Search within:

History of the Physics & Astronomy Department


Edwards Accelerator Laboratory
The Edwards Accelerator Laboratory, home of the largest and highest energy accelerator in Ohio, began with a $1 million grant awarded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in the 1960s.

Through the Decades: The Department at a Glance


Ohio University is founded upon a land grant endowment from the National Government and is the oldest college in the Northwest Territory. It is the first example in the history of the United States of the establishment and endowment of an institution of higher learning by the direct agency of the general government.

Ohio University opens in October, with three students attending classes. The first curriculum includes arithmetic, grammar, Latin, Greek, geography, mathematics, logic rhetoric, moral philosophy and natural philosophy (later known as physical science, the precursor to modern physics). The first degree requirements in the college set up about 1810 requires among other things an adequate proficiency in natural philosophy. Thus, physics was given some consideration from the beginning.


The science curriculum is expanded to include astronomy in addition to natural philosophy.

A department of natural science is established with the Rev. Samuel D. Hoge as the professor. One of the first purchases on record of "philosophical" apparatus is in 1824, and it is located on the third floor of the Center College Building, now called Cutler Hall. At least $75 is appropriated for apparatus in 1849, and it is noted in the 1892 catalog that lectures in natural philosophy are illustrated by experiments, such lectures sometimes being given to the entire student body.


Carl Leo Mees is appointed chair of physics (from 1882-87). Physics begins to receive increased emphasis mainly from the efforts of Professor Mees and President Charles W Super (1883-96 and 1899-1901).


Professor Wilber Stine establishes a course in electrical engineering, and the physics department is separated from chemistry. The following year the department is called Physics and Electrical Engineering.


From here until after World War I, there is considerable turnover in the Physics and Electrical Engineering faculty, except for Professor Atkinson and Professor Ge.E. McLaughlin. Until 1918 when Professor OE. McClure joins the staff, the rapidly developing field of atomic theory or modern physics is being neglected. Professor McClure corrects this situation with the introduction of a course called, Ions, Electrons, and Ionizing Radiations.


Louis M. Heil comes to the department from Ohio State University, where he has just completed the master's degree and is continuing work on his Ph.D. Heil introduces a course called "The Physical World," one of the first of its type in the country. His lecture notes are later published in book form by Prentice Hall. Heil also is responsible for beginning of the department's early graduate program.


John Edwards writes his Master's thesis, "The measurement of X-ray absorption coefficient by the ionization methods using the FP-5 Pliotron" and the equivalent of a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. His adviser is Louis Heil. Edwards is appointed Instructor in Physics and Electrical Engineering. These are the lowest years of the Great Depression and his salary is in step with the economy. He earns more "moonlighting in the circulation department at the Athens Messenger" than he does as a fulltime instructor.

The Physics Department is formed from members of the Electrical Engineering Department and remains in the College of Arts & Sciences. A College of Applied Science is created with Professor Atkinson as dean.


John Edwards finishes his Ph.D. research at Ohio State and is awarded his degree the following year. His doctoral research proves to be a rare combination of X-rays and radioactive nuclei, and he is one of very few physicists during this time able to publish three papers from his research for the Ph.D. dissertation.

John Edwards is a consultant to the Isotopes Division of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which is established this year. He is the first to use radioactive isotopes on campus.


The department has a faculty of six in 1954 including John Edwards, Oscar McClure, W.M. Pierce, Charles Randall, Thomas Smith, and James Shipman.

The Acoustics Group is established by Burt Stumpf.

Regular department colloquia begin.


John Edwards is elected Distinguished Professor by the University. The Distinguished Professor Award recognizes outstanding scholarly and creative accomplishments and is the highest permanent recognition attainable by faculty at Ohio University. Edwards' citation reads, "An Athens native and Ohio University alumnus, Edwards joined the physics faculty in 1932. He was the first member of his department to use radioactive isotopes on campus and, in the 1950s, established the isotope committee that eventually evolved into the present Radiation Safety Committee. His work in the field of X-ray spectroscopy and nuclear physics, his numerous research publications, and his three laboratory manuals made him nationally known in his field."

Roger Finlay is hired as the department's first nuclear physicist to build the nuclear physics program. The initial research program utilized a small 150-kV Cockroft-Walton accelerator for generating neutrons that was located in an old automobile garage.

Ernst Breitenberger is hired to change and restructure the entire graduate program to include theoretical physics. Six new faculty members (five of them theoreticians) are hired. Curriculum is changed and expanded toward a complete grounding in the basics. A comprehensive exam for the Ph.D. is introduced with emphasis on general knowledge.

