Norman Tolk

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Norman Henry Tolk is a physicist and musician.

He was born on January 9, 1938, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He knew since second grade that he wanted to be a physicist. He earned his AB degree in physics from Harvard College and holds a PhD in atomic physics from Columbia University (1966). He did postdoctoral work at Columbia then joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey where he carried out experimental research on surface and interface physics using directed-energy photon and particle beams.

Tolk moved to Vanderbilt University in 1984 and is Professor Emeritus of Physics. In 1987 Dr. Tolk received the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award which provided the opportunity to perform research at the Free University in Berlin which happened to coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall. That year he was also appointed director of the Vanderbilt Center for Atomic and Molecular Physics at Surfaces. He became an adjunct professor of physics at Fisk University in 1991.

He is a Fellow of The American Physical Society, holds 8 patents, and is the author or co-author of 3 edited books and more than 270 papers. His research involves non-linear laser-surface and laser-interface interactions, ultra-fast vibrational and electronic vibrational processes at surfaces and interfaces, spin dynamics, desorption induced by electronic and vibrational processes, and atomic collision physics.

Tolk shares a passion for music with his wife, Marilyn, a virtuoso pianist. Together they led performances of Handel’s Messiah presented by the Nashville Community Choir for many years. They are the parents of five children, including artist Amy Tolk Richards. Marilyn passed away in August 2022.