“I even felt surreal that such a “paradise” for theoretical physicists exists in this world!”

50th Celebration Retrospective

In 2012, the Aspen Center for Physics celebrated 50 years of groundbreaking exploration in physics. Representatives from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy applauded the Center and the American Physical Society declared it an Historic Physics Site.

Patty Fox searched the archives for the story of the Center's first 50 years. Because the Center has always been “by physicists, for physicists,” she has told the story using as a guide, the ACP Presidents' terms. These Presidents are always physicists active in their research fields. To read more about the beginning days of the Center, click the Founders & Pillars' Essays link to the left to learn, in their own words, how George Stranahan, Bob Craig and Michael Cohen put together a scientific research center that has been a prototype for similar facilities that borrow some aspects of the Aspen Center for Physics, but never duplicate the unique nature of scientific research found in Aspen, Colorado.

George Stranahan, 1968–1972

The Aspen Center for Physics was incorporated as an independent non–profit Colorado corporation in 1968. Its earlier operations from 1962 through 1967 as a unit of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (AIHS or Institute) had been handled rather informally, initially by George Stranahan, Michael Cohen, and Robert Craig, and later by a small group, with George acting essentially as President, Mike as Treasurer, and several others as an informal executive committee concerned with policy questions, the selection of participants, and fundraising.

By 1968, the Center had grown so that administration was burdensome for the AIHS. Incorporation was an opportunity for laying a foundation and it was George's vision that profoundly affected the Center's biography. As to administration he said, “These are physicists. They'll know what they want,” so one cornerstone of the Center is that the administration responds to the needs of the physicists and not the other way around. “By physicists and for physicists” underlies all decisions.

Another cornerstone aptly credited to George is the informality of the Center. George wanted no students and no courses. Physicists could do their research free of academic responsibilities. Although informal workshops are now a part of the summer program, attendance at the talks is open to all – and required of none – and organizers aim discussion toward the future of the field, not the past.

George encouraged participants to take full advantage of the Aspen environs. George and Bill Mencimer wallpapered the lobby of Stranahan Hall with topographic maps and on Friday afternoons for the past 50 years, clusters of physicists have gathered to plan their biking–hiking–climbing–fishing–rafting–mushrooming weekends, another cornerstone of the Center.

The fourth cornerstone, the one that enabled the Center to exist in the first place was one that George himself provided in the early years: the need for more money. His family foundation, the Needmor Foundation, funded the construction of Stranahan Hall and contributed substantially to other necessities during the early years.

During George's tenure, the addition of Hilbert Hall enabled the summer program to grow from about 20 to 55 participants. When the Center incorporated in 1968, the informal hands–on physicists, became the 16 Trustees and General Members of the corporation, with George as the official President. The Trustees were mainly in high–energy and nuclear physics, with few representatives from condensed matter (then solid–state) and none in astrophysics. A push into astrophysics began in 1969 with a working group on pulsars organized by David Pines. The condensed matter program also developed steadily, though less formally.

By 1972, George's cattle ranch in Woody Creek was demanding more attention and the Aspen Center for Physics was standing on a solid foundation. But George continued to step in when the Center was threatened, most notably during the “sales” of the land underlying the Center. He has remained a Trustee and a trusted friend of the Center for 50 years.

Randy Durand, 1972–1976

Incorporation of the Center in 1968, though initiated by the AIHS, was probably inevitable given the increasing size of the program and the growing complexity of operations. Randy became Chair of the Executive Committee of the Trustees, a position he held until 1976 when he retired as President. The Executive Committee played a steadily increasing role in the operations of the Center as George's interests began to shift elsewhere. Several major themes that carried over to later years were fundraising, facilities, the nature of the program, and the mode of operation.

The funding situation had become critical by the late 1960s. Foundations preferred to support new initiatives rather than continuing programs and the main operating grant from the Sloan Foundation was phased out in 1969. From 1962 on, proposals to the NSF had been rejected because the informal program did not fit into the NSF framework. The situation changed in 1971 when Marcel Bardon, head of the NSF's International Division, visited the Center. In a discussion on the lawn, Marcel explained why the earlier proposals had failed and advised Randy to institute formal workshops, which could be justified more easily to referees. The institution of workshops was especially controversial, but in 1972, the NSF approved a $33,000 grant and workshops became institutionalized. Marcel encouraged submission of a two –year renewal request for 1973 –74. That was again successful and NSF support has continued ever since.

Though hard to imagine now, the library, stuffed into a small room in Stranahan, was central to the Center's operation. It was moved by participants to a double office in Hilbert Hall and Pat Molholt, Astronomy librarian at the University of Wisconsin, and friend of Bernice and Randy Durand, cataloged the collection with a color/shape labeling system that, according to Pat, “could be understood by kindergarten students, ” so presumably also by physicists. The system is still in use.

