James Holley Bartlett

James Holley Bartlett (1904-2000)

James Holley Bartlett, emeritus professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois, served on our faculty from 1930 to 1965, when he left to join the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, as a professor of physics. He received a B.C.E. from Northeastern University in 1924 and an A.M. (1926) and Ph.D (1930) in physics from Harvard College. From 1928 to 1930, he continued his educational training at the University of Leipzig, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, the University of Bristol, and Cambridge University.

The range of Professor Bartlett's interests was remarkable. In 1986 at the age of 82, he wrote an important letter to the editor of Physics Today (November 1986, pp. 133–134), urging physicists to consider many areas of research in physics that offered opportunities for significant advances to benefit society. His own research focused on atomic and molecular structure, scattering of fast electrons, nuclear forces, and shell theory, as well as electrode kinetics. In 1932 (Phys. Rev. 41, 370 [1932]), Professor Bartlett was the first to recognize that atomic nuclei display particularly stable configurations of atomic charge, or number, or both, as one of a set of so-called "magic numbers," e.g., 2, 8, 20, 50, 82, 126. This discovery was central to the development of the nuclear shell model in 1948 by Mayer and Jensen.

In addition to his work in nuclear theory, Professor Bartlett was also one of the first to apply the tools of physics to problems in biology, specifically problems of nuclear resonance and membrane permeability. In 1940, he was appointed a Rockefeller Fellow in Biology at the Cornell Medical School, where he worked with Dr. D.W. Bronk. He spent many summers pursuing research projects in biological physics at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he was a member of the MBL corporation.

In the 1960s, Professor Bartlett became interested in the restricted three-body problem and celestial mechanics, carrying out early computerized searches for stable orbits. He also became interested in the study of orbital stability using Henon mapping. His work demonstrated the existence of chaos in certain areas of classical dynamics and stimulated the study of chaos itself.

Professor Bartlett was a talented linguist who studied Russian so that he could read Soviet scientific papers in their original language. On a visit to the USSR in 1963, the tall, burly American astonished scientists, first at Moscow State University and then at a mathematics conference in Leningrad, by presenting a seminar in Russian on non-linear differential equations. His approach to the three-body problem described a method previously unknown to Russian mathematicians.

Professor Bartlett was one of the driving forces in establishing an astronomy program at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, as part of the department of physics. He remained interested in research and active in the department long after his retirement in 1975. He died on September 5, 2000, in Tuscaloosa.