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Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics -- A Symposium in Honor of Gene F. Mazenko: Experiences

Many people -- both those who are unable to attend the symposium and those who are -- have expressed interest in a forum where they may share stories about their relationship with Gene over the years. The organizing committee encourages friends, students, postdocs and collegues to share their stories on this page. We will, in turn, present some of these stories here on the website and at the symposium.


I went back to read the single authored publication that was required for my PhD. This is back in 1977. It’s worth quoting from the Acknowledgments: “I would like to express my very warm gratitude to Professor G. F. Mazenko who first suggested this project. I cannot emphasize too greatly my indebtedness to his assistance and encouragement. Without his continuing advice, patience, and understanding throughout my graduate career, this paper would not have been completed.”

Today, this still summarizes my indebtedness and gratitude to Gene. Without his help and guidance at both a professional and sometimes personal level, my career in physics would not have been possible.

--Mike Nolan


Dear Gene, I very much enjoyed---and fondly remember---our collaboration 30 years ago on a paper (together with Bill Unruh) on the nature of phase transitions relevant for inflation. More generally, I have always very much appreciated your "no nonsense" style of doing physics. I very much hope that we will continue to see you regularly in the Physics Department in the future.

--Bob Wald


I first met Gene Mazenko in Physics 352, Spring quarter 1978.  Because statistical mechanics was the last major topic I encountered in my physics education, I found it quite interesting.  Somewhere I still have Gene’s handwritten notes for that class. Upon passing the candidacy exam I decided to try to get involved with Gene’s research program, which was at that time the real-space renormalization group (RSRG) applied to dynamical systems, the real-space dynamic renormalization group (RSDRG).  As I became aware, Gene had written (together with Shang-Keng Ma) an important article on the application of the RG to critical dynamics from a momentum space point of view.  In rereading that paper, I find that it has the typical hallmarks of Gene’s publications:  an overview of a broad swath of the field, a comparison of competing approaches and the approximations invoked – in other words, highly informative for anyone willing to put in the effort to learn the subject matter.  At the time I joined Gene’s group, he was publishing what can be considered a foundational series of papers on the RSDRG (together with Mike Nolan, Oriol Valls, and Jorge Hirsch).  In the usual RSRG approach to equilibrium phenomena one is concerned with the effective coupling constants between coarse grained (“block-spin”) variables.  For dynamic critical phenomena there is the additional problem of establishing the time evolution operator for the coarse-grained variables. Gene showed that non-Markovian effects can be eliminated in the renormalized evolution operator if it’s determined together with the real-space mapping operator, as the solution of a generalized eigenvalue equation.  As a “warm up” exercise, he suggested I read Glauber’s 1963 article on the time-dependent Ising model, the 1963 article by Kadanoff and Martin (Hydrodynamic Equations and Correlation Functions), and the 1975 book by Dieter Forster (Hydrodynamic Fluctuations, Broken Symmetry, and Correlation Functions).  He also gave me a copy of his article, Renormalization Group Approach to Dynamic Critical Phenomena (published in the 1978 book Correlation Functions and Quasiparticle Interactions, edited by J.W. Halley). Piece of cake!  Gene had a Wednesday lunch meeting for his group, meetings that I dreaded frankly. I learned to always have a talk up your sleeve. “Jim, why don’t you get up and tell us what you’re doing.”  Then you’d have to publicly face Gene’s sometimes point-blank questions.  At one point I had decided to drop out of grad school:  If doing physics meant public speaking, it wasn’t for me.  By the time I graduated, however, the Wednesday trial-by-fire sessions proved highly valuable.  I got over my fear of giving presentations.  In working with Gene and his collaborator Oriol Valls, and the other grad students in his group at that time (Jorge Hirsch, Enis Oguz, Sriram Ramaswamy) I learned much physics.  More importantly, however, I learned from Gene to be a “physics warrior,” to not be intimidated when learning new topics.

--Jim Luscombe


Gene and I met at Stanford in 1974. At that time Gene was a post-doc at Stanford and I was a post-doc at Xerox PARC. It was an exciting time in theoretical condensed matter physics because of Wilson’s work on the RNG. By the time we met Fisher and Wilson and others had successfully applied the RNG to many problems in static critical phenomena. We started to have weekly meetings in Gene’s office followed by lunch at Stanford. It was at these meetings that we developed a confidence and trust in one another and our RNG work on the critical dynamics of antiferromagnetics started. Because neither of us had ever worked in the field of critical phenomena this was a very challenging and even daunting problem.

Our collaboration continued at the U. of Chicago after Gene accepted an assistant professorship and I accepted a post-doc position. It seems like yesterday that Gene and I would meet in his office in the James Franck Institute to discuss our progress and the next steps in the calculations. Although we were faced with a very challenging problem, I had total confidence that Gene could overcome any issues. I fondly recall his booming voice, his confidence, his energy, his cheerful demeanour and his friendship. Looking at all of Gene’s accomplishments I realize now that I could not have found a better collaborator and friend.

--Bob Freedman


Dear Gene,

This is an expression of gratitude, not a story. Thank you for teaching me the eternal verities: conservation laws, continuous symmetries, their spontaneous breaking and their topological defects; the slowing down of amplitudes near a critical point. These concepts, principles and techniques have guided all the work I've done, from our early joint work -- much of it with John Toner and/or Shankar Das -- on adsorbed fluids, smectics, and glass, to my current interest in living matter. Like Jim Luscombe, I'm grateful too for those incredibly valuable brownbag lunch meetings. In technical discussions, in response to facile suggestions from one of us, you would say "it's a bit more complicated than that". And of course it was.

I remember your walking in to my office saying "We've heard from God. See, the letter even has his initial." Pierre-Gilles de Gennes had written to us about the smectics work, signing the note with just a single capital G.

And thank you for introducing us to the glories of Santa Barbara and the ITP before it acquired its K.

Here's wishing you a very happy 70th birthday and a great retirement.

All the very best

--Sriram Ramaswamy


What I would/should have said at the banquet:

When Gene and I had a chance to say more than hello on the Saturday of the symposium, Gene looked at me and said: "Two words: Bucky Dent." I knew exactly what he meant because I was going to say the same thing, albeit not as dramatically.

I was a visitor at the James Franck Institute from September 1978 to May 1979. Gene and played hooky on Monday, October 2, 1978 and walked from our offices at the James Franck to my apartment to watch the sudden death playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The Red Sox were winning 2-0 until Dent hit a three run homer to put the Yankees ahead and win the game.

The seond memory that immediately comes to mind is watching Super Bowl XIII with Gene and Paul Horn and our wives. I always think of Gene when I watch a football game with the announcers from the 1978/79 season.

It's funny that as much as I admire Gene as a physicist and as a person, the first thing that popped into my mind when I thought of what I might say at the banquet had to do with sports. As I learned from Irwin Oppenheim, it is important to work with people whom you like. Now that we both have more time for research, I hope that we will again collaborate.

--Harvey Gould