In memoriam emeritus professor Jan Schmidt
On March 17, our dear colleague Jan Schmidt passed away after a fruitful and valuable life.
Jan Schmidt was born on May 26, 1937 in Amsterdam. He studied physics at the University of Amsterdam where he graduated with honours in 1961. After military service, he joined the staff of the Royal Shell Laboratory in Amsterdam. With a two-year interruption for a research internship at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, he remained there until 1968 before going on to do doctoral research at the Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory at Leiden University. In 1971 he received his doctorate from Prof. Joan van der Waals, again with honours, for a thesis entitled "Modulation of phosphorescence by microwaves". In 1974 he was appointed lecturer, teaching Molecular Spectroscopy, followed by his appointment as Professor in 1979.
In the following years, he built a group that gained world fame in the field of paramagnetic resonance and its applications in physics and chemistry. He continually strived to improve experimental techniques, and in particular more accurate measurements with higher resolution, by opening up higher frequency regions. First it was 95 GHz, later it became as high as 275 GHz (a factor of 30 higher than conventional X-band frequencies). Schmidt's research group built these spectrometers themselves, establishing close contact with the German firm Bruker. That fame was rewarded with notable international awards, and in 2001 he was awarded the prestigious Jacob Kistemaker Prize. This prize is awarded for "Dutch work, in the field of physics, that is most useful to other sciences, engineering, industry or to society in general." The specific citation for Jan Schmidt's work read, "For the development of and research in high-frequency paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectrometry and the service of this technique outside physics." Jan, by the way, would be the first to note that this could not have happened without the contributions of a number of very talented physicists, electronists and instrument makers in his group, in particular Jos Disselhorst and Harmen van der Meer should be mentioned.
He also performed important tasks administratively, particularly at the Dutch Research Organizations FOM and NWO. At FOM (Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter) he joined the Executive Board in 1985, became vice-chairman two years later, then acting chairman, and chairman from 1-1-1989 to 1-3-1991. This position he filled with great dedication. In the period thereafter he put his administrative experience to use for another eight years at the NWO's Area Board for the Exact Sciences in the position of vice chair.
Jan Schmidt went into retirement in 2002. A total of 31 doctoral students edited dissertations under his direction and at least 50 students graduated with him. Emeritus status, however, was no reason to slow down. In 2005, Jan became chairman of the executive committee of the Leiden Instrumentmakers School (the LIS). Later he sometimes said that he had imagined it a little more like a "gentleman's pastime," but there could be no question of that at that time.
The LIS, founded by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1901 to support instrumentation development in his physics laboratory, is an MBO vocational school for precision technology, where young people are trained as research instrument makers. LIS took and still takes a special place in the educational field because of the high level of professionals the school produces. In 2005, however, the school went through difficult times. Tight funding, added to new regulations regarding examinations clashed with the traditional way of working at LIS, threatening to cause the school to lose its examination authority. Jan Schmidt brought administrative calm at a crucial moment, set clear lines, and guided the school into calmer waters with a lot of personal effort and perseverance. Partly for this he received a royal decoration in 2010, in the form of an Officer in the Order of Orange Nassau.
Jan Schmidt was an authoritative scientist, a sharp thinker. He was very amiable, helpful, and socially engaged. We are grateful for the contributions he made to Leiden physics. With his passing, we bid farewell to an extraordinary human being.