Learn how Clark celebrated the 100th anniversary of Boltzmann's visit to Clark University and the award of a honorary degree to Boltzmann.

The Beginnings of Physics at Clark University
Roy Andersen


Because of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the American Physics Society and the important role of Arthur Gordon Webster in co-founding the APS, we have started a site on the early history of Clark and Webster's role in co-founding the APS.

The founding of Clark University
The Michelson era
The Collegiate Department of Clark University
The Webster Era
The Goddard Era
The Jefferson Era

The founding of Clark University.
In the 1840's Jonas Gilman Clark, a self-educated, young Worcester-area entrepreneur, began manufacturing and distributing chairs and then tinware throughout central Massachusetts. In the early 1850's he succumbed to the lure of California and sold his Massachusetts businesses. Arriving in San Francisco by sea in 1853, he began importing miner's and builder's supplies, hardware, and furniture. Then he limited his importing to furniture and began the manufacture of quality furniture using native California woods. Soon he became the largest furniture wholesaler west of the Rockies. He also purchased considerable land in the Bay-Area, and became a partner in California's first public insurance company and in the private company which supplied water to San Francisco. In this period one of his friends was another successful merchant, Leland Stanford. An outspoken abolitionist, Clark became active in Union-related causes and helped raise money to finance the Civil War.

Clark sold his West Coast enterprises in 1864 and returned to Worcester with California gold, which he converted to paper money at very favorable rates of exchange. He constructed commercial buildings, held commercial mortgages, and acquired stocks and bonds in regional railroads. Despite his wealth, however, Clark was not accepted by the old-money establishment of Worcester, most of whom were graduates of Harvard.

Clark, possibly influenced by conversations in California with his friend Stanford, decided that the best he could do with his wealth was to establish an institution of higher education. In 1887 he assembled a group of prominent citizens for advice, and Clark University was chartered the same year. They succeeded in attracting as president G. Stanley Hall, a student of William James and the first recipient of an American Ph.D. in psychology (from Harvard's philosophy department since there was no psychology department) and Professor of Psychology and Pedagogy at The Johns Hopkins University, the first American university to offer study toward graduate degrees. Hall's vision was to create a prestigious university, staffed with a first-class faculty, offering only graduate degrees, and only in those fields for which he perceived the greatest need in the United States: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology.

Because most scholars at that time were trained in European universities, the Trustees sent Hall to Europe for eight months to visit the principal academic institutions of Europe to learn about the needs of the science disciplines, to recruit faculty, and to purchase apparatus and books. Clark and the Trustees assured Hall that there was ample money to assemble an outstanding faculty. During this period in Europe, Hall conferred with most of Europe's best known scholars in these fields. To head his departments Hall tried-unsuccessfully-to lure away established professors, especially German professors. Heinrich Hertz was one who received an offer. Among the physicists interviewed by Hall were Hertz, Boltzmann and Helmholtz in Germany, Lords Kelvin and Rayleigh and J. J. Thomson in Great Britain, Perrin in France, and Volterra in Italy.

In Germany, Hertz had recommended to Hall a young American, Albert Abraham Michelson. Between 1880 and 1882 Michelson had studied at the University of Berlin and had worked in the well-equipped optics laboratories which Helmholtz had assembled. (Michelson never earned a degree.) In fact, Hall knew Michelson from 1881 when both were studying in Berlin. It was in Berlin in 1880 that Michelson had conceived of the interferometer. There, also, using his interferometer, he had performed the first ether-drift experiment. But he was puzzled by his null result.

The Michelson era (1889 - 1892)
Michelson left Berlin in 1882 with an honorary Ph.D., having accepted an appointment as the first professor of physics at the newly founded Case School of Applied Science (now Case Western Reserve University). In 1885 Michelson repeated the ether-drift experiment at Case in collaboration with his chemist colleague, Edward W. Morley, again finding a null result. By then Michelson was becoming discouraged at Case, feeling that he was receiving insufficient support and that, in the West, he was isolated from the mainstream of physics. When he received Hall's offer to be Professor of Physics and Director of the Physical Laboratories at Clark, Michelson seized the opportunity to move East. Indicative of Hall's high regard for Michelson, he received the highest salary of any of the new faculty, $3,500 (Hall's salary was $6,000.) with a budget of $11,265.85 for equipment to start-up his new department. (Michelson's teaching obligation was one lecture each week.)



