AVS Historical Persons | Jim Murday - 1996

Jim Murday - 1996

Oral History Interview with Jim Murday

October 15, 1996
murday.JPGMURDAY: I am Jim Murday. I'm privileged to be one of the Presidents of the American Vacuum Society. I thought there were two points I would like to reflect on. One is a personal recollection of a turning point in the Society. Early in the 1980s - 1982 to be exact - the Vacuum Society brought its National Symposium into Baltimore, and I had the honor of being the Local Arrangements Chairman at the time. I was new to the society, and this was an assignment that had me considerably nervous, especially since Local Arrangements Chair had a lot of work to do. I was located in Washington and the meeting was in Baltimore. But fortunately, that was the first year in which we had a young lady by the name of Marion Churchill join us. There was an interesting dynamic that happened. Marion, being new to the Society, wasn't entirely clear on what was important or not important. She came in with the full intent of running a very tight meeting so that she could show that she could run one without it being very expensive. Coming from Scotch ancestry, that reinforced my own inclinations, and that was one of the leanest meetings that the AVS has ever run. 

Well, this contrasted with the next year, where the meeting went to Boston, and they had a Local Arrangements Chair, Dave Diamond, who was a veteran of Local Arrangements. He had his own committee and his people knew exactly what they wanted to do. Marion now had a year's experience under her belt and a better feel of what she wanted to do, so it went from a situation of being two novices both feeling each other out to being two pseudo-veterans both fighting it out. In the years that have intervened, of course, we've gotten very used to having Marion on board, and we'd have a hard time doing without the services that she brings to us. In fact, that was illustrated during the year I was President; Marion was ill, and Phyllis Green stepped in at the last minute and took up the Local Arrangements chores in Chicago. There was a lot of stress that year associated with not having Marion available. That proved her value to the organization, but at the same time it also proves one of the strengths of the AVS. There were volunteer people around, in the person of Phyllis in this case, who step into the breach to make sure that everything goes smoothly. The meeting that year went fine, although I'm sure Phyllis added some gray hair.

The second point I'd like to talk through a bit was based on some reflections I had when I was asked to run for President. I started to ask myself, what was the AVS? What was it about? And what good reason was there for me to take on that kind of responsibility? Looking back through the AVS, it appeared to me that there were two periods of time in which it has been phenomenally successful at something most American professional societies aren't ever successful at. When it was formed back in the '50s and early '60s, it took the science of vacuum, developed it, but more importantly, took it from the science into a technology, into products. The society grew tremendously during that time frame. Then there was a period of stability where actually the membership dropped off slightly. 

But again in the late '70s and especially into the '80s, there was a second period of phenomenal growth. That is when the surface science community joined in, and there was a tremendous period where new analytical tools associated with surface science were being developed and where again a very strong interaction between the science base and the people in the industrial side developed. That's about the time I joined the society, and I remember any number of occasions leaving technical sessions, going down to the exhibit wanting to talk to the local company experts, only to find that they were back in the technical sessions. What they were trying to do was find out what was hot, what new developments should they be ready to take on, what new products should they have back in their laboratories. This dynamic was instrumental in leading to a growth from a society on the order of about 1,500 to a society that's more on the order of 5,000. 

In the '90s, I would say that the society was more or less treading water. We're looking for another opportunity to be as successful as we have been through those two earlier periods of time. In looking at the organization, I think that the assets that the Society wants to bring to bear are pretty well represented by the word “interface”. We interface between the disciplines - we have chemists, we have biologists, we have physicists, we have engineers, because vacuum is neutral. The Society encompasses all of those people and makes good use of them. It interfaces between the very basic research and the very applied research. I've given a couple of examples where I think the society has been just superb in harnessing the linkage between those two groups. And then it has, I would argue, in its science areas, a commonality in that much of what it does involves materials interfaces. So I think the challenges that we're going through right now in the '90s, where again, we've more or less stayed at a constant membership number, that we're looking for ways in which we can take those three aspects of the interface and find a new area where we can get things coupled and make a dramatic impact by taking science out of the laboratories and into product areas. 

Let me stop with that.


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