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Godfrey Gumbs

Research physicist and physics professor Godfrey Gumbs was born on September 7, 1948 in Georgetown, Guyana to Mary Teresa Gumbs, a homemaker and Charles Alexander Gumbs, a postal worker. After graduating from Queen’s College of Guyana, he received a Guyana scholarship to attend Trinity College, Cambridge University where he earned his B.A. degree in applied mathematics in 1971. From 1971 to 1972, he sat Part III of the Mathematics Tripos which is a natural first step for the doctoral degree at Cambridge. Gumbs went on to earn his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in theoretical condensed matter physics from the University of Toronto in 1973 and 1978, respectively.

From 1978 to 1982, Gumbs served as a Research Associate at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa. Then, from 1982 to 1989, he worked as a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada Fellow, a Canada University Research Fellow at Dalhousie University and the University of Lethbridge. As an NSERC Fellow, Gumbs held the position of Assistant Professor of physics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and as Professor of Physics at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. In 1992, he was hired by Hunter College, City University of New York and was duly appointed the Chianta-Stoll Chair and as a University Distinguished Professor. Gumbs received the Eugene Lang Student-Faculty Research Fellowship at Hunter College in 1993 and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Research from Hunter in 2003. He has served as a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a J. William Fulbright Senior Scholar and a visiting fellow at his alma mater, Trinity College, Cambridge University. His research interests in theoretical condensed matter physics include: nanoscale semiconductor structures and electronic properties of mesoscopic systems. He has over 300 publications in leading scientific journals and co-wrote the textbook Properties of Interacting Low-Dimensional System, in 2011.

Gumbs is a fellow of the Institute of Physics, the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society (APS). He was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, a United States Air Force Faculty Fellow and a Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics Scholar (KITP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Gumbs is a member of the Sigma-Xi Honorary Scientific Research Society. In 2005, he received APS’ Edward A. Bouchet Award for his significant contributions to physics and his mentoring of students. Gumbs and his wife, Jean have three adult sons.

Godfrey Gumbs was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 17, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.106

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

5/17/2012

Last Name

Gumbs

Marital Status

Married

Schools

University of Toronto

Queen's College of Guyana

University of Cambridge, Trinity College

Rumveldt Anglican School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Godfrey

Birth City, State, Country

Georgetown

HM ID

GUM01

Favorite Season

Christmas

Favorite Vacation Destination

Panama

Favorite Quote

That's all it takes.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

9/7/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

Guyana

Favorite Food

Curry

Short Description

Research physicist and physics professor Godfrey Gumbs (1948 - ) is a distinguished professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York and an expert in the field of nanophysics.

Employment

CUNY- Hunter College

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

University of Lethbridge, Canada

Dalhousie University

National Research Council (NRC)

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Godfrey Gumbs' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about trade in Georgetown, Guiana

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his mother's upbringing in Georgetown, Guiana

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Godfrey Gumbs describes how his parents met and their personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his neighborhood in Georgetown, Guiana and the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his days at St. Thomas Moore Roman Catholic School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his childhood illnesses

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about Wrungfield Anglican School

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his childhood interests and activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about the social and political climate of Guiana

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his family's educational background

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his graduation from Queen's College

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Godfrey Gumbs describes the influence of religion on his family

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his experience going to London for the first time

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Godfrey Gumbs describes the student body of Cambridge University

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about the faculty at Cambridge University

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about solid state physics and his decision to attend the University of Toronto

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs describes how he met his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about the University of Toronto

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his doctoral research

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his postdoctoral research

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his work at the University of Lethbridge

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his work during his sabbatical

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about the use of carbon and carbon nanotubes

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his move to Hunter College

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs discusses the future of nanotechnology

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Godfrey Gumbs describes the discovery of graphene

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about honors he has received

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs describes Trinity College and his work with single electron transfer

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his research on graphene

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs describes the challenges of attracting more minority students to physics

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about the future of nanotechnology

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his experience in Toronto as a minority STEM student

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Godfrey Gumbs discusses New York's efforts to attract minority students to physics

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Godfrey Gumbs reflects upon his career

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Godfrey Gumbs describes his efforts to help students in Guiana

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Godfrey Gumbs talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