By 1974, fundraising began for a new building named to honor Hans Bethe, who had supported the Center from the beginning by lending his name and energies to its early credibility and by donating $5,000 from his 1967 Nobel Prize. Even after the completion of Bethe Hall, money was tight; anyone interested in improving the facilities had to pitch in. Randy knew that physicists will work for food, especially pizza, and in a series of afternoon work parties they built Bethe library shelves and insulated and painted Hilbert Hall. A continuing –use agreement for Hilbert was reached with the AIHS and the facilities then remained the same until the reorganization of the campus and construction of the Smart Hall complex in the 1990s.

With the growth of the Center and the extension of the physics program into new areas – initially astrophysics, then condensed matter physics, and later biophysics – it was essential to add Trustees in those areas. This was very awkward at first, as the number of Trustees was limited, and there was no fixed rotation. The corporate bylaws were amended in 1976 to institute rotating terms for the Trustees and fixed terms for the officers, the first step toward the present corporate structure established in 1990. This has worked very well: as new research areas are added to the program, physicists in those areas are added to the governing group. This maintains an almost unique status as a physics research institution run “by the physicists for the physicists. ”

Paul Fishbane 1976–1979

When Paul Fishbane's presidency began, Stranahan and Hilbert Halls composed the built facilities, and Hilbert had by hook or crook escaped its prewritten fate as a temporary structure. The fixed–time total of participants was around 75. By the end of his first term with the completion of Bethe Hall, that number had risen to around 80 and it was to stay at that size until the construction of Smart Hall in 1995–96 increased it to 86.

There were two developments and trends during the three years of Paul's first term that continued to be visible during his one year as a succession stopgap president, 1988–1989. One was the role of workshops and the other, attendance limits.

The give and take between a workshop model and the free association model that was at the heart of the founders' conception was (and is) an ongoing feature of the Center's evolution. If the number of participants at any one time is capped at 86, and there are three workshops in residence, there are few desks for individuals doing their own research. The original Center concept was for long stays, which also decreases the total number of available participant slots. Another conundrum is that the admission of participants becomes partly governed by workshops in that organizers offer input to the admissions committee about potential participants. Thus, applicants for open slots began to recognize the implications of identifying themselves with a specific workshop and worse, some potential participants felt (and feel) that they could not gain admission to the program if they were not identified with a workshop. The debate over minimum length of stay and workshop participation versus individual research continues today.

Such attention to programming details makes Aspen a unique model for research and promotes its creative atmosphere. Paul reminisced, “When I first came to the Center as a fresh postdoc in 1969 I was completely awed by it. In many ways the awe has never left me. Whether you think that great men do physics or collections of thinkers are responsible, or something in between, Aspen provided the model. I watched over a long period of time as real advances, real changes in the field, were made by the best of the best and as groups small and large –sometimes I was in them – talked their way through the toughest problems to resolve them with a set of even more interesting problems. A good part of my entire scientific career was built around my conversations and collaborations in Aspen, and the entire organization acted as a kind of super –advisor. ”

Paul says he also had the privilege of pulling the best from the city of Aspen and the environs. “I rose at dawn to watch the sheep pass through town. I rose even earlier to be able to get to the top of the surrounding peaks. I walked through meadows, I coasted down Maroon Creek Road on my bike, I gathered mushrooms, I met my friends–including many friends who were not Center participants – for crazy talk and croissants. For all this I will forever be grateful. ”

Elihu Abrahams, 1979–1983

In late summer of 1979, Elihu Abrahams was elected ACP President. As the Center was now a smoothly functioning institution under the firm guidance of Sally Mencimer, its Administrative Vice President, the presidency appeared not to be very burdensome. However, it was during his term that the 13 years of agonizing negotiations regarding our land began. See “Acquiring the Land” at the end of this webpage for Elihu's description.

The early summers at the ACP had been devoted to individual researchers who collaborated with other attendees; workshops were informal and infrequent. NSF funding and the attractiveness of topical workshops to some physicists had pushed the Center toward workshops, but the debate as to their influence on the Center's mission continued. In 1981 and 1982 the trustees tried to return to the earlier format by restricting the number of workshops but a review of the participants confirmed that workshops were permanent. Elihu's 1981 and 1982 President's Reports stated “It appears necessary to announce the existence of topical workshops in order to maintain high quality participation –especially in view of the increasing demand from programs elsewhere on the time of the potential scientific leadership of the Center. ”

As a result of the increase in the number of workshops, the average length of stay began to decrease from almost 4 weeks (1978) to less than 3 weeks (2011). This was viewed with dismay by those who favored unstructured activity for 3 to 4 weeks or more over the sometimes hectic atmosphere and shorter stays associated with workshops. Nevertheless, restricting workshop activity became a losing proposition.