A National Science Foundation "Departmental Science Development" $1 million competitive grant (written by Roger Finlay) is awarded for the development of the department. A committee with rotating membership is completely free to determine how funds are allocated during the grant's five-year period.

Construction of Clippinger Laboratories and the Ohio University Accelerator Laboratory (OUAL) begin and are completed two years later, with funds supplied by the state of Ohio.

The department office along with the research laboratories moves from Super Hall to the newly constructed Clippinger Laboratories.

The purchase of the 4.5-MV tandem accelerator is funded by a $1 million grant awarded by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The department waits four years until the accelerator building is completed before proceeding to acquire a more advanced model.


When the building is completed to house the 11 million-volt Tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, the department begins operation of the John E. Edwards Accelerator Laboratory, named to honor Dr. Edwards and his research.

James Shipman publishes his textbook, An Introduction to Physical Science, with Jerry L. Adams and Jerry D. Wilson. (Thirteen editions will follow). Department alumnus Jerry D. Wilson '70 Ph.D. will continue to write physics books, and teach physics at Lander College, Greenwood, SC. A translation of the physics section of this book is used in Japan.

Ray Lane is elected Distinguished Professor by the University. His citation reads, "In 1966 Professor Lane left a position at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois to come to Ohio University. Dr. Lane, an experimental nuclear physicist, gained recognition for his work in the penetration of electrons in matter, beta ray spectroscopy, neutron scattering, and nuclear structure as well as for his contributions to the development of instrumentation and techniques for obtaining and analyzing new data. He was the author of 22 professional publications and read papers at colleges, universities, and research institutes. In addition, Dr. Lane was instrumental in helping the university secure the 11-MeV accelerator from the Atomic Energy Commission in 1968. In 1969 he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society, an award given only to members who have made significant original contributions to the advancement of physics."

John Edwards retires after 40 years of service to the department. He is recognized for his X-ray studies with a bent-crystal spectrometer with which he discovered a new pair of Tellurium atoms. The accelerator building is named the John E. Edwards Accelerator Laboratory.

The University's Honors College is renamed Honors Tutorial College (HTC), adopting the tutorial format. There are two HTC students studying physics.

Severe cutbacks are experienced when Ohio University loses 25 percent of its students and income due to a national recession and serious enrollment drop, among other factors. The physics department loses more than half of its budget. The department's untenured faculty members are given notice of contract non-renewal at the end of the academic year. Senior faculty members in the physics department offer to give up 10 percent of their salaries for several months in order to keep the department from suffering further lay-offs of tenured faculty.


Jack Rapaport is elected Distinguished Professor by the University. His citation reads, "Professor Rapaport taught at both Universidad de Chile and MIT and joined the physics faculty in 1969. An authority on nuclear physics, he was recognized for the 89 journal articles and 106 papers presented at national and international conferences and for the book The (p,n) Reaction and the Nucleon-Nucleon Force, which he edited for 1980 publication. Dr. Rapaport secured major research grants of more than $1.1 million. He received both Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1979, and in 1981 was elected to the executive committee of the Division of Nuclear Physics of that organization. His work with students won him an Ohio University Outstanding Graduate Physics Professor Award."

The department's name is changed to the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

A proposal to create the Condensed Matter and Surface Science Program (CMSS) is initiated by Louis Wright and Ron Cappelletti from Physics and Paul Sullivan from Chemistry. It is an interdisciplinary proposal with membership from the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Engineering and Human and Health Services. The proposal is successfully recognized by the Board of Regents of the State of Ohio with Ronald Cappelletti selected as the first director working under an oversight committee of the Chairs of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and the Dean of Engineering. This program is administered by physics faculty but has major involvement from the chemistry, electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering departments.


The department has research grants totaling $877,000 from state, federal, and industry sources, and approximately 62 graduate students working for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, 45 undergraduates, and 23 full-time faculty members.

Six department alumni take part in the Honors Tutorial College Alumni Symposium in Physics, where they talk about their current activities, including computer visualization, engineering, psychology and physics.

Roger Finlay is elected Distinguished Professor. His citation reads, "Professor Finlay joined the physics department just as it was developing its doctoral program. As its first experimental nuclear physicist, he is credited with beginning the university's nuclear experimental program. His research was funded by federal agencies, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. He lectured frequently at research laboratories around the world and was a consultant to the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories, the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, and the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Germany. In 1984 he was the organizer and editor for an international conference on neutronnucleus collisions; in 1986 he was selected a Fellow of the American Physics Society. The College of Arts and Sciences recognized his innovation in developing new courses and awarded him its 1989 Dean's Teaching Award."

