Physics

Granular Sand by Julien Chopin, PhD Candidate in Physics

History of Physics at Clark

The Jefferson Era (1946-1967)

During Goddard's absence from Clark, teaching in physics became the responsibility of Percy Martin Roope, a Clark B.A. and 1923 Ph.D. who was appointed instructor in physics following Webster's death. In Goddard's absence, instruction in physics and mathematics was provided by Roope and one of a series of one-year appointees. Finally, in 1940, Roy C. Gunter, Jr. was appointed to a tenure position as Assistant Professor of Physics. Roope spent his entire career at Clark and Gunter remained on the faculty for nineteen years.

By 1944 President Atwood was over seventy. Clark's trustees voted him emeritus status and recruited Howard B. Jefferson as President. Clark's renaissance began with Jefferson. Jefferson was an ordained Baptist minister, a philosopher and Dean of the School of Philosophy and Religion at Colgate University. He had an imposing presence: tall, dignified in bearing, a commanding, articulate voice. A man of vision, he was completely sanguine about Clark's problems but also of its potential. He understood the "less than brilliant administrative leadership during the preceding twenty-five [Atwood] years."

Jefferson, acting as his own dean of faculty, set about rebuilding academic strength, department-by- department, year-by-year. Indicative of the breadth of his appreciation of the intellectual enterprise, one of the first disciplines he rebuilt was mathematics. In 1948 through his personal efforts he succeeded in recruiting well-qualified mathematicians, one as chairman and another as professor and then continued to attract mathematicians until there was strength to offer a quality major in mathematics, then a masters and finally a doctoral program. In the next seven years he applied his personal energies to adding more outstanding chemists to his faculty to buttress the existing doctoral program in chemistry.

By the late 1950's Jefferson had resuscitated most of Clark's liberal disciplines; only physics remained to be rebuilt. But then in 1957 the Soviet Union launched the world's first orbital space vehicle, its tiny satellite Sputnik, shocking the American people and government into the recognition that scientific education and research were essential to maintaining international competiveness. Simultaneously, Clark, going through a thorough and comprehensive self-study, its Master Plan, recognized the imperative to bolster physics among its intellectual endeavors. In 1959 Jefferson was compelled to respond: he was confronted with Gunter's resignation to go to industry and Roope's wish to retire. Seeking advice on rebuilding physics, he turned to an alumnus, Roy Andersen, then on the faculty at the University of Maryland.

Andersen prepared a five-year plan which called for a phased rebuilding of physics similar to that Jefferson had used on other departments. The goal was to quickly build a department capable of attracting external support for research. Over five years one physicist would be added each year. An instrument maker and a machine shop were priorities. Graduate teaching assistantships and fellowships were to be established. Finally, a doctoral program in physics would be considered once personnel and facilities were established.

How could a small university hope to establish a quality research effort in physics with a faculty of only five? Andersen's premise was that in large physics departments research programs generally had few faculty working in each specialized field. And in these departments doctoral courses were offered in only a few, broad, introductory areas - mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum theory, etc. - and thereafter courses began to focus on specialized areas of research.

Andersen proposed a standard introductory graduate curriculum, followed by course and research concentrations in only limited areas of research. Given Clark's constraints, the field of research must have only modest requirements for equipment and facilities. Solid state physics was the area Andersen suggested, with particular emphasis on magnetism.

Jefferson obtained reactions from his senior faculty and he himself visited the physics department at Maryland for a personal assessment of the needs of a quality physics program. He then presented Andersen's five-year plan and his reactions to the Board of Trustees. The Board accepted the plan and dispatched its chairman to Maryland to convince Andersen to come to Clark to implement the plan.

At this time universities were expanding to meet increasing enrollment pressures, creating considerable competition for quality faculty. Despite this, in time Clark succeeded in attracting several excellent physicists.

In 1961, the Department of Chemistry provided important support by sponsoring under its aegis a doctoral program in Chemical Physics. Four years later Physics was sufficiently well established that the trustees authorized it to offer the Ph.D.

By 1971 the Department of Physics had essentially stabilized, with a faculty of six to eight, twelve to fifteen good graduate students, and generally steady external research funding. Since then, about one graduate student has been awarded the Ph.D. degree each year on the average.

The character of the Department today remains substantially unchanged. Close ties continue with Clark's Department of Chemistry. Although the number of faculty and graduate students slightly smaller, the Department is doing reasonably well. By focusing faculty research efforts, a competitive research program in condensed matter physics has evolved; five of the six faculty members have research grants. Of the present ten faculty members including emerti, four have been honored by designation as Fellows of the American Physical Society. Clark's Ph.D. graduates have gone on to tenured faculty positions, to government laboratories and private industry.