Quoting Elihu's presidential essay (click Presidential Essays on the left), “Programs at the Physics Center are planned one year in advance; therefore the subjects are extremely topical. This and the very high quality of participants and research outcomes are responsible for the ever–increasing demand on the Center's facilities. The summer program in 1980 ran for thirteen weeks, with 230 participants, which was typical. In 2012 the program will be sixteen weeks long, with about 540 participants anticipated, which is typical now. Other contributing factors are the proliferation of workshops, especially in astrophysics, and the introduction of biophysics into the Center's program. In spite of such dramatic increases, the Center's administration, led first by Sally Mencimer and now by Jane Kelly, has managed to maintain the informal and easy atmosphere that creates the stimulating environment in the service of science that has characterized the Aspen Center for Physics from its beginning. ”

Peter Kaus, 1983–1985

Peter Kaus was the second President to wade through the bizarre political negotiations which only in 1992 resulted in ownership of our “circle of serenity, ” the 4+ acres of the Aspen Center for Physics. The Center's three buildings, Stranahan, Hilbert and Bethe Halls were squarely on the land called the Aspen Meadows, 125 acres of incredibly expensive real estate belonging to the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (AIHS or Institute). A formal document, alluded to, but long–buried in the archives, was the Center's 99–year lease for a yearly rent of $1, never billed and never paid.

According to Peter, “By 1983, the ACP was arguably the most successful theoretical physics center in the world, but in terms of property it didn't – or at least shouldn't – exist in the minds of some. The negotiations had begun in 1980, when R.O. Anderson, Board Chair of the Aspen Institute, was so outraged that the City did not approve his plans for increased facilities that he sold the Institute property to Hans Cantrup, a local developer. This was a terrible shock and potentially the end of the Physics Center. The Aspen Meadows (us included) then went through several ownerships, or near ownerships, starting with Cantrup, who went bankrupt, continuing to John Roberts, a Dallas entrepreneur, to Donald Trump, whose interest was in building a hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain on land which was once another of Cantrup's assets. The “non–profits” (the Aspen Institute, the Physics Center, the Music Associates and the Design Conference) were of little interest to him. Then to everyone's surprise, both properties were snatched up by Mohamed Hadid for 43 million dollars. ”

With numbers like 43 million dollars in the pool, Peter felt out of his depth. Although George Stranahan had essentially changed his interest from founding a world–class Physics Center to pursuing cattle breeding on his ranch in Woody Creek, he agreed to head the Planning Committee. Endless meetings continued for several more years. George attended but followed his own advice: “Keep your heads down, let the big boys fight it out, then you can get what you want. ”

Peter and George were not fighting alone to save the Physics Center. The physicists had many friends in town. Physicists had given public lectures at the Wheeler Opera House, which were formalized in 1985 with the inauguration of the Winter Conferences, started by Martin Block. They were a great success and introduced Aspenites to the otherwise under–the–radar ACP. Kaus also sponsored a “College Advisory” service, meant for high school seniors contemplating higher education not just for future physicists, but for local kids.

The City finally granted Hadid rights to build four houses at the southern edge of the racetrack (an unused track abutting the Aspen Meadows and the Physics Center) with the rest of the Aspen Meadows land, open–space areas and all, basically intact. Peter continues, “We were saved – but as far as ownership was concerned, nothing had changed. When Marvin Goldberger, a good friend on the board of the AIHS asked me if I had anything special to convey to R.O. Anderson, AIHS Board President, I suggested, “Let my people go. ” R.O.'s answer was, “It is not convenient just now. ” It would not be convenient for five more years. ”

Mike Simmons, 1985–88

When Mike Simmons became President in the summer of 1985, the Center was “saved” from annihilation in the powerful land negotiations described by Elihu Abrahams and Peter Kaus. Vice President Jeremy Bernstein quietly took care of complaints about housing subsidies and other sensitive matters and the Center's day–to–day management was in the capable hands of Sally Mencimer. Apart from grant renewals, Mike saw two challenges: getting the new Winter Conferences on a stable footing and planning a celebration of the 25th anniversary.

In 1983, Martin Block had proposed a series of winter conferences modeled roughly on the successful Moriond conferences in the Alps. Peter Kaus had discussed this with the Trustees and had appointed an Organizing Committee. Marty obtained some funds from the DOE and the Aspen Foundation; the Organizing Committee held a few meetings and formed a Scientific Advisory Committee; invitations were issued. Marty, as Chair, with Beate his helpmate and wife, did most of the organizing from Northwestern, and in January 1985, two successful conferences on particle physics were held. As the program developed in 1986 and later, interest from the scientific community grew. Program proposals came in, the Chairs produced improved proposals to funding agencies, and the Winter Conferences prospered. Maggie and Nick DeWolf, longtime supporters of the Center, undertook sponsorship of winter public lectures that continues today.