Albert Abraham Michelson at Clark University in 1890.

When Michelson arrived at Clark in time for its opening in 1889 there were nineteen Clark faculty and thirty-five graduate students. (Fifteen of these had either taught at or studied at The Johns Hopkins University.) He was given a house next door to the President's and across the street from his laboratory.

At Clark, Michelson immediately set about building an interferometer suitable for measuring the standard meter. At Case, Michelson and Morley had already performed preliminary tests of the method and had begun to publish on the idea. Michelson also hired Frank L. O. Wadsworth as Fellow in Physics and employed him as his assistant in building the necessary apparatus. The interferometer, capable of measuring only a decimeter, was an improved version of one built in 1888 by the Warner and Swasey Co. of Cleveland, Ohio for use at Case by Michelson and Morley. It was built using Clark money by the famed optical engineer, J. A. Brashear of Allegheny, Pennsylvania. (This decimeter interferometer resides in the Clark University Archives.) The design and tests of this decimeter interferometer proved successful.

In 1891 the Comité international des Poids et Mesures in Paris, learning of Michelson's efforts, invited him to Paris to address the Bureau international des Poids et Mesures. Impressed by Michelson's ideas, the Bureau granted Michelson funds for the construction of an interferometer suitable for measuring the standard meter. Under Wadsworth's supervision, the meter interferometer was constructed in Waltham, Massachusetts by the American Watch and Clock Company.





The meter interferometer at Clark University as it was being tested.

The Comité wrote President Hall requesting that Michelson be granted leave to come to Paris to perform the measurements on the meter. Clark's trustees quickly approved Michelson's leave for this purpose with full pay and support for himself and Wadsworth.

In 1892, just as Michelson and Wadsworth were about to depart for France, Michelson and twelve of his other distinguished Clark colleagues abruptly resigned. President Hall had hired faculty and provided fellowships in amounts which exceeded the income from the University's substantial - but unknown - endowment. Based on his suppositions regarding the University endowment, Hall had made numerous promises to his faculty but had subsequently defaulted on these. The faculty had grown antagonistic, but Hall was loath to hear their concerns. Coincidently, the University of Chicago had been founded with Rockefeller money and its new president, William Rainey Harper, learning of the discord, came to Worcester to interview Clark's faculty. He returned to Chicago with faculty appointments for seven of Clark's most prestigious faculty members.

Michelson and Wadsworth did go to Paris, taking with them the apparatus which Michelson had constructed and tested while at Clark. Michelson successfully completed his measurements in 1893. In 1907 Michelson was awarded the Nobel Prize for his measurement of the standard meter, the first American to be so honored. (Although Clark had enthusiastically supported Michelson, he never acknowledged the support of the University.)

The "Collegiate Department" of Clark University (1902)
The faculty of Clark University were not the only ones experiencing difficulties dealing with President Hall. The founder himself was not only becoming disappointed but downright angered by Hall. Clark's unhappiness was to lead profound changes in his University.

Clark's original intention was to establish an institution which would train well-prepared graduates of secondary schools of the Worcester area. In Clark's 1893 will he was explicit; he had planned a university having three components: a department of original research, a library, and a department for the "general and liberal instruction" of undergraduates and the general public. Clark was unhappy over Hall's unwillingness to establish this third component as well as with Hall's failure to attract large numbers of tuition-paying students and financial support from the community. Clark was so disenchanted that he declared his unwillingness to provide additional support for his university. The trustees convinced Clark to provide temporary maintenance support.

