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Vale Professor James Mitroy

By Professor Lawrence Cram

Vale Professor James Mitroy Vale Professor James Mitroy

James (Jim) Mitroy, an admired Australian physicist and a pioneer of higher education in the Northern Territory, passed away suddenly in Darwin on 27 August 2014. He was 57.

Jim’s lifelong interest in atomic, molecular and optical physics was grounded in his undergraduate days in the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne. Graduating with First Class Honours and a cluster of scholarships in 1977, he continued his physics studies at Melbourne, taking a PhD in theoretical atomic physics in 1983 under the supervision of K. A. Amos.

Following his first postdoctoral appointment in the Institute of Atomic Studies at Flinders University, Jim spent two years at the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in Boulder, Colorado.

He returned to Australia as a Research Fellow in Theoretical Physics in the Research School of Physical Science at the Australian National University, retaining close academic ties with the research school throughout his career.

While at JILA, Jim developed an interest in realistic, rigorous theories for the formation of positronium, a system comprising an electron and a positron, and in the pursuit of this and other interests Jim became highly proficient in the application of computers to the solution of problems in atomic physics.

Along with his foundational investigations of atomic parameters relevant to the burgeoning field of Bose-Einstein condensates, Jim’s ongoing studies of positronium and its interactions in what are called “exotic atoms” forms the core of his most important contributions to physics.

His expertise in this area was internationally recognised and sustained his leadership role in the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Matter-Antimatter Studies.

When the Northern Territory University (later to become Charles Darwin University) invited applications for a lectureship in physics to begin in 1990, Jim’s broad interests in physics, his successful postdoctoral experiences, and his evident commitment to achieving excellence in teaching and in research was the basis for an appointment that led him to Darwin for almost 25 years.

Jim maintained research collaborations with many people in many countries, and his standing in the international physics community gave Charles Darwin University a distinctive profile in the field.

His enthusiasm for his highly respected research relationships in China were legendary, and a wonderful feature of the final years of his life.

A scientist of great imagination and seemingly unbounded capacity for work, Jim also had uncompromising principles of scholarship.

Although students saw him sometimes as a rather determined and formidable teacher, he encouraged strong academic standards because it was in his students’ best interests.

His teaching style contributed to the positive development of many students. He was particularly passionate about research students, supporting their welfare through the pursuit of scholarships and other activities, and advancing their training through opportunities to publish, travel and of course to finish their thesis.

Jim’s distinctive manner, unconventional nature and endearing personal deportment were memorable to all.

He saw the non-senses in many organisational processes, and delighted in pointing them out and even exploiting them on occasions.

His infectious enthusiasm, vibrancy, jolliness and sense of humour came with encyclopaedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects - from the smallest particle to the entire universe and everything in between.

Whether it was history, footy, politics, books or action movies, Jim would love to talk and argue about it.

Jim Mitroy had a heart of gold and a complete commitment to the very best in scholarly life. His friends and colleagues will miss his sharp mind, his easy-going nature and his friendship and dry humour very much.