The 25th celebration took place in 1986. Mike recalls, “The centerpiece of the celebration was a ceremony to honor our founders, Mike Cohen, Bob Craig, and George Stranahan, with a few speeches, some remembrances, and the dedication of a brass plaque for the patio wall. In recognition of our anniversary the Stranahan Hall septic tank failed and Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling declared August 6, 1986 as Aspen Center for Physics Day. ” Peter Kaus organized a series of nine public lectures as “our gift to the community that hosted us all these years. ”

The Center's lawyer, Nick McGrath, pointed out to Mike “that we were sometimes engaged in “unusual, ill–conceived, and possibly illegal practices. ” A major overhaul of our Bylaws was needed. Chaired by Randy Durand, more conventional Bylaws replaced the Advisory Board with General Members and made other important changes. Sadly for Randy Durand, he became our expert on these arcana, and has been consulted about protocol at every meeting for more than 20 years.

Mike's closing remarks from his presidential essay are reflected by hundreds of physicists who have worked here: “Miraculously, the ACP has struck a delicate and productive balance between the need to preserve its essential institutional memory and the need for fresh ideas and leadership. This requires a mix of vigorous younger members and experienced leadership, the one maturing into the other. It works because so many participants have come to love and respect the Center and are willing to volunteer their work to preserve it and improve it. ”

Michael Turner, 1989–1993

Michael's presidency was a transitional one, linking the “founders' era” to the “modern era. ” He claimed he was the first “young Turk” president, one whose roots didn't trace to the Center's founders and one who railed against the old boys. During his nine years of service, 1984 to 1993, the Center instituted a computerized database to list attendees and electronic bookkeeping by purchasing its first computing equipment, hired an outside accountant, ushered in the modern bylaws, established an endowment fund, acquired the land for the campus, began planning for the $3 million campaign that financed Smart Hall, and for better or worse, established workshops as the cornerstone activity of the summer program. The most important part of the transition, though, was handing over responsibility for the wellbeing of the Center to younger scientists more intensely involved in their research and not connected to the founding of the Center.

The quest to gain a permanent home on the Meadows campus came to a successful conclusion during his term. For a decade, the campus planning committee had repeated their mantra for what they wanted: a “Circle of Serenity. ” They also had a very good reputation in the community, a guardian angel and Aspen power player, George Stranahan, and a talented and much feared attorney, J. Nicholas McGrath, who had clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Robert Harth, President and CEO of the Music Associates of Aspen, had been a wonderful and supportive ally and together they had kept David Mc Laughlin (then President and CEO of the Aspen Institute) from negotiating bad deals for the non –profits. On March 23, 1992, thirty years after the Center was founded, Michael sent the following letter:

“Dear Trustee/Member: I have some very good news to report: The Aspen Center for Physics now has title to about 4.25 acres of prime Aspen real estate.... Michael S. Turner”

With the Circle of Serenity finally secured, it was time for the Turf Committee to create the modern campus. In his 1993 President's Report, Michael proposed a replacement building for Hilbert “with an estimated cost of $1 to $2 million (off by a factor of two – not bad for a cosmologist!) ” and a timescale of five years. It actually took only three years to build Smart Hall.

Michael remembers other notable events during his presidency: Erick Weinberg, Daniel Fisher and Michael lobbied the NSF for a 35% increase in annual grant funding (from $170,000 to $230,000). The meeting ended with David Sanchez telling his division directors to make it happen – and it did. At her request, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spent an afternoon at the Center campus during her 1990 Aspen visit when she famously told George H.W. Bush not to go wobbly on Iraq. The “Modern Era” had indeed begun.

Thomas Appelquist 1993–1996

Several momentous events took place during the Presidency of Tom Appelquist. Three prominent women physicsts organized a Focal Week on Women in Physics to increase women's participation; the Board decided to replace Hilbert Hall, the temporary building now 25 years old, and began a major development campaign; and Sally Mencimer announced her retirement.

In July 1994, Catherine Kallin, Katherine Freese and Elizabeth Simmons organized a Focal Week on Women in Physics with the goal of improving the participation of women in the Center's scientific activities. By 1996, seven additional women had been elected to the ACP Scientific Advisory Board. Three of the ten 1995 summer workshops and one of the four 1995 winter workshops had a woman among their organizers. The scientific workshops were more widely advertised and over 100 women physicists were added to the Center's mailing list. Involving women physicists was a big change from a nearly all–male beginning. Click the “Women at the Center” link on the left to read more.

Also during the summer of 1994, Harry Teague Architects developed an initial design for the replacement of Hilbert Hall. By 1995, the New Century Campaign was in full swing led by David Schramm, Michael Fain, and Larry Marx and aided by several major donations including especially important contributions from the Smart Family Foundation, Martin Flug and Gerald Hosier. By 1995, after consultation with many physicists, the building design, shepherded by Bill Frazer, received full construction approval by the city of Aspen, a major accomplishment given the intricacies of Aspen politics. Construction began in fall and Smart Hall was dedicated in a heartwarming ceremony on July 14th, 1996.

