My Mini Bio
Alan (Al) S. Carroll
May 15, 2018
This “Mini” bio is being written at the request of Oberlin College Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahallati so that his students in Shiraz, Iran will realize the unusual mixture of students in his Oberlin College classes on Friendship and Islam. It is “Mini” in that it is planned to extend to no more than about 4 pages (whoops – 7 pages!), but it will definitely be longer than a one-page summary.
1936 – 1954 My Early Life
I was born on April 9, 1936 at about 9 PM, the third and last child of my parents, Burt H. Carroll (physical chemist employed by Eastman Kodak Co.) and Lucinthia B. Carroll (physics major at Wellesley College – responsible for installing and testing some of the earliest phone dial systems.) I have two older sisters, Ruth (Registered Nurse), and Marjorie, the only other living member of our family, (physics major at Wellesley – and very accomplished physicist and computer programmer.) My life is an example that heredity is destiny, unlike Jafar who took a long time to discover this truth.
All but the first two years of my life before I went off to college were spent on Sagamore Drive, located in Irondequoit, which is a northern suburb of Rochester, New York. Our two-story, “Dutch Colonial,” had gray shingles and blue shutters. The back yard of our house sloped down into a large unoccupied wooded area. A wonderful place for all sorts of boyhood adventures with my friends on Sagamore Drive. Continuing on through the woods we crossed a railroad track, and then descended steeply onto the edge of a large wetlands area bordering the Genesee River. These wetlands were the place of long winter afternoons ice skating and playing pick-up games of hockey.
I attended Kindergarten through 6thgrade at Seneca School which was within biking and walking distance of home. My 7ththrough 12thyears of schooling were in Charlotte Jr-Sr High School across the Genesee River in the city of Rochester. Both were excellent schools where I received good foundations in English, math and science.
1954 – 1958 Oberlin College
My four years at Oberlin College were among the happiest of my life. I chose Oberlin because I knew I preferred a small college, I knew some students there, and it felt right. As a physics major, I spent a lot of time working on math and physics problems into late at night, but Oberlin provided lots of time for informal socializing in the co-ed dining halls where we had meals. There were times for conversation and some games of bridge before going off on “lib dates” to the Carnegie Library, or some musical or theater event.
In my Junior year, I met the love of my life, Polly Dyck, in the Tank Hall. We were constant companions until I graduated in 1958. We were married when she graduated in 1959.
The other two activities that added to the variety of life during my Oberlin years were sports and bicycling. I ran track as a middle distance runner all four years, and played soccer for three years. Good stress relievers to reduce the tensions of studying. I had two significant bicycle trips during these years. After freshman year two of us cycled from Oberlin to Loren’s home in Alexandria, Virginia. About 500 miles, I think. Then one summer, Dave, Dave and myself travelled by an old ocean liner, to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. From there we made a large 2000-mile circular bicycle tour through Europe with numerous adventures along the way.
I have been back to Oberlin for many Class of 1958 reunions, and it is always a pleasure to renew the friendships of my roommates, class mates, and faculty.
1958 – 1963 Harvard University
After all of the distractions and diversions of Oberlin College, my graduate education at Harvard University was much more of a “grind.” Without the casual socializing, I became overly concerned with my studies. Fortunately, Polly joined me year later and provided much of the diversion that I desperately needed. Although working with the Harvard cyclotron for my thesis experiment was taxing, it was an excellent preparation for a career as an experimental physicist. I got to design and build much of my equipment, and then run the cyclotron through long midnight hours. Unlike the present day, most of my calculations were done on mechanical calculators with the assistance of talented Harvard undergrads. Nathalie not only calculated, but also baby-sat our son, Mark, when he was born in April 1962. My PhD thesis was written, typed-up and approved by spring of 1963, and then I was off to the next phase of my life.
1963 – 1965 Abingdon, England
One of my Harvard professors suggested that I apply to the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory in England. It seemed like a good idea, so in May 1963 we boarded the Queen Mary headed to Southampton with our son, two bicycles and our trusty Volkswagen “bug.” It was a very pleasant trip across the Atlantic with lots of admiring remarks about our cute young son.
