Tom Cormier 1947–2022

1 July 2022
Tom Cormier

Long-time ALICE collaborator and authority in relativistic heavy-ion physics, Tom Cormier, passed away on 23 March after a brief illness. Tom was born in 1947 in Lexington, a suburb of Boston. After high school he went to MIT where he did both his undergraduate and graduate studies. He was an amazing physicist with a strong drive to explore the frontiers of relativistic nuclear physics, and a profound understanding of the field that enabled him to build the best tools to take us to those frontiers. 

After obtaining his PhD from MIT in 1974, Tom took up postdoc positions at Stony Brook and the Max Planck Institute. He then joined the University of Rochester, where he later became director of the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. In 1988 he moved to the Cyclotron Institute at Texas A&M University where he stayed for three years. Wayne State University was his next move, where he was chair of the physics and astronomy department. Tom joined the ORNL Physics Division in 2013, and reinvigorated the relativistic nuclear physics group and expanded ORNL’s very successful involvement in the ALICE experiment at the LHC, sPHENIX at RHIC and most recently in the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) under construction at Brookhaven.

Tom’s work spanned an amazing breadth of physics and technology. Early on he worked on carbon–carbon inelastic scattering and scattering resonances; he then moved to experiments with recoil mass spectrometers at Brookhaven. Tom shifted his focus to relativistic heavy-ion physics with the AGS-E864 experiment at Brookhaven, followed by the STAR experiment at RHIC. He was the project manager for the construction of the STAR electromagnetic calorimeter and worked on the experiment from 1996 to 2005. 

Tom was one of the key scientists enabling the US heavy-ion community to join the LHC by proposing the large electromagnetic calorimeter EMCAL for ALICE and by forming the ALICE US collaboration. He was project manager for ALICE US, with a key responsibility for EMCAL and its later extension, the di-jet calorimeter, DCAL. Having successfully completed this project, he took on the leadership of the barrel tracker upgrade for ALICE. He was an architect of the TPC upgrade and was TPC deputy project leader from 2013. His true leadership and professionalism have been central to the success of ALICE in the past two decades. Tom most recently helped form the ECCE detector concept for the EIC. 

Both a great leader and project manager, Tom was a real inspiration, not only to his close colleagues but also to the broader community that held him in such high regard. He has been a wonderful mentor to many of us, and his contributions to the global physics programme, and to the ORNL physics division in particular, have been immense. He was an expert navigator of the various funding agencies and always showed immense calm during numerous DOE reviews, his dry sense of humour reflected in one of his memorable quips: “If I would wear a suit today, the DOE would be sure we screwed up badly.” He will be sorely missed but his legacy will remain.

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