The summer of 1995 saw another milestone in the history of the Center. Sally Mencimer announced her intention to retire as Administrative Vice President. She had been the only local administrator since the Center's inception. At the annual meeting in July, the Board of Trustees passed the following resolution in thanks for 33 years of service:

“In writing a resolution of thanks to Sally, we find ourselves in roughly the same position as the Children of Israel who made a similar resolution of thanks to their Creator, for the Creation. It had to be done as best we could, but no way of doing it can possibly express our debt and gratitude. Sally has been with us since the Creation. She has been at our side at every step of the way. She has seen our participants grow from very young men and women to become the elders of our tribe. She has also helped us to bury and mourn our dead. No one at this Center has not been in Sally's orbit. Her retirement will leave an enormous gap in our family and this resolution is a tiny formal act of recognition for three decades of devoted, loyal and absolutely essential service. ”

The search for the new Administrative Vice President began, and then “We were extremely fortunate to be able to recruit Jane Kelly into this position, a role she fills with great distinction to this day. ”

Pierre Ramond, 1996–1998

Pierre Ramond remembers his introduction to Aspen: “In 1969, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the National Accelerator Laboratory, now Fermilab. Its director, the late Bob Wilson, issued an ukaz simply stated: “All theorists must go to Aspen! ” – An ukaz is an ukaz, and that summer found me on a scary flight from Denver to Asp–I became quickly acclimated to the Aspen way of life, playing volleyball in Wagner Park every day, listening to music outside the tent, walking a lot, and not spending as much time as I should at the Physics Center. It was this change of atmosphere which led me to stop calculating and start thinking. ” Pierre's presidential term began 27 years later with epochal changes. The opening of Flug/Hosier/Smart Hall was celebrated on July 14, 1996. The New Century Campaign, headed by David Schramm and assisted by Pamela McEntee, had exceeded its stated goal of 2.7 million dollars. Also in 1996, a new NSF grant of $250,000 in response to a request for $240,000 gave extraordinary recognition of the excellence of the Center's programs and unique place in American Science.

Jane Kelly became the new Administrative Vice President in February and was learning the Center's operations, assimilating the admissions process, and securing rental properties in addition to meeting with the builders and architects, helping secure loans, and orchestrating the move into the new building. Deb Pease as bookkeeper kept track of the intricate campaign finances and assumed a larger role in the admissions process.

The following year, thanks to Andy Cohen's extraordinary effort, another epochal change took place: All three buildings were wired and networked for internet access. The Bethe Hall seminar room was converted into the Marx Information Center, a computing center. While internet access was an enormous step in easing communications between participants and their home institutions, Pierre and others were bothered by the number of physicists who spent their time in their offices with their laptops opened in front of them, rather than interacting with the colleagues down the hall. Another change in the Center's founding culture was greater participation of theoretical life sciences.

In the second year of Pierre's three–year term, he wrote, “This has been the first full year of the Jane Kelly era. Just as the new building has transformed the physical aspect of the Campus, she and her staff have added a new human dimension to the operations of the Center. Under her firm hand, our 1996 housing loss was the lowest I have ever seen. Last year was one of training for Jane. This year, she is training me; next year I expect she will be ready for the next president. ” The third year of Pierre's tenure was also the saddest, as two former Chairmen of the Board, David Schramm and Peter Carruthers, and one Honorary Member, Richard Slansky, passed away. Pierre wrote, “These tragic events brought to many of us an immense sense of loss made all the more poignant by their absence from this Center that they loved and helped to build. Thanks to their efforts, the Center has never looked more beautiful. ”

Eric D'Hoker, 1998–2001

While a postdoctoral fellow at MIT, Eric's colleagues described to him a summer institute, high up in the Rocky Mountains where “sharp minds gathered to carry out research at the cutting edge of physics and to hike over the weekends. ” In 1983, Eric came to the Center, fell in love with Aspen, with its physics, and with its hiking. Between 1983 and 2002, he participated every summer except one, and acknowledged the Center in most of his papers written during that period. He truly valued the ACP library and also found that sitting in on seminars and discussions in other subfields, especially in condensed matter physics, were exciting and inspiring.

His term as president was preceded by three years as Treasurer of the Center, a position to which he had been “promoted” from that of Assistant Treasurer. He says, “To this day, I am not sure why the Center's powers, then at play, imagined me capable of putting together decent financials. I doubt they were aware of the fact that both my father and grandfather were businessmen who had juggled balance sheets for a living. ” Once again, the Center's perspicacious powers prevailed: the financial health of the Center was greatly enhanced by Eric's tenacity.