Louis Wright, a nuclear theorist, proposed the creation of the Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics (INPP) and it is successfully established with Roger Finlay as the director. INPP brings coherence to the several successful but diverse nuclear and particle physics activities in the department and coordinates the activities of both theoretical and experimental subatomic physics. The department extends the graduate program to include M.S. and Ph.D. degrees based on research in Applied Nuclear Physics.

Earl Hunt acquires a scanning tunneling microscope (STM), a device capable of resolving individual atoms on a solid surface. It won for its inventors the Nobel Prize in 1986 and is now commercially available. Four graduate students are using the STM to investigate a number of surfaces including those of graphite intercalation compounds, compounds that have charge-density waves, and some metals.

Martin Kordesch is using the Photoemission Electron Microscope (PEEM), where UV-light incident at the specimen surface ejects photoelectrons, which are collected and magnified to form an image. Because PEEM is not a scanning technique, it can be used to study surface processes in real time. A second microscope, a Low Energy Electron Microscope (LEEM), is under construction and will allow studies of single crystal surfaces suing diffraction effects to create the image contrast.

The Neutron Laboratory between Clippinger Laboratories and Edwards Accelerator Lab is renamed the Surface Science Research Laboratory. The building houses the low energy electron microscope (LEEM), ion-implantation facilities and thin film preparation equipment.

CAPA (Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach) is started for the introductory non-calculus physics by Jack Rapaport. Recent graduate, Yanhe Jin 90PhD is appointed as the first CAPA systems manager.

The Edwards Accelerator building is expanded with the addition of a conference room, an undergraduate laboratory, an electronics shop, and office space.

The department is successful in obtaining external research grants of $1.8 million. Over 25 graduate students are supported by these research funds.


Ohio University establishes the Quantitative Biology Institute (QBI) to stimulate and focus on interdisciplinary research and training efforts in Quantitative Biology in the fields of Mathematics, Computer Science, Engineering and Physics. Institute faculty members hold academic appointments in Biological Sciences, Mathematics, Physics and Astronomy. QBI provides undergraduate and graduate students unique opportunities to develop the necessary interdisciplinary expertise to pursue more quantitative interests in their fields of study.

Art Smith is awarded the nation's top honor for early-career scientists. He was one of 59 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He was the only Ohioan to receive this award this year.

The Nanoscale and Quantum Phenomena Institute (NQPI) at Ohio University is established and includes faculty from the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and the College of Arts & Sciences. Jean Heremans is appointed director. NQPI promotes diverse areas of nanoscience, including nanomagnetism and nanospintronics, nanoscale particles and reduced dimensionality, and nanoscience of biological molecules.

Steven Grimes is elected Distinguished Professor by the University. His citation reads, "Professor Grimes came to Ohio University from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1981. A nuclear physicist, his research interests include MeV neutron cross sections with time-of- flight techniques, neutron-induced charged-particle producing reactions, inelastic and exchange reactions, nuclear astrophysics, and medical applications of nuclear physics. His more than 100 articles appeared in technical journals such as Physical Review, Nuclear Science and Engineering, and Medical Physics. In addition, he delivered papers at more than 90 professional conferences, both in the United States and abroad; more than 40 of these were published as a part of the conferences' proceedings. Dr. Grimes became the director of the John Edwards Accelerator Laboratory in 1985; in 1991 he was a visiting professor at the University of Kentucky."

More than 200 Ph.D. and 300 M.S. or M.A. students have graduated from the physics graduate program. Of those alumni, 10 are active or recently retired secondary science teachers, 50 of the department's Ph.D. graduates became college or university faculty at institutions across the United States. Approximately 15 Ph.D. graduates have been or are now on the faculties of colleges and universities in other countries.

There are 75 graduate students from 29 countries: Austria, Bolivia, Cameroon, Canada, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Iran, Jordan, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Uzbekistan, Ireland, and Indonesia.