In 1893 Clark executed a new will which provided that his executors would satisfy all existing commitments to the university, but which left no new funds. If, however, the trustees were to satisfy three conditions, his estate would provide additional support: (1) President Hall must resign within one year of the probate of the will; (2) the Trustees must recruit major benefactors within two years of probate, with matching funds to come from Clark's estate; and (3) the trustees must reorganize the university to include an undergraduate college of modest cost. (In an 1897 codicil, Clark relented on his demand for Hall's resignation, but stipulated the Stanford should have its own president, and that the college and the university could only be unified after Hall was no longer president.) Clark, recognizing that an annual tuition of $100 was unaffordable by local students, stipulated that undergraduates should have to pay no tuition in the first year of the "undergraduate department", $25 in its second year, and $50 in its third year and beyond. Three months later in a new codicil Clark directed the trustees to establish a college "as originally intended and proposed as the principal feature of Clark University," an institution of moderate expense in which male secondary school graduates would acquire "in a three years course a practical education which shall fit them for useful citizenship and their work in life." Clark's words were similar to those used by his friend Leland Stanford when in 1888 Stanford directed the establishment of his university. Clark died in 1900; the conditions of his will forced the trustees in 1902 to establish a "collegiate department" (as it became formally known), under an independent president or lose any additional support from the Clark estate. The college was to have its own administration, separate faculty and facilities, and be non-residential. (A street car line ran right past the one-block campus, and, for a five-cent fare, provided connections to all parts of Worcester and twenty-seven neighboring towns.)

The Webster Era (1890 - 1923)
In 1890 Arthur Gordon Webster joined the department. Webster's father was a Harvard classmate of Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Worcester who was on Clark's Board of Trustees. It was Webster's father who suggested his son's availability to the senator, the senator in turn bringing Webster's name to President Hall. Of course Webster and Michelson would have been acquainted during their time together in Berlin. Webster received an appointment as docent, an appointment with no faculty status but with some responsibilities in lecturing and the supervision of graduate students.



Arthur Gordon Webster in his office at Clark University about 1890.

Webster had graduated from Harvard College in 1885 at the top of his class and had stayed for a year as instructor in mathematics and physics. At the end of this year he went to the University of Berlin where he studied for four years with Hermann von Helmholtz, receiving his Ph. D. in 1890. Helmholtz is said to have considered Webster his favorite American student. During this period Webster also studied in Paris and Stockholm. He was unusually proficient in literature and was fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French, and Swedish, with a good knowledge of Italian and Spanish and competency in Russian and modern Greek.

In 1892, when Michelson left Clark for Chicago, President Hall appointed Webster assistant professor and head of the Physical Laboratories. He was promoted to full professor in 1900.

Webster was unusual for his time in that he was both a proficient mathematician as well as a competent experimentalist. In his teaching, in keeping with Clark's early mission to train only graduate students, he developed a systematic series of lectures on mathematical physics. These brilliant lectures, delivered at blinding speeds, were more detailed and comprehensive than available anywhere at the time. Out of these lectures came three classic textbooks in theoretical physics: The Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1897), The Dynamics of Particles and of Rigid, Elastic and Fluid Bodies (1904), and, posthumously, The Partial Differential Equations of Mathematical Physics (1927). The first two were important to advancing physics education in America for they were the first treatises available on those fundamental topics. Even today they are so highly regarded that they remain in print. Webster was in demand as an invited lecturer at numerous other universities. He kept himself informed on all the new discoveries in physics, regularly lecturing on topics such as the electron, x-rays, and radioactivity.

Webster's 1893 paper, "An experimental determination of the period of electrical oscillations," won him the internationally prestigious Elihu Thomson Prize. He conducted experiments and wrote extensively on the theory of the gyroscope. For his pioneering researches on the theory of sound he developed the first instrument capable of measuring the absolute intensity of sound (the phonometer). (These instruments, which were regularly borrowed by the National Bureau of Standards for calibration of their sound equipment, are in the Clark University Archives.)