“Perhaps the most important task a President of the Center must complete is securing federal funding, without which the Center could not operate. High gears are required when an old NSF grant is near expiration, and a proposal to renew the five–year grant needs to be submitted. The NSF had provided adequate support for the Center since 1972. But in 2000, the funding dollars had been virtually constant since 1991. I made it my mission to redress this situation, and dedicated my seven–week stay in 2000 to hammering out a good proposal. Nine months later, the ACP received confirmation that the NSF grant would be renewed, with a 32% increase, to a total of $330,000 per year. This leap was made possible by the fact that all seven external reviewers had ranked the proposal “Excellent, ” and all three panels involved had recommended “the highest priority for funding. ” Comments included, “The Aspen Center for Physics provides an entirely unique facility for physicists from a variety of sub–disciplines to interact in a substantial way. ” “It is easy to be enthusiastic about providing continuing support for the ACP, since this is a stellar institution that fully deserves to have its support continued. ” “I believe there are few opportunities where the NSF gets better value for its money, either in terms of immediate research productivity or in terms of broader impact on the long–term health of the field. ” ”

While funding for operations was now secure, rental prices for participant housing were increasing at an alarmingly rate. Eric, Tom Appelquist and others suggested that the ACP build and administer its own housing. Eric recalls, “Murray Gell–Mann stressed at the time, we had always subsidized participant housing rentals, and would just have to subsidize at a higher rate. The ACP was to stay away from acquiring its own housing. Period. Of course, Murray was right. ”

In wishing a happy 50th anniversary to the Aspen Center for Physics, Eric says “My sincerest wish is that many future generations of young physicists will be able to draw as much joy and fulfillment from their association with the Center as I have had the privilege to over almost 30 years. ”

David De Young, 2001–2004

The Aspen Center for Physics was deeply saddened at the death of David De Young on December 2, 2011. 1972 was his first year at the Center and he returned every summer through 2011. Dave has been the only Colorado native and University of Colorado graduate to serve as President of the Center. After graduating from CU, he received his PhD in physics and astronomy from Cornell University in 1967 and joined the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in 1969. In 1980, he left NRAO to join NOAO where he served until his retirement in 2011.

Once the Center came to grips with the fact that computing had become an integral part of Center life, the expansion and stability of the bandwidth required ongoing attention. Dave saw to it that the computing system improved every year, due in large measure to the significant efforts of Andy Cohen, who addressed wireless networking, use of professional assistance in maintaining the computer systems, and the generation of a long range plan for computing at ACP.

Under Dave's direction, Randy Durand began a much–needed revision of the bylaws. Two important changes assured that the Center continue to include “young Turks, ” as Michael Turner labeled the upcoming leadership: 1) For Members completing their first term, renewal should be recommended if the member has been active in the Center and wishes to remain so; 2) For members who have served two or more terms, renewal should be viewed as the exception rather than the norm; non–renewal should not be seen as a negative judgment.

Dave devoted a great deal of energy to further increase the Center financial stability by securing a NASA grant of $30,000 per year for three years. This was three times that of previous NASA funding of the Center's activities.

The 40th Anniversary Celebration occurred during Dave's presidency. A special committee chaired by Bernice Durand produced several events and a video, “Aspen Center for Physics – The Founding” featuring Michael Cohen, Bob Craig and George Stranahan. The Center again participated in the 4th of July Parade with four red jeeps loaded with enthusiastic physicists in red “40th” T–shirts. The parade was followed by a memorable Ice Cream Social on July 6th. The town was invited; Bea Block and Maggie DeWolf hand made ice cream using liquid nitrogen and quite a party was created.

Dave also undertook the Center's first partnership with the Aspen Institute in many years for an Einstein Convocation. The goal was to bring the two institutions closer together, as well as to speak to both scientists and lay people. It proved to be an organizational challenge to embrace the many agendas presented, and the archives attest to Dave's expenditure of energy and diplomacy. The end result was a huge success. Speakers and panelists included nearly twenty Aspen Center for Physics board members. The lively and inquisitive discussions spoke to scientists and nonscientists alike, and the mix was electric.

Andrei Ruckenstein, 2004–2007

A year after Andrei finished his PhD, the Aspen Center for Physics Center began to play an important role in his professional and personal life – and he has played an important role in the life of the Center. In addition to the intellectual stimulation the Center provided him, summers in Aspen also reconnected him with music, his first avocation.

One of Andrei's idealistic goals, “such as one can only dream about at high altitude, ” was to use the Aspen community as a venue for bringing science into popular culture. His first initiative in 2001 expanded the Center's well established, but formal, lectures to include an informal dialogue. This popular series now fills the hall and inspired later initiatives that Andrei pursued as President.

When he received a call from Tom Appelquist, Chair of the Board of Trustees in 2004, asking him to serve as the next President, Andrei said, “This is not the kind of position you would campaign for (and if you did you would completely undermine any chance of getting it) but once offered, there is no turning it down! People still tell me – some with humor and affection, and some with annoyance – that I made everybody work too hard, but like childbirth, time and distance slowly erase all but the big ideas and the sense of joy – this is at least in part because those who were once annoyed with me are now annoyed with others! ”

Andrei addressed the challenges at two levels. The immediate, short–term issue of the five–year NSF grant renewal was favorably funded with a 27.5% increase, partially the result of support from Program Directors in the Biology Directorate who, based on the Center's performance in this area, decided to begin contributing to the Center's long–term funding.