Once at the Rutherford, I chose to work with faculty and graduate students at nearby Oxford University. It was an interesting time, generally much more relaxed than that at graduate school at Harvard. We enjoyed exploring the countryside of the British Isles in our “bug” with the left hand drive – exciting at times!
Our experiments on the Rutherford’s new accelerator, “Nimrod,” went well, and the evening seminars in Oxford with a trip to the local “pub” afterwards seemed like a very gentlemanly way to do physics. I have kept up with a few of my many friends that I met during those two years.
In 1964, Polly and I were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, Shauna. She came into this world free of charge and with a 17 £bonus thanks to the generosity of the British Public Health system.
1965 – 2001 Brookhaven National Laboratory
A major portion of my experimental physics career was spent at Brookhaven National Laboratory which is located on Long Island about 60 miles east of New York City. Brookhaven was established in 1947 in order to establish large experimental facilities that would be operated and governed by major east-coast universities such as MIT, Harvard, and Columbia. A particle accelerator named the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS), which was one of the two highest energy in the world for a number of years, and a facility where three Nobel Prizes in physics were performed. Although the lab’s first focus was physics research, the laboratory housed chemistry, biology, medical and applied science facilities that were in pursuit of “peaceful uses of the atom.”
The research that I did at Brookhaven Lab, plus some at Fermilab near Chicago meant that I was a co-author on more that 50 scientific papers describing the properties and interactions of many of the small particles of matter that make up our universe. I worked with many other physicists from other universities and laboratories from around the world. These included PhD’s and graduate students from all over the United States, and Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, China, Japan, India, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Italy. Since my branch of physics is very international, this resulted in good conversation with my fellow experimenters during the long hours of collecting data.
My time at Brookhaven included the years of the Vietnam War, and I spent much time at vigils and protests in opposition. This was a war that demonstrated to me the ugliness and senselessness of so many wars. Another anti war activity that I became heavily involved in was the proposal by the two American nuclear weapons laboratories to use our AGS accelerator. Our facilities were planned explore the initiation of nuclear weapons by implosion by using particle beams to “x-ray” the rapid sequence events leading up to the explosion. Fortunately this did not require actual nuclear explosions at the lab, but the strong feelings of my co-workers and myself was that the world certainly did not need smaller, more powerful nuclear weapons, and such work would result in a great deal more of security in an open laboratory, with many international workers and visitors from “sensitive” countries. A combination of lectures, meetings and petitions resulted in this proposal being scrapped.
A few years after arriving on Long Island, my family and I became actively involved with a church. Some friends invited us to join a small United Methodist church that was just being formed in a town close to our home. Our family quickly became involved, and looked forward to Sunday worship, and meetings to plan the activities of the church. Our understanding of the Christian gospel was that violence was never a solution to a solution to conflict. Opposition to the Vietnam War and to the rising danger of nuclear war, were often topics of discussion and calls to action.
2001 – 2003 Quasi Retirement on Long Island
I officially retired in June 2001, but continued to work part time at Brookhaven for two more years. This left time for more travel, and attending adult education classes at near by Stony Brook University. These included poetry workshops, and a course that I designed labeled, “Is Peace Possible?” In this course we explored peacemaking in a variety of religious traditions. The attack on the World Trade Towers, and the beginning of the War in Iraq, showed the desperate necessity for understanding among different religious faiths.
2003 – Present Oberlin Retirement
Polly and I had been back to Oberlin on a number of occasions for class reunions since we graduated. After being retired on Long Island for two years we came to the conclusion that living in the small town of Oberlin would be preferable to the traffic-congested sprawl of Long Island. Shortly after my 67thbirthday, we received a message from Kendal at Oberlin that there was a cottage available for us. After a scurry of activity to sell our house, and to seriously downsize to fit our belongings into a two-bedroom cottage, we sent most of our belongings in a moving van, and packed our two cats and the rest of ours essentials into our van and headed west on an hot August afternoon.
