. In addition there was a fortnightly Theoretical Physics seminar, on Thursdays at 4.15pm in PB1A6 (now called Pevensey I 1A6). This was interleaved with the Physics Colloquium at the same time, but in PB1A7. Graduate students and internal speakers also gave informal accounts of their current research on Friday afternoons. The Astronomy Centre offered its first MSc course in October 1965, and Bill McCrea, the first appointment to the Centre at Sussex, arrived in January 1966. The Friday afternoon Astronomy seminars were instituted around then. In the early days most people smoked, so all lecture theatres were supplied with ashtrays, and by the end of seminars the air was literally blue with cigarette smoke.

Looking through some ancient diaries recently – the earliest is 1966 - it occurred to me that it might be of interest to record a few details of some of the seminars we had in those days. Seminar lists were produced at the beginning of each term: the Field Theory & Particle Physics series was invariably printed on pale green paper and the Theoretical Physics series on pink; I cannot now recall the colour codes for the others. Copies of these lists have long since been lost or destroyed, so I have attempted to reconstruct some of the details from the abbreviated entries in my diaries. However, the diaries do not record which series any particular seminar was attributed to, although in many cases this can be inferred from the information given above. In any case, it is probably not too important. Besides the date, time and venue, I often only recorded the speaker’s surname and some indication of the topic. I never recorded their institution.

I reconstructed the missing data on names and affiliations using Google and the limited data in my diaries on topics and surnames. The results are displayed on the accompanying spreadsheet. The list is certainly not complete. For example, I would not make a diary entry if I intended to be away on a particular day, for example because I was speaking elsewhere (or, in 1966, because I was in India getting married!) Nevertheless, I believe that it does convey something of what interested people then. The dates are certainly correct. I am pretty confident that I have correctly reconstructed the speakers’ first names, or at least their initials, but less confident about the affiliations. The affiliations given are certainly feasible, but it was sometimes difficult to be sure precisely when a speaker was affiliated to a particular place. For example, I have listed Noel Cottingham as being at Birmingham in 1967 and in Bristol in 1971, but I am not sure precisely when he moved from Birmingham to Bristol. In some cases, the first three entries in 1966, for example, my diary recorded nothing on the topic, and I have not attempted to guess. Often, as in these three cases, this was because I knew the speakers and/or what they would speak on (even though I can no longer recall what it was), or because I intended to attend on principle.

My list coversthe period from January 1966 to December 1974. I was on sabbatical leave the following year, so there is in any case a break in my records, such as they are. I hope that anyone so-minded will correct and/or augment what I have written.

David Bailin
January 2014