6$5

DATitle
Godfrey Gumbs describes his doctoral research
Godfrey Gumbs describes the challenges of attracting more minority students to physics
Transcript
All right, well, tell us. What was your dissertation title and what was it about in the simplest terms that you can describe it in?$$Okay, so, I was doing a couple of problems for my, for my dissertation but then decided to write just one of them. One was on the phase transitions in, in restricted systems, in low dimensional systems in films. And a phase transition is something as follows, namely that, if you have a piece of ice and you, you place it out in the, in the sun, then it melts. So there is a transition from solid, the ice phase, to a liquid phase or if you boil water, there's a phase transition from the liquid phase to the gaseous phase which is steam. And this is a very complicated problem. I mean phase transitions occur, for example, if you, if you have a magnet, and you, you heat, you warm the magnet up, then it could lose its magnetization. So the, the transition from being magnetized to not being magnetized, that's known as a phase transition. And so I was considering phase transitions and the behaviors of, what plays a role? The thing is what plays a role in causing this transition. And so I was, I did, I did a couple of problems on this, but my thesis advisor wanted me to write something up for the dissertation, so I can defend it (laughter), to become a doctor. And so I wrote up something on, on the second problem which is entitled, 'Surface Spin Wave Modes.' So if you have a surface, then it's quite, the behavior of the material is quite different from if you look inside of the material itself. So that's one. That's the operative word, "surface". A spin wave is a wave which involves a spin, and the spin in an intrinsic property. For example, you know that the electron has a charge, you know. There's a positive charge or a negative charge. The electron has a negative charge, but also it has something which is due to an internal degree of freedom known as its spin, like a spinning top. And this spin is what couples the electron to a magnetic field. For example, if you do an MRI, when there's only, the only way you could get an image is because you have a material which couples to this external magnetic field. And the material must have this internal degree of freedom known as the spin. So I did my work on this, on this extra degree of freedom and how it behaves in, on a film.$Okay, now, what are some of the challenges in bringing new students along today?$$Money. It's usually funding, funding. So, it is expected that if you are in physics, and you take a graduate student, then you should help, help at least to support that student. The only way you can support that student is if you have external funding or funding from some source. And so you have to write a proposal, get it reviewed, get the funding to support a student. And it is vital, I think, as you are, as you're getting older, to have students who you can mentor and with their energies be able to complete some of the projects which you have some idea, some vision how to do it, but, you know, you need man power. So this is a challenge which, not only faces me, but as a theorist, an experimentalist, even more so because then they have to find funding for equipment or supplies and they must have multiple hands, you know, doing the research. So it's a struggle, it's a struggle from that point of view. But when the work is done, and the results are, and the results are out, then it's very rewarding because then, you know, you get to share your knowledge. And you're able to contribute and, and participate in a very dynamic field.$$Is it more difficult to attract funding for theoretical research than for--$$Well, you need a lot more funding for doing experimental work because you need equipment, and you need supplies and you need students to help you out. And theory, if you, if you are out of funding, then you could still make do for a while until you get funding. But funding is becoming more and more difficult because there's less and less funding available. So you have to spend a lot of time forming alliances with people who are in research labs, who know about funding or just, you just have to keep looking. So it's, it's difficult, it's difficult now, but it was, it was also difficult when I got started many years ago.$$Okay, is part of the difficulty educating a funding source as to what you're actually doing?$$Say it again. I'm sorry.$$Is part of the difficulty educating the funding sources of what--$$Identifying the funding sources?$$I mean, well, yeah, well, not just identifying, but educating them in terms of what you're actually gonna do with the money?$$Oh, (laughter), yes. So you have to write a proposal, telling how you would spend the money and telling them what problems you will do. So the problems must be of interest to the referees or to the funding agency. So you must write a good proposal which would tell them how your work would be able to contribute in the, to the field. So in some way, you're educating them or trying to.$$Right, that's what I would guess that--$$Yeah, yeah.$$--make some of the projects not be as easily understood in physics as they would be in some other field.$$Well, they are supposed to send them out to experts in the field. So you're not really working alone in the field. You have all the competitors or you have colleagues or so, and they--the proposal must be such that it is interesting for funding. So you must write it in a way which they understand and appreciate, and the topic must be worthwhile funding because, you know, it's money, yeah.