"Lark-Horovitz haunted the literature. He
came up with all kinds of obscure papers published in obscure journals.
So he was always interesting to have around."
On working for Lark-Horovitz:
Karl Lark-Horovitz is best known for turning the physics department of Purdue University, then a backwater school, into a research powerhouse. His personal research was in germanium and solid state science -- and if anyone had had a chance of inventing the transistor before Bell, it was Lark-Horovitz. As it was, the Purdue physics lab was probably only six to twelve months behind.
Lark-Horovitz was born as Karl Horovitz in Vienna, Austria on July 20, 1892. He added his wife's name to his own when he married Betty Lark in 1926. Lark-Horovitz attended the University of Vienna for his undergraduate degree in chemistry, and then stayed on to earn his Ph.D. in physics in 1919. His research often focused on the interface between physics and chemistry, which gave him the right background for a career in solid state science, which tends to be a mixture of both disciplines.
After teaching at the University of Vienna, he took a tour of the United States on a Rockefeller Foundation international research grant. When he gave a talk at Purdue in 1928, he was offered a job there by the Dean of Science. At that point in time, Purdue's physics department had five professors -- only one of whom had a Ph.D. -- and six graduate students. Lark-Horovitz was an ambitious scientist and it's unclear exactly why he chose to take the job. But he did, and he stayed there for the rest of his life.
Within two years he was head of the department and the signs of his reign were already beginning to show. He introduced courses in modern physics -- most of which he taught himself -- and because he had so many scientific contacts, people began to sit up and take notice of the once-sleepy lab. Lark-Horovitz ruled with a strict hand. He dictated research projects and the curriculum and kept an almost authoritarian eye on everything.
When World War II arrived, the physics department was called upon to help with the war effort. This is when Lark-Horovitz first became involved with solid state physics, as he worked on improving the crystal rectifiers that were necessary for army radar receivers. The Purdue lab is largely responsible for realizing germanium that was a good semiconductor for electronic devices. By adding trace amounts of tin to germanium crystals, the lab made rectifiers that could withstand ten times as much voltage as earlier ones. Such an aid to the army caught the attention of the US Government, which continued to fund Purdue projects after the war, helping the fledgling lab out even more.
Lark-Horovitz became one of the foremost researchers in
solid state science, and ran the Purdue physics department until he
died in 1958.
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