Because of Webster's high regard as a physicist and the renown of his lectures, the physics department acquired considerable prestige. Good students came to study under Webster. (One was Vannevar Bush who entered with a substantial stipend, but soon left when he found that the only field in which he could do research was acoustics.) During his 33 years as the only physicist on the faculty at Clark, Webster trained 27 doctoral students. Clark was one of the leaders in producing Ph. D.'s in physics in the first quarter of the twentieth century . (Knapp/Goodrich survey on undergraduate origins of American physicists. American Journal of Physics.)

Although himself primarily a theoretical physicist, one of Webster's hallmarks as a teacher/researcher was his insistence that theory must be confirmed experimentally. Webster was noted for the quality of his teaching and for his encouragement of young physicists; his students went on to become leaders in physics. Other universities and government laboratories turned to Webster for recommendations to fill their openings in physics.



Convocation of physicists assembled in 1909 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of Clark University. Michelson is third from the left in the front row and Vito Volterra is to his right. Webster is third from the left in the second row and Ernest Rutherford is to Webster's left. Goddard is immediately behind Webster.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century many young, European-trained physicists were returning to the United States. Soon it became apparent that there was a need for a professional society to sponsor meetings where American physicists could gather to present and discuss their research. One physicist was the most active in doing something about it: Webster invited the nation's major physicists to a meeting at Columbia University on 20 May 1899. At that meeting, attended by twenty physicists, the American Physical Society was founded. In advance of the meeting Webster had obtained permission from Henry A. Rowland of The Johns Hopkins University and Michelson (neither of whom was present) to be nominated to two-year terms as president and vice president, respectively. Webster was third in succession as president. Physicists of that generation generally agreed that Webster was "the father of the American Physical Society."

Lyman J. Briggs, Director of the National Bureau of Standards, wrote in 1949 to Karl K. Darrow, long-time secretary of the American Physical Society: "The two most colorful physicists in the early days of the Society were Prof. A. G. Webster and Prof. W. S. Franklin. They seldom missed a meeting and they almost invariably had something to say about each paper. Webster had a brilliant mind and his keen analysis of a paper in his booming voice was something to remember."

Indeed, physicists always enjoyed meeting Webster on his arrivals at railroad stations for Webster liked to play practical jokes of a scientific nature. Webster, with his expertise on the gyroscope, had constructed a portable, battery-powered gyroscope housed in a suitcase. As his train would come into the station he would start the gyroscope. Once the gyroscope was up to speed he would hand this suitcase to a porter with instructions to take good care of it. Webster would then walk briskly down the station platform, making abrupt turns as he went. The suitcase, however, would not follow these turns, shooting off into space with an alarmed porter hanging on desperately and with the assembled greeters responding with hilarity.

Webster was concerned about the need for the standardization of physical units in the United States. He is thought to have brought the matter before a meeting on 24 February 1890 of the Council of the American Physical Society. He was made chairman of a committee to draw up a resolution to present to Congress to establish a "Bureau of Weights and Measures." One year later Congress, acting on resolutions from several scientific societies, voted to establish the National Bureau of Standards in Washington D.C. where it remained for the first three quarters of the twentieth century.

Sadly, this brilliant classical scientist and leader in the American physics community became apprehensive about his future. He was unable to accept the revolutionary ideas that were rapidly emerging in physics. He was especially distressed about the growing acceptance of relativity and quantum theories. Further contributing to Webster's concerns, G. Stanley Hall retired as president in 1920 and was succeeded by Wallace W. Atwood, a Harvard geographer whose first act was to establish "The Graduate School of Geography." Atwood soon forced two full professors of mathematics into retirement and abolished that graduate department. Atwood then filled the two faculty vacancies with geographers. It was rumored that physics would be the next to go; indeed, Atwood offered Webster only a one-year renewal of his faculty appointment. Webster, who had consistently rejected numerous offers from other universities, became fearful for his professional future. On 13 May 1923 he killed himself with a pistol.

The legacy to Clark physics left by Webster was the fall of the University from the forefront of physics; while others were building, Clark was eclipsed. With the death of Webster came the end of the prestigious doctoral program in physics at Clark.

