Memoir - Joel L. Bernstein (1940-    )

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My Life in Less Than 1000 Words
Joel L. Bernstein

Joel was born and reared in the Bay Ridge/Borough Park Section of Brooklyn, where he lived until he was 20. An only child, he graduated Fort Hamilton High School in 1958. The first year of college was spent at Brooklyn Polytechnic. After that year he realized that he was not getting a well-rounded education, i.e., liberal arts. In spite of the long subway ride, Joel ventured up to Convent Avenue, entering CCNY as a physics major. This turned out to be a very smart move.

While at “City” he got a part-time job through the college placement office as a computer programmer at Downstate Medical College. This was during the early days of computers. Joel graduated in January 1962 and was the first member of his family to attend college.

Upon graduation he was recruited by Bell (AT&T) Laboratories, Murray Hill, NJ, for the basic research division. (Again, through the CCNY placement office.) Joel moved to New Jersey and began a career as an X-ray crystallographer in 1962, working with Sidney Abrahams. Sidney and Joel were their own group, first in the Physics Department and then in the Materials Science Department. In that capacity Joel was an author of about 100 publications relating to the structure of materials possessing unique physical properties. He also presented his research at various scientific meetings. Most of these meetings were sponsored by the American Crystallographic Association. Joel served as an elected officer of one of that organization’s special-interest groups.

Together Sidney and Joel designed and implemented one of the first automated diffractometers for X-ray data collection. The machine shop at Bell Labs did much of the parts fabrication. They ordered motors and encoders from Charles Supper Company in Massachusetts. Datex Corporation (California) built the “brains” of it, a 6´ x 6´ x 2´ computer. The diffractometer used paper tape input and output. The crystallographer would input space group and lattice information from the X-ray camera photos to the diffractometer. The output was the observed intensities. Joel transferred the information on the paper tape to cards that were then input to the main frame at Bell Labs. Then OR FLS and other computer software on the mainframe computer were used. (See the excellent late 1960s video contrasting data collection by precession camera and automated diffractometer made at Bell Labs, featuring Sidney Abrahams.)

After earning a MS in physics from NYU, Joel entered the materials science PhD program at Rutgers University. By 1980 Joel became tired of the solitude of basic research and was recruited by the fledgling marketing organization at AT&T. Two decades of research was enough.

Second Career: Marketing

The Bell System was looking for individuals who understood the research being done at Bell Labs and had the ability to translate this research into profitable products and services. Speech recognition and synthesis by computers and flat panel displays are examples. The most exciting part of this position was explaining the technologies and products at trade shows. Joel was in his element for the next decade.

In December 1989, at the age of 49, Joel was offered an opportunity to retire from AT&T/Bell Labs. He eagerly accepted the offer.

Third Career: Consulting

Retirement sounded exciting, but the pension was small and 49 seemed a little too young for the porch swing. Consulting seemed to be the answer. This would take up the fourth decade of his career. Most of the consulting assignments were related to telecommunications. One part-time assignment covered about four years. Joel became the in-house consultant for the Japanese telecommunications carrier NTT. Other projects brought him to Amsterdam for six months and Nuremberg (Germany) for one year. The new millennium arrived, and Joel returned to the US —time to move on to sunny Florida.

Two Joel Bernsteins in Crystallography!

In 2001 I went on a two-week vacation to Israel. I rented a car and drove all over the country. Before leaving the US, I contacted the “other” Joel Bernstein, who was also a crystallographer. He invited me to visit him at his home (apartment) in Beersheba. I met his wife (who passed away soon after). They were very gracious hosts and glad to see me; it was a wonderful visit. The photo of the two of us was taken in the 1970s at an ACA meeting.