Thomas Bergeman, Research Professor at Stony Brook University, passed away at the age of 84. He is survived by his wife, Birgitta; sister, Barbara; brother, George; two daughters, Alexandra and Andrea; and grandchildren, Sanya, Mattias, and Julien.
Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Tom was an exceptionally curious midwestern student who explored various fields before later honing in on atomic and molecular physics. His early studies as an undergraduate student at Caltech were in chemistry with Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling as his advisor. Upon graduation from Caltech, Tom’s inquisitive nature led him to work in the medical research field, course work in quantum chemistry at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, studies in Chinese language and history, and later the history of modern science in China which included becoming quite proficient in Chinese language along the way. Finally choosing his pathway into physics, Tom returned to graduate school at Harvard University where he completed his dissertation in molecular spectroscopy in 1970 under the supervision of Professor Bill Klemperer. After post-doctoral work at Columbia University and a faculty position at Fordham University, his thesis work attracted European interests leading to collaborations with prominent physicists in France and Sweden in the field of molecular spectroscopy and atomic physics. Through contact with Professor Albin Lagerqvist, it was in Sweden that he met his wife, Birgitta, and they married in 1980 in Stockholm. Together they raised two daughters who went on to pursue careers in ballet.
In 1979, Tom was hired by Professor Harold Metcalf at the State University of New York in Stony Brook where he earned the title of Research Professor in 1996, and continued his dedicated work in atomic and molecular physics until just weeks before his passing. Nominated by the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics for his contributions in “Stark spectroscopy, molecular spectroscopy, magnetic traps for neutral atoms, atomic response to laser spectral noise, microwave ionization, and the emerging area of computational physics,”1 he became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1991. He worked in the realm of laser cooling, and “his 1987 paper on magnetic traps has become a classic, paving the way for Bose condensation experiments.”2 In his later years, Tom received grants from the National Science Foundation to continue his research.
With both Tom’s mother and father having passed away from heart attacks in their 60s, that would likely have been his fate when he suffered his heart attack at age 62. However, thanks to modern medicine (a successful triple bypass surgery and later a stent operation), Tom was able to live 22 more years. It was in those 22 years when Tom was able to produce 30 percent of his published works, and he was able to enjoy another side of life -- one as a devoted grandfather to three lively young grandchildren. He was a gentle, sweet, and involved grandfather, whom his grandchildren adored.
Tom enjoyed meeting and engaging in conversations with people from all walks of life and was truly captivated with people’s life stories. He left a lasting impression on those he met, and his genuine curiosity and interest in good conversation led others to leave a lasting impression on him. He played the piano and enjoyed playing duets with his daughters and grandchildren, read a variety of literature, and always took daily walks. He had a concern for the state of the world and the future of our planet, and lived a simple, frugal lifestyle. Tom is remembered as a kind, calm, humble, and accomplished academic who assiduously supported his family and students and who had a passion for research and for learning of all kinds.