The Goddard Era (1913 - 1943)
One of Webster's students was Robert Hutchings Goddard who was awarded his Ph.D. in physics from Clark in 1911 and went on to pioneer in the development of rockets. Goddard tenaciously patented the basics of rockets that are today used for space travel and exploration.

Goddard was born in 1882 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. His father co-owned a company that manufactured machine knives and invented special knives and a flux for welding steel. The son showed an early interest in science and his father encouraged him by giving him a microscope, a telescope, and a subscription to Scientific American.

When Goddard was sixteen, the family moved to Worcester and shared a house with a friend who had a "neat little workshop and tool cabinet in the shed." Goddard was fascinated. He also began to dream about space. On October 19, 1899 he climbed a cherry tree in the backyard to trim some branches. In a 1927 biographical memoir he described what then happened to him: "I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet. I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended, for existence at last seemed very purposive." In his diaries Goddard referred to October 19 as Anniversary Day. He kept photographs of the tree and the ladder he had used. Every October 19 when he was in the area he would visit the tree.

Goddard entered the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1907 with a major in physics. While there he wrote a paper, "The Use of the Gyroscope in the Balancing and Steering of Airplanes," which was published in Scientific American. For his senior thesis he wrote a paper entitled, "On some Peculiarities of Electrical Conductivity Exhibited by Powders and a Few Solid Substances." This paper was published two years later in the Physical Review, the respected journal of the young American Physical Society. At the same time Goddard maintained his interest in rockets; he kept notebooks in which copiously recorded thoughts on spaceflight. For two years Goddard stayed on the faculty of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute as instructor.

Then in 1909 Goddard entered Clark University to study physics at the graduate level as a student of Webster. Just one year later he received his Master of Arts degree. And in 1911 - only two years later - he was awarded his Ph.D. His 1912 doctoral dissertation was entitled, "On the Conduction of Electricity at Contacts of Dissimilar Solids", a topic concerning principles embodied in the transistor. Goddard noted in his diary that he chose the topic "not because I was particularly interested, but that I considered that my previous studies on the conductivity of powders at Worcester Tech would be of help - a belief which, after only two weeks work, I found not fully justified." Webster was quoted as saying that Goddard's oral dissertation defense was "a spectacular performance." Goddard published his dissertation in the Physical Review in 1913.

Goddard remained at Clark for a year as a research fellow following which he accepted a fellowship at Princeton University to study electricity, magnetism, and the emerging atomic theory. But every evening, and often into the early hours, he continued his work on rocket propulsion. Then while on a visit home in Worcester he developed a cold which his family treated with their old remedy, snuff and lard. It didn't work; he had tuberculosis. While he ultimately recovered, he remained in fragile health for the rest of his life. After only one year at Princeton, he never returned. Instead he accepted a teaching appointment at Clark. Remaining on Clark's faculty for the rest of his career, he acquired a reputation as a stimulating teacher. In 1923, after Webster's death, he was elevated to head the physics department as Director of the Physical Laboratories, a post he held until his resignation in 1943.

From 1909 through 1915 Goddard published five scientific papers, at least three of which were substantial contributions to science. Webster, having worked closely with his student, understood Goddard's proclivity for secrecy, and had strongly urged Goddard to publish his research. Regrettably for pure science, Goddard chose to ignore this important advice; he published nothing further.

While bedridden at home for several weeks Goddard had time to contemplate rockets. During his prolonged convalescence he filed two patent applications, one on multistage rockets and the other on getting rocket fuels into combustion chambers. Both patents were granted, the first in a lifetime total of 214.

In 1916 Goddard submitted to the Smithsonian Institution a request for a grant of $5,000 to support his rocket research. His manuscript detailed his theoretical and experimental research on rockets. He was awarded the grant and gave the Smithsonian permission to publish his manuscript. Entitled "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes", it appeared in print in 1919 and is the first publication ever on the theory of rocket flight and the experimental verification of that theory. While the Russian K. E. Tsiolkovsky in 1903 published a theoretical paper on gravity and the possibility of space flight, and in 1922 Professor Hermann published a theoretical paper in Germany on the possible use of a rocket for space flight, Goddard's publication is unique for its experimental demonstration of these possibilities. Goddard is distinguished from these other rocket researchers in having tested his theories over the next twenty-five years with painstaking, usually frustrating, experimentation.