The larger perspective that Andrei brought as President did indeed keep the Center working hard, so much so that his major accomplishments can be numbered:
1. 2005 – Andrei founded the Aspen Science Center with George Stranahan and Kevin Ward, which focused on enhancing the public's understanding of science. Collaborations with the Physics Center include summer “Science is for Kids” picnics with fun physics and informal “Physics Cafés” preceding the winter lectures. Mike Simmons and Steve Pinsky now maintain operations.
2. 2005 – “Monday Music at the ACP,” now a tradition, began with support from Marty Flug and Veda Kaplinsky who convinced the Aspen Music Festival to loan the Center a grand piano and showcase some of their talented piano performance students in concerts in Flug Forum.
3. July, 2006 – A group of ACP members involved themselves with the Energy Track of the Aspen Ideas Festival and followed that event with the “Aspen Center for Physics Energy Forum” which brought together leaders across many areas of energy research and policy, mostly physicists by background, who gave a high–level introduction to the status of the energy field both on science and policy fronts.
4. August, 2006 – Founders and Pillars Weekend celebrated the founders and others who contributed over the years, refreshing the history and scientific impact of the Center and also honoring Hans Bethe whose contributions helped established the Center's early credibility.

Andy Cohen, 2007–2010

Andy Cohen first came to the Physics Center as a student in the late 1980s. At the time he had not settled on physics as a career, knew little of how physics as a profession operated, had never been to an academic conference and had only the vaguest notion of what physicists did. More importantly, he had no notion whatsoever of what a summer program at the Aspen Center for Physics was like and had never dreamed that scientists might gather in a place of such natural beauty and pursue their shared passion for understanding nature, free from other distractions. Aspen gave him the opportunity to associate with physicists of all levels: He wrote a paper with the soon–to–be ACP president, Michael Turner, went on the first of many hikes with Sidney Coleman and climbed his first “fourteener” with David Kaplan and Ann Nelson.

Andy took the reins at a relatively quiet, yet celebratory period in the Center's history. In 2009, planning began for the 25th anniversary of the Winter Conferences and the 50th of the Center. The land issue had been permanently resolved. Funding had leveled off for the time being, and debts had been paid. Still, Andy tackled some of the old problems, which continued to plague the Center.

Housing prices had been steadily rising and 2007–2008 was a very expensive year. Andy's goal was to keep Aspen stays affordable for scientists, so he arranged for a higher level of support. $50,000 in additional support was met with a gift from Maggie DeWolf and the Nick DeWolf Foundation. Andy also grappled with a dislocation support system that was not working as well as was needed and he redeveloped one that was easily enforced equally among participants. The housing crunch eased during the next two years with the weakened economy and Andy's term ended with the Center in a strong financial position.

Andy addressed other long–term problems as well. In 2005, while the Computer Committee Chair, he laid the groundwork for a relational database, which would eventually revolutionize applications, admissions and recordkeeping at the Center. Work on that and a new website to replace the one he had created in the '90s began during his presidency. In 2009 and 2010 there were nearly 1,000 applications for the summer program, up 20% from the previous record. In 2010, a record 26 proposals for summer workshops were submitted. While these increases validated the success of the ACP program they also presented difficult challenges to the admissions and program committees as in both cases, there were almost as many rejections as acceptances. Perhaps because of these stresses, there were unpleasant incidences of uninvited physicists “dropping in” and invited physicists inviting others to “drop in. ” Clearer guidelines were adopted to support staff and legitimate participants when these incidences occurred. Trying to fit more physicists into the summer session added to the decades–long struggle to maintain the unique Aspen scientific atmosphere of longer stays. Andy studied the statistics and encouraged the admissions committee to try to maintain a minimum visit of three weeks to allow for creative scientific work. Andy also added a week to the summer program which helped admissions constraints.

Of his presidency, Andy says, “Those few weeks that summer nearly 25 years ago showed me what membership in the community of physicists could be like. I have now had the privilege of being one of the Center's caretakers, and in that role I hope that I have managed to foster the spirit of camaraderie and familiarity (in the literal sense) that I experienced then. The Center has evolved significantly over that time but continues to provide an atmosphere that encourages research and recreation through contemplation and collaboration. I look forward to the next 50 years as a member of the Aspen family. ”

Rosemary Wyse 2010–2013

Rosemary Wyse is the first female president of the Aspen Center for Physics, an historical event in itself as the Center celebrates 50 years. While the bulk of her presidency will be dominated by events honoring the past, her views will also set the tone for the future. One topic she will address is the issue of diversity which will be a focus of mini–retreats of the ACP membership and participants this summer. The 50th also emphasized the need for completion of the new and improved website which had been in process for years. The age of social media was also challenging the Center's modus operandi and during meetings during the 2012 summer, the members considered how best to use the internet and smart devices to reach beyond the immediate Aspen community.