Ohio University awards the department $1.3 million to fund the "Structure of the Universe" initiative. This initiative leads to increased ties between nuclear physics and astrophysics as one of its research priorities, and includes a faculty hire in low-energy experimental nuclear physics, a faculty hire in astrophysics, as well as $100,000 for refurbishment of the Edwards Accelerator Laboratory. Daniel Phillips, Brian McNamara, Tom Statler, Carl Brune, and Joe Shields play leading roles in preparing this proposal. A key component of the proposal is the purchase of a 1/12th share in two telescopes through the MDM Consortium which has an observatory at Kitt Peak near Tucson, AZ. Other institutions in the consortium are the University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, Ohio State University, and Columbia University. Students (undergraduate and graduate) and faculty are able to observe approximately 50 nights a year. Of the two reflecting ground-based telescopes, one has a light gathering mirror of 1.3 meters in diameter and the second has a 2.4 meter mirror.

The department celebrates the World Year of Physics with the first biennial Open House with over 600 visitors to Clippinger Lab. Joe Shields and Mark Lucas spearhead this endeavor. There are tours of research labs, a public lecture on clean power, astronomy viewing, as well as a Harry Potter movie with a discussion of physics and magic, physics shows, exhibits and demonstrations. The football game that day against the University of Toledo is attended by sixty members of the department, where physics is given substantial publicity including a short video shown on the stadium Jumbotron and David Drabold, the new Distinguished Professor is cheered on the football field.

David Drabold is elected Distinguished Professor by the University. His citation reads: "Professor Drabold joined the Ohio University faculty in 1993, after postdoctoral positions at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois. Drabold has maintained substantial and continuous research support from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, and industry. Dr. Drabold's achievements have been recognized by Fellowship in the American Physical Society (2003) and the British Institute of Physics (2005). He has held visiting appointments at the University of Cambridge (Trinity College, Clare Hall, and in Chemistry), the Materials Research Institute (Barcelona), and Los Alamos National Lab. Dr. Drabold's pioneering research on the theory of amorphous and glassy materials, along with early contributions to the methodology of electronic structure calculations is internationally recognized. He was Ohio University Presidential Research Scholar (2002-2007), and received the Honors Tutorial College Distinguished Mentor Award. He has been a panelist and site reviewer for the National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy, has co- organized several international conferences, edited conference proceedings, and one book Theory of Defects in Semiconductors. He has directed several dissertations, and his students have done notably well in their careers after graduation."

Ohio University is accepted for membership in the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). USRA is a consortium of approximately 100 Ph.D.-granting universities that offer graduate programs in space sciences, space technology, and related fields. It is a private nonprofit corporation sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, charged with providing technical assistance in furthering the nation's space program and space science. The department, along with the School of Media Arts and Studies and the Russ College of Engineering, contributed to the application forwarded to USRA.

Many of the department faculty members have done research at government labs such as: Jefferson, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore Lab and Brookhaven.

Madappa Prakash receives the Distinguished Mentor Award from the Honors Tutorial College, recognizing his outstanding work with HTC undergraduates. To date, seven current faculty members have been recognized as outstanding teachers and mentors with awards from the College of Arts & Sciences and HTC. The other six are: Markus B?ttcher, Mark Lucas, Joe Shields, Tom Statler, David Tees, and David Drabold.

Saw-Wai Hla discovers the world's smallest superconductor, a sheet of four pairs of molecules less than one nanometer wide. The Ohio University-led study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, provides the first evidence that nanoscale molecular superconducting wires can be fabricated, which could be used for nanoscale electronic devices and energy applications.

Douglas Clowe receives national recognition when he is named a 2008 Alfred P Sloan Research Fellow. Sloan Fellowships are awarded to outstanding early-career faculty in selected subfields of science, with 118 awards currently made each year. He is joining an elite group; since the program inception in 1955, 34 Sloan Fellows have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. Clowe is the first faculty member at Ohio University to be named a Sloan Fellow. His research specialty is in astrophysics.

A second international meeting hosted this year is really two conferences in one: the joint meeting of "Nanoscale Spectroscopy & Nanotechnology 5 (NSS5)" and "Spin-Polarized Scanning Tunneling Microscopy 2 (SPSTM2)," brought to Ohio University through the efforts of Saw Hla and Art Smith, respectively. Other committee members are Nancy Sandler and Sergio Ulloa and staff conference coordinator Mala Braslavsky. Both NSS5 and SPSTM2 are international, biennial conferences with changing venues that in past years have included Italy, Japan, and Germany. Approximately 110 scientists attend the joint conference.

In the fiscal year that ends June 2008, the department sets a record with over $3.8 million in external grants awarded to its faculty, from primarily federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The department's graduate program expands to 74 students enrolled. During the summer, 40 percent of undergraduate majors remain on campus and conduct research under the supervision of the faculty, with stipend support.

