the years, members of the department became concerned about
the trend towards the over representation of theoretical physics
at the expense of experimental physics, where something like
80 percent of the work in the field is carried on. Some professors
voiced concern that particular students were doing theses
on theoretical material when they should have been doing experimental
altering the departments course was not easy. Experimentalists
need equipment to work with, which requires start-up money.
Many experimentalists prefer teaching at the larger universities
where cutting-edge research is routinely supported and the
instrumentation to do it exists. Also, at Reed experimentalists
must pursue projects that will fit into a room and can be
effectively pursued by one faculty plus students. "And
the crucial question always is, to what extent will this project
enhance the experience of our undergraduates?" Wheeler
short-term appointments, these physicists are less likely
to be attracted to a college without a history of research
or the requisite equipment. Openings for long-term appointments
at Reed came by only periodically, but when they did, faculty
began to seek experimentalists to fill them.
that point, the College hadnt heard of start-up funds,"
says Wheeler, who was department Chair at the time. "We
wanted to hire (experimentalist) Johnny Powell, but he couldnt
come unless we got the funds. We negotiated with the College
to get $50,000 for that purpose as well as to release time
for him to pursue further funding.
of course, start-up funds are routinely approved in many departments."
1987, Johnny Powell, a biophysicist with strong experimental
credentials, was offered a position. Powell had received his
BA and MA from California State University at Northridge,
and a PhD at Arizona State University, with postdoctoral studies
at Arizona State and the Max Planck Institute in Germany,
where he worked in infra-red spectroscopy. Powell also brought
with him connections to research groups at the University
of Toledo, Purdue, the University of Stockholm, Arizona State,
Oregon State and the University of Oregon, where he was able
to help students get positions for summer research.
his arrival, Powell obtained grants from the NSF for an infrared
spectrometer, and began building up his program. "I tried
to give students a really serious research experience, including
publishing in a research journal," Powell says; in those
years his publishing record was strong, and on each of those
papers, a Reed student was listed as first author.
1994, Powell realized that the requirements of his research
set up conflicts with the demands of a full teaching load
as defined at Reed. He asked to go to half-time, with the
understanding that he would be devoting the freed time fully
to research. The College approved his request. Powell continued
to work, collaborating with a pharmaceutical company on the
dynamics of DNA in drugs called antisense oligonucleotides,
for use against cancer. At that time, in recognition of his
achievements, he was also elected to the Executive Committee
of the Division of Biological Physics of the American Physical
there were conflicts. "It was odd to have one third of
our small department (Powell and Professor Mary James) on
half-time," reflects Wheeler, "and the situation
presented difficulties in terms of the allocation of departmental
responsibilities." In 1995, Powell reverted to full-time
in the department and drastically curtailed the research work
he had been pursuing, including his rate of publications.
department continued to hire experimentalists. The next was
Mary James in 1988. James, an applied physicist who had studied
under David Griffiths as an undergraduate at Hampshire College,
had gone on to receive her PhD at Stanford in particle accelerator
physics and to do research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator
unusual to go into undergraduate teaching with an interest
in accelerator physics," James admits, "but when I was
at the University of Maryland, I discovered that I liked working
with undergraduates." James maintained her work at SLAC
during the summers and breaks until she had her first child
in 1994. At that point she went half-time, for the first two
years splitting a position with Johnny Powell. She expects
to return to teaching full- time in another two years, at
which time, James says, she plans to develop a research program
that can be pursued with instrumentation available at Reed.
is the first person of color and the first woman to attain
tenure in the Physics Department. "I think its
good for women studentsand for menin this department
to have a woman on the faculty," says James.
adds, "The discipline of physics is generally so hostile
to women in its culture that to complain about conditions
at Reed would be inappropriate. And for women students, this
may be a better place than most. The emphasis on cooperation
and the individual support available are likely to make it
easier for women to gain a foothold in such a non-traditional
1989, the new addition to the College library meant that the
physics library could be removed from the department and placed
in the central repository in a Unified Science Library, freeing
up space in the Knowlton building. The effort, which resulted
in the Unified Science Library (which came to include much
more than just science), had been led for seventeen years
by Nicholas Wheeler and Becky Pollock, the college Librarian.
McNamara joined the faculty in 1989 and served for four years.
McNamara was an experimentalist specializing in nonlinear
dynamics, who was, says David Griffiths, equally comfortable
with theoretical physics. Griffiths adds, "He was excellent
at knowing just how to set up nifty experiments in the lab
to answer specific questions. I found myself sending students
to him frequently for thatmaybe too often." McNamara
was also known as a perfectionist who demanded a lot of himself.
Although he was offered a permanent position at Reed, he decided
to leave to work in industry.
1993, the department hired John Essick, an experimentalist
with an interest in solid state physics, who had completed
his PhD at the University of Oregon. After post doctoral studies,
he moved to Occidental College, where he taught for four years
and was instrumental in establishing their advanced instructional
Reed department had tried to hire people to rebuild its Junior
Lab; in Essick they hit the jackpot. "Before I even arrived
at Reed, I started writing a proposal to the NSF Instrumentation
and Lab Improvement program to improve instructional labs,"
Essick says. "When I realized that the administration
and the department were completely behind me, I thought I
would see how far I could take the project."