Rosie, Michael Turner, Jon Bagger, Bill Frazer and Mike Simmons oversaw preparations for the 50th and garnered scientific and community support for the many events planned that summer, especially the stellar array of public lecturers and symposia participants.

The 50th also inspired gratitude. Rosie noted, “With budgets for basic research under intense pressure, we are immensely grateful for the continued funding from the National Science Foundation providing the bulk of the financial support of summer participants. We also are grateful for support from the US Department of Energy and, in the past, from NASA. Our success in competing for federal grants reflects the importance that physicists of all sub–disciplines place upon the ACP, as the premier summer research institution –– a place to think, discuss and focus. We must maintain the unique environment for research that the ACP has developed, vastly different from a conference center. In doing so we must ensure that we continue to evolve to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse physics community. ”

“Let my People Go! ”
Acquiring the Land: 30 Years of Squatting

In late summer of 1979, Elihu Abrahams was elected ACP President. At the time, the position of President did not appear to be very burdensome, but Elihu was “just in time for the beginning of the protracted, complicated and often meaningless negotiations among various parties in Aspen concerning the future development (or not) of the land originally belonging to the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. ” Elihu's idea of defining the Physics Center grounds as a “Circle of Serenity” gave the physicists a rallying point in their fifteen–year effort to acquire the land on which they had built the Center.

What came to be known as the “Academic Campus” now includes the Physics Center, the Music Tent, Harris Hall, Paepcke Auditorium, the Meadows Tennis Courts, and the “race track, ” the undeveloped land just to the east of ACP. The Academic Campus, as well as the Aspen Meadows Resort, had been owned by the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies from the 1950's and the Aspen Center for Physics had been renting the land under its own buildings from the Aspen Institute for $1 per year, never billed, never paid. In 1977, in order to enable development and/or a financially advantageous transfer of holdings, the land and buildings of the Aspen Institute were transferred to a new entity, the Aspen Meadows Corporation. When the development plans of the latter were rejected by the Aspen City Council in 1979, the Aspen Meadows Corporation promptly sold itself, thus the land and buildings of the Aspen Institute including the Physics Center, to a local carpenter cum developer, Hans Cantrup. Then began a very long series of bizarre negotiations and property transfers that only in 1992 elevated the Aspen Center for Physics from “squatters” to “owners. ”

In 1981 the Aspen City Council appointed a body to advise on the disposition of the property of the Aspen Institute. This was an advisory board of interested and affected parties – which included the Aspen Center for Physics, only after Council was reminded of its existence. This body included representatives of the Music Associates, the Aspen Institute, the International Design Conference, the Physics Center, various lawyers, city functionaries, and Hans Cantrup who provided lunch fixings at every meeting – and then went bankrupt. John Roberts, a Dallas entrepreneur, briefly claimed ownership followed by Donald Trump, whose interest was in building a hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain on land which was once another of Cantrup's assets. The “non–profits” were of little interest to him. Then to everyone's surprise, both properties were snatched up by Mohamed Hadid for $43 million dollars.

Peter Kaus, who followed Elihu as President in 1983, remembers, “We had some good allies at the hearings: the combination of non–profits, which came to be called the Consortium, and the town itself. Hadid had several plans. One plan was for many houses on the racetrack with a little village on the academic campus. We were determined to keep the racetrack the natural prairie it was and the academic campus with as much open space as possible. Luckily, Hadid was building his big hotel, the Ritz –Carlton, and had to deal with the City about that as well. He was aware that the Consortium was united against development and he started to make concessions. Eventually he was satisfied with four houses at the southern edge of the racetrack with the rest of the whole Aspen Meadows land, open–space areas and all, basically intact. Just as George Stranahan, who had stepped in to head the Planning Committee had advised, “We kept our heads down, let the big boys fight it out and got what we wanted. ”

The ACP was saved – but as far as ownership was concerned, nothing had changed. Marvin Goldberger, “Murph, ” had been at one time Chairman of the Board of the Physics Center but in 1987 he was on the board of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. Before going to these meetings, he would call Peter and ask if he had anything special to convey to R.O. Anderson, Chairman of the Board of the Aspen Institute. Peter suggested, “Let my people go. ” One time Murph called to tell Peter that he had had a short dialogue in a taxi ride with R.O., whose answer was, “It is not convenient just now. ” It would not be convenient for five more years.

Finally, on March 23, 1992 then ACP President Michael Turner sent the following letter:
“Dear Trustee/Member: I have some very good news to report: The Aspen Center for Physics now has title to about 4.25 acres of prime Aspen real estate – Michael S. Turner”
Thirty years after its founding, the Aspen Center for Physics, complete with land and buildings, finally, officially, legally owned the land beneath its buildings and it was time for the Turf Committee to refine the lovely campus it celebrates at 50 years.