A new research initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation, Spin-Polarized Partnership for International Research and Education (SPIRE). SPIRE sends undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral and journalism students to universities in Germany and Argentina so they can interact with leading nanoscience specialists. The successful SPIRE grant proposal is written by Nancy Sandler, Art Smith, Saw-Wai Hla and Sergio Ulloa who are all members of the Nanoscale and Quantum Phenomena Institute (NQPI).

Department alumnus Venkatraman (Venki) Ramakrishnan '76PhD is one of three scientists awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the structure of the ribosome. He is currently at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. Venki received his Ph.D. in condensed matter theory under the direction of Tomo Tanaka.

Peter Jung is elected Distinguished Professor. His citation reads, "Professor Jung uncovers the inner workings of biological cells using concepts of physics in combination with computational methods. His current interests include the cellular machinery of calcium signaling and slow axonal transport. Jung has published numerous and highly cited papers in a variety of leading scholarly journals. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and U.K.'s Institute of Physics and served as chair of the Division of Biological Physics of the American Physical Society for four years. Jung received his doctorate degree in Theoretical Physics from the University of Ulm (Germany) in 1985 with a thesis on the theory of lasers. After five years as postdoctoral researcher and one year as lecturer at the University of Augsburg (Germany), he was awarded the prestigious Heisenberg-Professorship by the German research council which allowed him to spend five years at institutions of his choosing to pursue further research. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Beckman Institute, his research direction changed towards Biological Physics. He continued this research at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and joined the Ohio University Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty in 1997. He is a founding member of Ohio University's Quantitative Biology Institute and a member of the Neuroscience Program. Jung's current research is in physics underlying cytoskeletal transport and cell signaling."

The department undergraduate major has new tracks within the Applied Physics major, with engineering and biophysics now in place as options.

Doug Clowe's confirmation of dark matter's existence makes Discovery News' "top ten" list, citing his work as the eighth most important discovery of the decade. The confirmation of dark matter's existence is a major development in astrophysics. Prior to this finding, dark matter was only a theoretical concept based on the observations that galaxies only had one-fifth of the visible matter required to create the gravity needed to hold them together.

Madappa Prakash along with an international team of researchers, discovers a remarkable state of matter in a high-density neutron star. Neutron star Cassiopeia A, the remains of a supernova that occurred 330 years ago, has puzzled scientists by cooling at an unusually fast rate. Researchers now report that the quick cooling is the first direct evidence that the cores of neutron stars are made of superfluids and superconducting materials.

The Edwards Accelerator celebrates its 40th year of operation with a major upgrade funded by the National Science Foundation. The Van de Graaff belt charging system is replaced with a Pelletron charging chain system. Since the accelerator's installation, there have been 58 Ph.D. students who have used the accelerator. The Edwards Accelerator Lab conference room is named the Roger W. Finlay Conference room in his honor.

The Zoology Animal Science Building, as it was previously known since it was built in 1973, was renamed the Clippinger Research Annex. Originally constructed for the study and observation of animals, it is now used for a variety of leading research efforts including nanomagnetism/nanospintronics research by Arthur Smith and electromagnetic bio-sensory research by David Russell and Alexander Neiman. Also housed within the building is the helium liquefaction facility, the Chemistry nuclear magnetic resonance lab, a Geological sciences lab, and various support labs.

Doctoral student Heath Kersell won the Distinguished Masters' Thesis Award from the Mid-western Association of Graduate Schools.

Department machinists and toolmakers Doug Shafer and Todd Koren develop a new $1 million helium liquefier that will capture nearly 95 percent of the helium used during research and compress it into liquid form to be reused. It is only the second helium liquefier in the State of Ohio.

With the assistance of a $321,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the accelerator is upgraded to a Pelletron charging system provided by the National Electrostatics Corporation.

The department passes the "300" mark for graduated students with doctoral degrees.

The department's program experiences continued growth in external grant funding, which reaches $4.7 million. Significant funding is now being generated by all the research sectors in the department, and in fact all tenure-track and tenured faculty have current federal support. The increased funding enables the department to expand the graduate program to a current enrollment of 80 and brings in an increasing number of postdoctoral researchers who enrich the intellectual vitality of the department.

The Board of Trustees approves a six-year capital plan which will include major renovations to Clippinger including an addition to the building. This addition will be built in the first phase during the 2015-16 capital budget biennium. This allows the department to continue operation of the labs during the second phase renovation of the original building during the 2017-18 biennium.

Undergraduate senior astrophysics major Keith Hawkins is named a Marshall Scholar and accepts the award to attend the University of Cambridge to complete a Ph.D.