History of the JFI
The James Franck Institute is one of the longest standing interdisciplinary academic research centers in the world. The Institute was founded in 1945 as the Institute for the Study of Metals. It was one of three research institutes (the others being the Institute for Nuclear Studies, now the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the Institute of Radiobiology and Biophysics, later the Department of Biophysics) introduced by Chancellor Robert M. Hutchins to build on the University’s involvement in the Manhattan Project. The institute was renamed after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist James Franck in 1967 to enable a broader remit. Franck, who was Director of the Chemistry Division of the Metallurgical Laboratory during WWII, joined the University of Chicago in 1938 and was a member of the Department of Chemistry until his death in 1964.
At its outset, the Institute was composed of roughly equal numbers of metallurgists, physicists, and chemists. The Institute initially enjoyed substantial industrial support through the Industrial Sponsors Program, in addition to contracts from ONR and, a little later, AFOSR. Funding shifted almost exclusively to government contracts as the number of metallurgists declined over the first 15 years and the research focus gradually shifted from the properties of metals to solid-state physics and physical chemistry (including the liquid and gas phases). In particular, it became the prototype for the ARPA-funded Materials Research Laboratories (transferred to the NSF in 1972, now the MRSEC).
Research in the Institute was diverse from its start. Consistent with the name, initial research focused on the structure, defects, deformation, phase transformations, grain growth, surface phenomena, and (non-electronic) transport processes of metals (prominent scientists of this period included Cyril Smith, the first Director, Charles Barrett, and Clarence Zener). However, semi-conductors, superconductivity, ferromagnetism, and anti-ferromagnetism were also studied within the first years of the Institute. By the 1960s, superconductivity was a major focus (centered on Morrell Cohen), and there were significant efforts in fluids, amorphous solids, and AMO physics (in particular, from Ugo Fano). Another major focus of the 1960s and 1970s was chemical dynamics, including Yuan T. Lee’s and, subsequently, Don Levy’s work with molecular beams to study gas phase collisions; in the 1980s, Stuart Rice achieved direct quantum control of microscopic dynamics. In the same decade, following the recruitment of Leo Kadanoff in 1978 and Albert Libchaber in 1982, the JFI became the premiere place for studies of critical phenomena and nonlinear dynamics. A recurrent theme in these developments has been the synergy between theory and experiment. While research in the Institute has broadened over its history, the intellectual lines leading to all of today’s activities can be traced back to the first two decades of the Institute.
For more in-depth looks at the JFI’s history, read "The Institute for the Study of Metals: The First 15 Years” written by Ole K. Kleppa and published in JOM: The Journal of The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society and “University of Chicago Research Institutes: 50 Years of Scientific Achievements.”