Joseph Victor Smith

Joe Smith

A Vision for Light:
Joe Smith and CARS

The following text was prepared for a memorial held in honor of Joseph Smith on October 6, 2007, at the University of Chicago. Smith was Louis Block Professor Emeritus in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, where he taught and conducted research from 1960 to 2003.


Joseph Smith developed a far-reaching, deeply ambitious vision to place the University of Chicago at the forefront of synchrotron X-ray science. With characteristic determination, political acumen, and farsightedness, Joe pursued this plan in the face of vocal skepticism from many quarters.

Never one to think small, Joe realized that such a project required some unconventional tactics. With his usual enthusiasm, he sought out

  • Broad support beyond the University (Technology Challenge Grant proposal funded by the State of Illinois)
  • Cooperation with publicly funded institutions (Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale were brought into the resulting Consortium)
  • Representation across disciplines (sectors proposed for biology, geology, chemistry, and soil/environmental science)
  • Involvement with industrial research
  • Collaboration with the nascent synchrotron community in Australia

While such strategies are now commonplace in large-scale science, in 1989 they were still considered somewhat heretical. However, time proved Joe right on nearly all counts. The Center for Advanced Radiation Sources now operates four sectors—just as Joe originally envisioned.