Wheeler summarizes the events that followed: "Essicks
approach was to say, Ill make this the best undergraduate
instructional physics laboratory in the country, and
then to take major strides toward that goal." Essick
had help with this from the Development Office, and, in the
department, from Johnny Powell, a seasoned grant writer, and
Robert Reynolds, who wrote the proposal for the astronomical
observatory that was included in the package.
the past, students in the advanced lab course had worked for
seven weeks of the first semester on electronics, in part
because, in consequence of Jean Delords association
with Tektronix, electronic equipment was available when other
kinds were not. "Students didnt learn a lot of
other techniques," says Mary James.
the new lab, opportunities multiplied. Essick and his compatriots
brought in $58,975 from the NSF in 1993, with an additional
grant of $363,000 from the Murdock Foundation for renovation
of rooms, an $18,790 equipment gift in kind from Tektronix
Inc., a $5,000 laser from ILX LightWave, a laser manufacturer;
and $10,000 from the Tektronix Foundation, for a grand total
of close to half a million dollars.
in 1996, the new Advanced Lab can truly be called state of
the art, allowing a range of fundamental measuring techniques,
organized in a modular fashion. New instruments include an
Argon ion laser, an optical spectrometer, a monochrometer,
a closed-cycle helium refrigerator, laser diode controllers,
a scanning tunneling microscope, and materials fabrication
equipment. An astronomical observation platform was built
on the roof, and a telescope and a CCD camera acquired. "We
tried to get equipment for a wide variety of at least ten
sub-fields of physics so that students can try them out in
the lab before they have to decide on a thesis topic,"
says Essick. "The exposure helps them define their interests." In addition
the Physics 200 lab was remodeled and moved into a new space.
a result of this success, there are times when thesis students
want to continue using equipment belonging to the Advanced
Lab which must, however, still be available for that lab. "I tell them they can use the equipment freely in the
fall," says Essick, "but in the spring term, the
juniors must have priority. So far the situation is manageable."
such an increase in the number of instruments, a budget for
repair inevitably became necessary. "It had already been
a perennial problem, especially for Johnny Powell with his
particularly sensitive equipment," says Essick. In 1994/5
the department was given a budget line item of $12,000 for
repairs. Still, as Essick points out, the main tube of the
new argon laserwhich can be expected to need replacementitself
cost $20,000. However, the situation is not desperate; the
college received a challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation,
one half of which has been allotted to repair of equipment
college-wide, and this, Essick says, the department may draw
on in cases such as the laser tube.
also picked up a project begun by former faculty member Bruce
McNamara, who had begun to use the LabView system, a high-level
program that allows a computer to become an active participant
in experiments by manipulating, analyzing, and displaying
data, as well as interacting with experimental devices.
is quite visual and easier than many to teach to people without
computer backgrounds," says Essick. "I included
Bruces system into the Junior Lab, and then found out
that the publisher Prentice Hall wanted a book about it." In 1999, Essick wrote Advanced LabView Labs, published
by Prentice Hall, for college instruction.
Essick continues his own work on amorphous semi-conductors,
and recently he received a $120,000 grant from the National
Renewable Energy Lab to work on photovoltaics. Simultaneously,
Essick has developed an interest in using lasers to cool and
trap atoms, and before he went on sabbatical, he supervised
the work of a thesis student who was setting up an atom trap.
1994 John Simpson, a Reed graduate in physics in 1940, now
Distinguished Professor of Astrophysics (emeritus) at Enrico
Fermi Institute of the University of Chicago, was awarded
the Arctowski Medal by the National Academy of Science, which
included a $60,000 cash prize which he donated to the Reed
Physics Department. "Reed did a lot for me, giving me
a jump start in science," said Simpson. "It was
my first introduction to the intellectual world. I was lucky
to find at Reed this undreamed-of-place where I could grow
intellectually and establish a framework of professional and
personal standards vital to my life." The department
allotted $20,000 of Simpsons gift to equipment; the
rest was invested to support student research.
the year 2000, the physics department has reached a balance
of theorists and experimentalists, giving students a wider
range of approaches to work with. "Now," says Wheeler,
"two thirds of the theses coming from this department
are on experimental topics, and many are very sophisticated."
is also a department that is, in the words of graduate Scott
Caveny 95, "simultaneously very classical and very
modern. At one end," Caveny says, "you have Nick
Wheeler who encourages you to read Newton and Einstein, which
no one else in graduate school has read, and at the same time
you have David Griffiths who is up on particle theory. The
balance of the two is unique."
Reed Physics Department
Era of Experimentalists: 1911-1963
Era of Theoretical Physics: 1963-1897
Structure and Issues
The Role of Research
and the Integration of Research and Teaching
Relations with Students
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