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James Nordman

James Nordman

April 27, 1934 to November 21, 2017
James Nordman (around 2005)

January 29, 2018 (PO62). James Emery Nordman, Professor of Electrical Engineering and IEEE Member passed away on 21 November 2017 at age 83. Jim was born in Quinnesec in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He graduated from Marquette University in 1957 and received his Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1962. He then joined the faculty of the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Jim was associate chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department for several years, a founding member of the Material Science Advisory Committee, and an active participant of the Applied Superconductivity Conference.

During his 34 years at UW–Madison, he initiated and taught many subjects and built extensive thin-film laboratory facilities for fabrication and study of superconductor-based devices. Jim, in collaboration with his graduate students and colleagues, made extensive advances in superconducting technology, both in low-temperature and high-temperature superconductivity and on the fabrication of thin-film devices utilizing state of the art techniques. He spent two years on separate leaves of absence from UW–Madison to further his professional work. He conducted research in Princeton, NJ at David Sarnoff Research Laboratories of RCA, and in 1972 he took his family of eight to Grenoble France for a year in which he worked at L’Air Liquide. Jim retired from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1996.

Jim was a creative engineer, an experimentalist, and a soft-spoken teacher. He seemed to have immense patience and inexhaustible time to listen to and guide his graduate students in their endeavors. His unconventional approach of encouraging his students to freely select their research areas prepared them for successful careers in their professions. Some went on to establishing a superconductive electronics center which is currently part of a premier government lab for fabrication of superconducting circuits. Others participated in founding what is believed to be the first successful commercial company for the advancement of thin film and superconducting electronics. His guidance and engineering insight became invaluable to his students in the industry in their quests to expand the boundaries of conventional electronics and successful introduction of superconducting electronics into the commercial marketplace.

Jim’s disposition of embracing new research territories and ideas is what led him to superconducting electronics from his early work on semiconducting devices and circuits. His entry into Josephson effect research at UW gained Jim and his colleagues' national attention when they published their research finding on parallels of wave propagation on superconducting transmission lines to brain waves. To Jim’s amusement, a few custodians of the engineering building petitioned him to be the first recipients of his “engineered brain.”           

In his spare time, Jim enjoyed tinkering with old cars, playing music and performing choral singing; he was a talented musician. In retirement, he was able to focus on his 1941 Lincoln Zephyr convertible—giving him pleasure, challenges, and more good friendships. His quiet manner and humble approach were enjoyed by friends, colleagues, and students.
Jim is survived by his wife Clare and their six children, 13 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren, and by numerous students whom he mentored as engineers, researchers, teachers, and entrepreneurs. He will be dearly missed for his sense of humor, patience while teaching, fatherly winks and, always, a ready smile.

Masoud Radparvar, Gert Hohenwarter, and Cathy Nordman

In the 1980s I was a graduate student at UW–Madison working in Steve Van Sciver’s helium cryogenics lab. Needing a thin film lab to make temperature sensors for my experiments, I approached Jim Nordman and was welcomed into his lab. There I learned much from fellow students as we worked to make films and devices from sometimes old and finicky equipment. One learning experience occurred when I was working on an evaporator. While turning a bolt, the wrench touched something that produced sparks and a bang and shut down all power to the lab. Professor Nordman came out of his office and marched me down to the breaker room so we could restore power, along the way making it clear with one comment and just the slightest hint of annoyance that in the future I was to make absolutely sure the power was off before working on equipment. I consider part of Jim’s legacy that I am still alive and working in superconductor electronics.

The last correspondence I had with Jim was after the 2011 EUCAS centennial of superconductivity held in The Netherlands. I wanted to let him know that I was still active in superconductor electronics and that superconducting computing was again under active development. I also sent him a photo I took at the conference of a presentation referencing his work on Nb/a-Ge/Nb published in 1972. He was happy to receive it and we spoke on the phone. I am sad that he did not live to see the next generation of superconducting computers.

D. Scott Holmes