Goddard at the blackboard, lecturing on travel to the Moon.

A year later an extract of the Smithsonian publication was published in the international journal Nature. The extract attracted worldwide attention. Besieged from all over the world with requests for information, Goddard ignored them all. For his Clark laboratory he hired an armed night watchman and secured an unlisted telephone number. He made his assistants sign pledges of secrecy. Indeed, Goddard complained that Oberg had stolen his ideas. He remainded obstinate in his refusal to accept collaborators who would have been able and willing to share experience and resources.

On March 19, 1926 Goddard fired the world's first liquid-fueled rocket at the farm of a family friend. Twelve feet long and weighing only ten pounds fully loaded, it flew for two and a half seconds and rose to an altitude of 41 feet. Goddard was "jubilant."



Goddard with the first liquid-fueled rocket in its launching frame just before its successful flight on March 19, 1926. The frame is today on display in the Clark University Archives.

Three years later Goddard fired off another rocket from a 60-foot launch tower. It reached 90 feet of altitude, crashed down to earth, exploded violently on impact, and set fire to the field. Soon the police, two ambulances, and two newspaper reporters appeared at the farm in response to reports of an airplane crash. Local officials and citizenry were terrified; Goddard was ordered to find a better location for his experiments.

In late 1929 Goddard received a telephone call from Charles Lindberg, the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindberg explained that he was interested in the application of rockets to aircraft and Goddard invited him to visit. Goddard enthusiastically explained his ideas to the famous aviator. Replying to a question from Lindberg about what he needed to continue his work, Goddard explained that he had been struggling on minimal and uncertain funding from Clark, the Smithsonian, the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, and the Carnegie Foundation. Lindberg arranged with the Guggenheim Foundation for Aeronautical Research for a grant of $100,000 for four years. Goddard was granted leave from his teaching at Clark and in 1930 moved his laboratory to Roswell, New Mexico. He also received permission from the University to relocate the entire physics machine shop to Roswell. And for all of the twelve years Goddard was in New Mexico, Clark's President Atwood retained him as head of the physics department. Every decision in physics, every item to be purchased had to be approved through the exchange of mail.

In Roswell, Goddard produced larger and considerably more complex rockets, yet the highest altitude he was ever able to achieve was a little more than two miles. Engineering historians attribute Goddard's lack of success to poor engineering practice: he made too many changes before firing each rocket.



Goddard with his shop crew in Roswell, New Mexico in 1940. This rocket suggests how far Goddard had carried rocket development by this time.

In all this time, despite repeated entreaties from Goddard, the U. S. military was unwilling to support any research on rockets. In the meantime, beginning in 1936, the Nazi military began to pour billions into rocket research. After World War II, when the U. S. military asked Wernher von Braun, the wartime director of German rocket development, about the source of German rocket ideas, he replied that the U.S. should study the work of Goddard. Von Braun wrote "until 1936, Goddard was ahead of us all."

The sad lesson is that Goddard's secretiveness, his refusal to collaborate, and his inferior engineering practice kept him from realizing his lifelong goal.

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.

Further reading

  • William A. Koelsch, Clark University, 1887-1987: A Narrative History (Worcester: Clark University Press, 1987).

  • Dorothy Michelson Livingston, The Master of Light: A Biography of Albert A. Michelson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973).

  • Melba Phillips, "Arthur Gordon Webster, Founder of the APS," Physics Today (June 1987): 48-52.

  • Milton Lehman, This High Man: The Life of Robert H. Goddard (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1963).
Useful Links

Please send comments and corrections to Roy Andersen, randersen@vax.clarku.edu.

Updated 16 September 1998.