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Honoring the Hundredth Time
One Hundred Years
“I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”
—Albert Einstein
A young physicist in Bern, Switzerland proposed that space and time are connected—connected in such a way that, for instance, moving clocks run more slowly than stationary clocks. The prediction seemed absurd. But experiments proved Albert Einstein correct. Einstein published this and two other revolutionary theories during what is now called his “miraculous year.”

The centennial year of Einstein’s contributions has been designated as World Year of Physics. On campus this fall, “Einstein’s Lesson for the Third Millennium” was the 2005 convocation address, delivered by nationally renowned string theorist Jim Gates. In Cascade, we celebrate with these reflections upon the last century of physics at the University of Oregon.

1900s: Small research rooms in the basement of Deady Hall were acquired for students doing research projects. In addition there was a battery and switchboard room as a center of circuits to all parts of the building.

1879: The first physics lab was established at UO—with an impressive $2000 to spend on equipment—only eight years after Harvard began its lab program.

1895: The Department of Physics was established. Professor George H. Collier, a natural philosopher, is voted into emeritus status and replaced by Charles Friedel.

1897: President Charles H. Chapman, a mathematics Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, convinces the Board of Regents to invest a small sum for the purchase of more modern scientific lab equipment.


Catalog clips, circa 1900:

Curricular Harmonies: A new physics course “The Theory of Sound” complements the new School of Music’s offerings: “Considerable attention is given to the scientific basis of harmony and music, and to the Physics of musical instruments.”

Steaming Along: A new course on thermodynamics was “introductory to the study of the steam engine.”

Hold the Line, Please: Faculty begin to incorporate into the curriculum the idea of “electric waves and their application to wireless telegraphy.”

“Of particular interest to the architect,” Light and Color was added in 1918 to deal with “some of the problems of illumination and color.”

Meteorology: “a study of the physics of the atmosphere, including the use of meteorological instruments, the study of air and ocean currents, the distribution of temperature and moisture, the study of weather reports and maps, and some practice in forecasting.”

(1940s) "The wireless telegraph is not difficult to understand. The ordinary telegraph is like a very long cat. You pull the tail in New York, and it meows in Los Angeles. The wireless is the same, only without the cat."
—Albert Einstein

1932: The first Ph.D. was awarded to Hilbert J. Unger.

1932: During a period of consolidation due to the invention of the OUS System in 1929, the course offerings and size of the faculty are reduced. The Board of Higher Education restricts Physics to the lower division of the UO’s curriculum.

1941: “The mandate was rescinded in ’41 but it took a very long time before the department caught its breath.” —Bernd Crasemann


1953: The National Science Foundation was established, specially designed to help faculty in isolated spots get funding for travel to conferences and meetings with research collaborators.

1953: Sputnik flown. Increased national interest in science.

(1960s) “No I-5. No e-mail… One really was in the middle of the wilderness.”
—Bernd Crasemann, hired 1953
1957: Terrell Hill, a world-famous thermo-dynamic theoretical chemistry researcher, left the Naval Research Institutes in Washington to come out west to the UO. “[Hill] knew everybody who was anybody… He had marvelous parties at his home to help recruit [the best scientists]. They would come in with their noses up in the sky because we were in the woods and all, but he had a way of making martinis like a chemist!”

Aside from recruiting, Hill also helped invent the model of a research institute, which provided central equipment, facilities, and research support to faculty.

1961: The Institute for Theoretical Science, the second oldest institute at the UO, was established.

1961: Gregory Wannier (of the Wannier Threshold Law) begins teaching at the UO.

1965: Professors Russ Donnelly and E.G. Ebbinghausen discover the site for Pine Mountain Observatory, still the only professional astronomical observatory in the state and one of the few in the world that is open to the public at night.

1968: George Streisinger (Institute of Molecular Biology) and Russell Donnelly (Head of the Department of Physics) recruit Brian Matthews from his research appointment at the National Institutes of Health.

1970s: Russell Donnelly with Professor Kwangjai Park, conducting laser experiments and measurements on air pollution. “We were shooting light at smoke stacks from a pick-up truck,” said Donnelly.

The department’s junior faculty begins to help shape the direction of the UO’s research strengths in physics:

High Energy Physics: theoretical, Rudolph Hwa (1971); theoretical, Nilendra “Desh” Deshpande (1975); theoretical, Davison Soper (1977); experimental, Jim Brau (1988)

Optics: Michael Raymer (1988)

Biophysics: molecular, Matthews (1969); molecular, John Moseley (1979); Materials Science: experimental, David Cohen (1981); theoretical, Dietrich Belitz (1987)


Today, the University of Oregon’s Department of Physics boasts thirty-three faculty members, eight emeriti, and three research associates and earns nearly five million dollars in federal research funding. A sample of its more recent successes are highlighted below:

High Energy Physics: Brau takes a leading role in the design of a particle accelerator, known as an international linear collider, which may provide new capabilities to explore the nature of matter and its interactions (1998).

1990s: An illustration showing how a dark matter particle might appear in a colliding beam experiment at the International Linear Collider. (Norman Graf, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center)
Optics: Hailin Wang hired to the UO from Bell Labs (1995) and the Oregon Center for Optics is established (1997). The Murdock Trust grant helps the UO build and equip a research lab quiet enough and clean enough to allow researchers to probe and control the behavior of atoms, semiconductors and nanometer-thin metal films. The lab’s new lasers have the ability to control atoms with light pulses as short as ten femtoseconds, or exactly one hundredth of a millionth of a millionth of a second (2004).

Biophysics: Matthews, a National Academy Scientist known for his discovery of the structure of the protein switch molecule “cro,” is named an HHMI Investigator and awarded a six million dollar grant to further develop his lab (1990). Stephen “Jim” Remington receives the prestigious Career Award from the American Cancer Society for determining the crystal structure of the Green Fluorescent Protein, which has become a common trace or tag element that allows researchers to understand changes inside a cell (1992).

“Electronics has been vastly important for the past four decades, but now we are developing a whole new set of technologies — photonics — that will take us far beyond the capabilities of elecronic devices. We want to control how electrons, the components of electricity, interact with photons, the components of light.”
—Hailin Wang, as quoted in the Winter ’99 issue of Inquiry.
Materials Science: the Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon (CAMCOR) is established to provide state-of-the-art facilities to materials researchers at UO as well as to regional industry (2001). Researchers also collaborate to form the Oregon Nanoscience and Micro-technologies Institute, established with a significant investment by the Oregon State Legislature in 2003.

Astrophysics: Greg Bothun, observational astrophysicist, brings renewed energy to the Pine Mountain Observatory in Bend (1990).

Many thanks to Emeriti Professors Russell Donnelly and Bernd Crasemann who, with department head Dave Soper and student intern Megan McCornack, provided invaluable research assistance on this project. Historical photos courtesy of UO Special Collection and University Archives.

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Updated November 12, 2005