most measures, the Reed physics department is highly successful.
Its faculty have, by and large, been well respected and made
contributions particularly to the field of physics education
extending well beyond the confines of the Reed campus. Tony
Knowlton and Ken Davis rose to national leadership in the
American Association of Physics Teachers. Beginning with Tony
Knowltons influential physics text (1928), continuing
through the work of Ken Davis, Dennis Hoffman and Byron Youtz
on the Physical Sciences Study Committee in the 1950s, on
to David Griffiths three widely known texts, Richard
Crandalls and John Essicks volumes on computer
applications, not to mention the numerous articles by faculty
and students alike in journals such as The American Journal
of Physics,the output is impressive. Faculty have received
explicit recognition as well. Knowlton received the 1951 Oersted
Medal, David Griffiths the Milikan Medal in the 1990s.
course, the ultimate success of a college or a department
rests not with the eminence of its faculty, but with the numbers
and achievements of its graduates. A relatively small department,
Reed ranks within the top 20 colleges and universities in
the number of bachelors degrees in physics. Four graduates
have been finalists for the Apker award for undergraduate
research, and one of them won it. The department has produced
four Rhodes scholars: B. Gale Dick, 1951; Raymond Mjolsness,
1953; Patrick Call, 1971; Douglas Holmgren, 1976.
significant in the long run, however, is the consistent number
of graduates who routinely advance further in physics and
a variety of collateral fields: astrophysics, biophysics,
geophysics, computer science, and engineering, as well as
the history of science, medicine, and law.
ultimately in their experience as they pass through the physics
department is responsible for the success of these graduates?
is no single answer," says Nicholas Wheeler, "and
the reasons change over the years." Wheeler points out
that Tony Knowlton, who contributed to setting the original
tone of the department was "very serious, a critical
thinker who pushed students to find the most they could produce.
Also," adds Wheeler, "it helps that here students
find themselves among a fairly sizable population of people
who also take physics seriously, as does the faculty."
students start off unusual people," comments John Essick,
"and they stay that way after they graduate. Id
like to say that the college is entirely responsible for their
success, but we attract a certain kind of student, very academically
oriented and self-directed, who generally know what they want
from their educationalthough, of course, some flounder
hope part of it is that we foster cooperation rather than
competition among the students," says Mary James.
general mindset is to get students to think broadly and systematically,"
Robert Reynolds comments. "We treat students with respect,
and, based on good intellectual capacity and strong interests,
they will go anywhere we take them.
the 37 years Ive been here, Ive been (negatively)
surprised by a students attitude exactly once, when
someone complained because the introduction to a text we used
said it had been written for graduate students. I remember
it so clearly because it was such an atypical attitude."
Griffiths agrees that students attitudes are key. "Ive
seen students as bright as those at Reed in other schools,"
Griffiths says, "but students here are overwhelmingly
the most committed. They are serious. Not only do we not have
football and fraternities, but the center of social activityeven
at 2 AMis the library. "Reed is probably not the
best place for the student who will win the Nobel Prize,"
he adds, "but it is very good at turning a pretty good
student into an outstanding one."
Reed Physics Department
Era of Experimentalists: 1911-1963
Era of Theoretical Physics: 1963-1897
Structure and Issues
Role of Research and the Integration of Research and Teaching
to Science at Reed Reviews