Initial Perspective

I arrived in September of 1963 as an assistant professor. We were housed at 700 Commonwealth Avenue, before Warren Towers were built. I was given three large empty rooms except for a few desks, and introduced to three graduate students who were about my age. Some older and some a few years younger. Cohen had an informal way of conducting business, and the department held a weekly meeting attended by most faculty where matters of importance were discussed. The dominating figures were Paul Roman, a mathematical-particle theorist whose origin was in Hungary and Wolfgang Franzen, an experimental physicist of German origin. Armand Siegel, who was a student of Norbert Wiener and later worked with Feshbach, was the departmental wise man and philosopher who, at times, started out arguing one point and wound up with a conclusion which contradicted the original premise. He was a unique individual who originally majored in English Literature, but turned to physics after taking a physics course because he was told that every educated person should take physics. Paul was imperious, Wolf was domineering. The other set of characters were Dean Edmonds, who went through Princeton and MIT RadLab, and who was an expert in electronics, devoting his talents to teaching. He wrote a manual and book on electronics and later devoted himself to editing of “Cioffari’s Experiments in College Physics” a laboratory manual for introductory physics courses published by D.C. Heath and Co. Dean was independently wealthy. He grew up in New York, His father was a patent attorney who worked on patents of the then developing technology of electricity and radio broadcasting. One of the patents he worked on was that for the heterodyne radio receiver which became the basis of every radio built since that time. That technology spawned many industrial giants. Dean was very enthusiastic about everything, and that enthusiasm was infectious. When he arrived at Boston University, he briefly collaborated with Franzen in research. He later developed a course entitled “How Things Work” in which he took apart an old Nash-Rambler car engine, put it back together and ran it. This created a lot of noise, fumes and dirt to the delight of the students. Edmonds later established a prestigious lecture series in honor of his father at the Boston University Physics Department.

Dean S. Edmonds Jr., 1961; Ed O’Neill, 1964; Gerald Hawkins, 1965

Chuck Willis and Graduate Student Sam Scott, 1964

Ed Booth, who came from Johns Hopkins, was a straight forward person. Hard working and idealistic, he tried to see everyone’s point of view and rarely promoted his own. Bernie Chasan, somewhat heavy-set, got his degree at Cornell and came to Boston University via Harper College to aid Booth in nuclear research. For a while, he was my closest colleague because of the proximity of our ages. Gordon Stipe, who received his degree from Princeton University, spent some time doing research on explosive impacts for the military and came to Boston University from being department chairman at the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. He presented himself as a slightly graying southern gentleman, interested in experimental physics and turning his interests for the betterment of teaching. Ed O’Neill who used to be a member of the Physics Research Laboratory and did not join Itek when it was created, presented himself as a slightly balding, round and jovial person. He had a resounding voice and laugh. Optics was his field. Mendel Sachs, somewhat slight in appearance, was a field theorist who came to Boston University from the University of Montreal and was interested in everything from General Relativity to solid state physics about which he later wrote a book. Willis came from Syracuse University where he studied with Bergman. His research was devoted to statistical mechanics. He was a rather smallish man but solidly built. He had a profound understanding of everything, but could never explain things so that my simple mind could comprehend. Cohen, who taught at Yale philosophy and at Wesleyan in Middletown CT. was a slight man who was overwhelming in his mild and friendly manner. He received his Ph.D. from Yale in 1948.

Armand Siegel, 1962; J. Gordon Stipe, 1968

Although, as it seemed to me, we were all devoted to science, research or the teaching of it, there were also some political overtones within the faculty, although all within a collegial atmosphere. The times were the depth of the cold war. It was also the beginning if the Vietnam action, Cohen and Siegel were Marxists, many of the department members were somewhere in the middle as far as their ideologies were concerned. I and Franzen were somewhat on the right and Edmonds represented the far right.

Paul Roman, 1967

Unique Character of Boston University

Outside the Department there was very little interaction among the faculty. Boston was a large area with many cultural and social opportunities. This was in contrast to Yale, for instance, which was situated in a much smaller community whose social and cultural life evolved around the University. While artists, especially Arthur Rubinstein whose daughter was married to the University Chaplain, Coffin, would come to the University and play with the New Haven Symphony, the players were mostly Yale students. Boston offered a myriad of concerts, movies, opera, ballets, theaters, etc. for Bostonians to attend which were not centered on the University. Thus the social interaction within the school or department was not necessary. Some interaction among the faculty was encouraged by the Dean’s office. Those were mainly introductory meetings which were memorable to me, for the cup of coffee I was usually left holding when the Dean’s talk begun and which I was trying to hold throughout the talk so that it would not rattle or make noise. Although there was little social interaction among the faculty, there was an active social life among the graduate students in which some of the younger faculty participated.

Another rather strange practice the University had in place was to charge for courses as opposed to just charging tuition. At Yale you would register and take as many courses as you could. This was encouraged. Here the students were charged per credit and it cost them to take more than the prescribed number of credits. In other words, they were discouraged from taking more courses. In my mind, this was crass materialism on Boston University’s part.

There was also a different attitude toward the faculty at Boston University than there was at Yale. At Yale the faculty was treated as an integral part of the University, an attitude which I also found at Harvard where I was, at a later time, on sabbatical. At Yale, if you did not have a Yale degree, one was bestowed on you once you joined the faculty; at Harvard you became a member of the Harvard Corporation. At Boston University you were an employee. This was the signal you got and the understanding. Although the status was brought into question about ten years after I joined the University in a court dispute between the American Association of University Professors and Boston University, there was still the feeling that the faculty are employees at Boston University. That attitude of faculty as employees went so far that when a freight elevator was installed in the two story 700 Commonwealth building, the faculty was warned that the elevator was for freight only and not for lazy faculty who did not want to take the steps!