The Kendal at Oberlin Continuing Care Community is a nearly perfect place to live out one’s retirement years. First of all, it is only a short distance by foot, bicycle or car to the Oberlin College campus. So all of those classes, concerts, lectures and theatrical productions that I missed as an undergraduate, were now accessible. Also music, film and lectures come to Kendal on a regular basis. Kendal residents in their 100+ committees plan most of the organized activities at Kendal. Mealtimes with fellow residents are almost always interesting, as are other informal contacts throughout the day. I participated in a writing group at Kendal led by a Creative Writing faculty where about ten of us wrote and discussed short pieces of fiction, poetry, and interesting life adventures.
Kendal was an ideal place to bicycle or hike out into the Ohio farmlands and parks, or to join friends for 8 o’clock tennis matches at the outside courts at Kendal or inside at the College courts. Also there were exercise classes for muscles not adequately exercised in any of the above activities.
About two weeks after our arrival in Oberlin, I started my second career as an older Oberlin College student in the NeuroScience 201 class of Professors Bradford and Bianchi entitled simply, “The Brain.” Fascinating material because my last formal encounter with biology had been in high school the year before Crick and Watson had unraveled the structure of DNA. In the following 14 years, I audited 26 additional courses in politics, history, religion, physics, economics, psychology, anthropology, and architectural history. For the most part I was the solo elder person in a sea of younger students. I attempted to do much of the reading, and wrote a number of term papers. However, I learned in NeuroScience 201, that test taking is not a beneficial retirement activity. I very much enjoyed these mind-stimulating classes, and since I was not receiving a grade I felt free to ask a number of less than intelligence questions.
Having developed an interest in peace making during my time on Long Island, I looked for ways to continue this important activity in Oberlin. Oberlin College’s Experimental College (ExCo) provided a way to pursue this passion. Despite its long history of liberal arts, the College has never had an major or minor in Peace (and Conflict), despite at least four attempts designed to bring Peace Studies into the curriculum dating back to 1840’s. Undeterred by this history, I with students and other community members created a series of ExCo courses to consider, plan, and model a Peace Studies Program at Oberlin. A professor correctly pointed out that while we hope to bring about peace in this world, we will never be free of conflict, and we need to learn to settle conflicts without violence. Hence Peace Studies became Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS). By the year 2009 with the help of Prof Steve Mayer and Steve Crowley and other supportive faculty, the PACS concentration was a part of the Oberlin College academic curriculum.
Saturday noons were a time to gather on the corner of Tappan Square to vigil for peace and protest the injustices of the day. A measure of our effectiveness was determined by the number of “honks” by the passing traffic.
The first week we were back in Oberlin, we discovered Peace Community Church, an incredible little church whose co-pastors are Mary and Steve Hammond. Every Sunday issues of peace and social justice were lifted up and discussed in light of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a small congregation of community members and a number of college students seeking to find their way to a life of service. Out of congregation of about forty people, more than eight students went on to become ordained pastors in churches throughout the United States. The small church in Oberlin is in connection with former student members (“Scattered Church”) around our nation and with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America that Steve Hammond helped to create.
Building on the foundations of my Christian faith, I explored other faith traditions through classes in both the history and religion departments. This class learning was greatly enhanced by meeting Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist students who were willing to relate their faith stories. My understanding of Islam and its place in world history was greatly expanded through a series of courses taught by Prof. M. Jafar Mahallati. Given that Islam has been demonized by so many American politicians, and that many conflicts are located in Muslim majority nations, I felt that it was important to learn as much as possible about the history and practice of Islam. A significant portion of the work of our organization, Community Peace Builders, was to prevent a war with Prof Mahallati’s home country of Iran. Working with our local members of Congress and in collaboration with the Quaker based, Friends Committee on National Legislation, we sought to prevent war inciting proposals in Congress. Most importantly we strongly supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action carefully negotiated in 2015 with seven other world powers to halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Unfortunately, the present Trump administration sees no merit in diplomacy, believing that military power can settle all disputes despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
I strongly support Prof Mahallati’s view that the route to global harmony is through a dense world network of Friendships.