Your Average Joe
Joe Trodahl ’63 spoke this past fall to a
group of alumni about his life and travels, he brought a PowerPoint
presentation of visual aids. The first slide was of John Amos Comenius,
brooding in bronze at the entrance to campus.
came to Moravian in 1959 as an engineering student,” he
said. “The Comenius statue was put up and dedicated while
I was here, and I saw the first of many beer barrels put in his
Joseph Trodahl Jr. grew up in Alaska, where his father, Harry
J. Trodahl ’30, was a Moravian missionary.
Two of the four Trodahl children went to Moravian, and Trodahl’s
sister Evelyn (Lyn) ’68 chairs the Board of Trustees
of Moravian Theological Seminary. But while Lyn Trodahl Chynoweth
went to work for IBM
and settled in suburban Connecticut, where she now runs a consulting
company, Joe Trodahl ended up halfway around the world.
Moravian, he went to Michigan State University for his
doctorate and then the University of British Columbia for
before settling at Victoria University in Wellington, New
thought it was a terrible mistake for the first three years,” he
says. “There was not much in the way of facilities;
and because it was so remote, it was hard to communicate.”
after more than 30 years there, he has become a genuine
New Zealander. Trodahl speaks with an interesting accent
American vowels with British expressions and colonial slang.
married to a New Zealander, Margaret, and when he shows
slides of Wellington’s harbor, backed by spectacular
mountains, he’s as enthusiastic as a travel agent
about the beauties of the country he has long called home.
has healed his initial reservations. With the advent of e-mail,
communication with colleagues around the world
in real time.
when Alan MacDiarmid, a graduate of Victoria University, won
the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2000,
the New Zealand
government showed its pride in this native son by showering
the scientific research facility at Victoria named
after him: MacDiarmid
Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology,
where Trodahl works.
Jack Ridge ’53, professor
emeritus of physics, introduced Trodahl at the alumni
gathering, he called him “the kind
of student for whom the professor was irrelevant.” Trodahl’s
wide-ranging areas of expertise indicate that nothing
has changed much since his student days: he’s
still someone who goes out on his own and reaches
for new knowledge. “I’m
unusual in having several specialties,” he
of Trodahl’s early career work
was in semiconductors, a class of materials that
were basic to the burgeoning computer
industry in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Then he went into superconductors, the highly desirable
media for electrical
transmission without loss of energy, in the mid-1980s.
he also has more than the usual share of sidelines.
At Moravian, where he was a visiting professor
for the fall
semester, he worked
with a physics student, Matthew Bowers ’03,
and with Carl Salter, associate professor of
chemistry, to build a Raman spectrometer.
This instrument, which has applications to both
chemistry and physics, monitors the structure
of and impurities in semiconductors during
molecular growth. It’s just one of those
picked up along the way: “something I’ve
done a lot of,” he shrugs.
Trodahl also spent his semester working on his own project,
studying the behavior of
specialized instrument called a synchrotron.
This took him to Imperial College in London
University of Wisconsin
work in their
labs, as he collected supporting data from
world via e-mail.
then there’s the
sea ice project, which takes him every summer
(the Southern hemisphere’s summer,
meaning our winter) to Antarctica to measure
and provide data to climatologists
studying the phenomenon of global warming.
globe-trotting, he has hobnobbed with the
Nobel laureates of this highly specialized
there was John
Bardeen, the only winner of two Nobel prizes
in the same field, whom
he met at Michigan State. He met Philip
W. Anderson and Sir Nevill
Mott, two of the three Nobel co-winners
of 1977, while doing research in Göteborg,
Sweden. Anderson, of Bell Labs, was a notoriously
argumentative man. “One of the highlights
of my career,” Trodahl
smiles, “is that I had a scientific
disagreement with him.”
research also has taken him to the Max-Planck-Institut
in Stuttgart and the Centro Atómico
at San Carlos de Bariloche, on the shores
of of Lake Huemul in the mountains of
has retired from Victoria University, though that’s
still home base for his research. His
son, Halvar, is now studying there, on
his way to becoming another physicist.
one of the reasons I retired,” Trodahl said
with a grin. “So I don’t
have to teach him.”