Other attitudes concerned moral values. Boston University had a Methodist foundation. Until Calvin Lee, who was Boston University’s president for a short time, all the presidents were Methodist Ministers. Thus, nominally, there was no tobacco or alcohol on campus. When President Case visited one of the University buildings, the staff made sure that there were no visible ashtrays. Also, whereas at Yale, cocktail parties were encouraged and College Masters held them for students to accustom them to the proper social manners, no alcohol was allowed at any social function associated with Boston University. Off campus, however, this was more observed in the breach.

Housing was another problem. Apartments for rent were usually dingy and dirty. There was precious little help from the University in that department. In smaller cities and towns, universities usually arrange living quarters for faculty, at least temporary ones, until faculty can find permanent housing. Not here. I was lucky to find an apartment in Brookline, St. Paul Street near Beacon with parking, T-transportation and in a residential neighborhood near a commercial center, Coolidge Corner. It was within a 25 minute walk of my lab at Boston University. I also found a handyman Jim Taylor, who decided to take care of me and our relationship extended for several years even after I got married and moved up the street. He introduced me to a cleaning lady, Hermite, who came from Haiti, and gradually things settled down.

Food shopping was another adventure. I used to shop at SS Pierce- a high priced market. After selecting my food, I would come to the cashier, an elderly lady in the eyes of a 28 year old. She would look at the price on the can or package and say, “ My, this was too expensive. I think it’s worth only…,” and usually charge me half the price on the label. In liquor stores, where they had specials, if they did not have what I wanted to buy on a “special” it would instantly become so when I selected it.

Teaching was pleasant, except for the first time when I came into an elementary physics discussion section without having looked at the assigned problems and got stuck on one with me at the blackboard in front of about 20 students. Luckily, I had my wits about me and asked if anyone in class had solved the problem. A young lady held up her hand and I asked her to come to the board and demonstrate the solution. She did.

I also remember a gloomy November 22 evening, a Friday, when all my students and the faculty went home, for at Boston university the faculty went home early and rarely stayed in the department to do their scholarly work. That was when I heard from one of the custodians that President Kennedy had been shot. That lead to a rather lonely and sad weekend in the apartment.

The work on my Low Temperature Lab had just started and each of my graduate students had a job to do. They were assisted by Joe Sousa, who at that time was the machinist in the machine shop set up by funds Cohen was given by the University. One of the big installations was a rather large vacuum pump for pumping on liquid helium so that temperatures below 4.2K could be reached. (0 K is minus 273.6oC .) There was also a lot of associated vacuum piping to be installed. One of the three lab rooms I was given served as my office for the first few years. I assumed that my graduate students would collaborate on the building of the laboratory and each one would find out and be curious about what the other one did. To my surprise, I found out later that they went about their tasks without talking to each other.

While my lab was being built at Boston University, I found some colleagues who were working at the Magnet Laboratory in Cambridge, administered by MIT, and started a collaboration with them which continued for about ten years. My colleagues were Myron Strongin who was my collaborator at Yale and received his doctorate a year before me; Bob Meservey for whom physics was a second career and who had finished his Ph.D. about a year before that, also at Yale with C.T. Lane working on Helium-4. He was my lab instructor when I was a sophomore. Others were Emanuel Maxwell, co-discoverer of the Isotope Effect in superconductivity, one of the crucial experimental hints which led to the ultimate BCS theory of superconductivity, and Charlie Chase, also older than me and one of the most careful and best experimental physicists I have met. Maxwell received his Ph.D. from MIT and Chase his Bachelors degree from MIT and Ph.D. from Cambridge University.

The Magnet laboratory, although part of MIT, was started by Benjamin Lax and Francis Bitter, later it became the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory was located in a rebuilt bakery building on Albany street in Cambridge. Although it was part of MIT, the researchers working there were never regarded as part of the faculty. At the time I came to Boston, the lab was well funded and offered many resources. I was accepted as a full member of the research team with a special distinction that I was also a professor at Boston University.

The Middle Years: A Growth Period

By the time 1964 came around, I was fairly well settled in Boston and was one of the faculty who participated in hiring new faculty, my age. William J. Alston, who received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Yale University was hired to help the nuclear physics research effort started by Booth; John Stachel whose thesis advisor was one of Bergman’s students working on the theory of relativity came from the Stevens Institute of Technology. David Rosenbaum, appointed assistant professor, came from Brandeis, was a theorist working in mathematical and elementary particle physics, associated with Sachs; Michael Papagiannis, an astronomer from Harvard was hired to bolster the astronomy part of the department and for a while we shared the office in my lab. Papagiannis received his Bachelor’s degree from Greece. Stephen Hamilton had an appointment while working on his thesis with Sachs on nuclear theory and taught some elementary physics sections. Ernesto Corinaldesi, from the University of Manchester visited the Physics Department in an attempt to collaborate with Roman, and William S. Hellman who was initially hired by Roman as a visiting associate, was appointed as an assistant professor. Before that he spent some time at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory.

The department and the student enrollment were growing. There were about 600 students enrolled in lower level physics courses in the first semester and about 1200 in the second. The faculty was up to 20, including 3 astronomers. The external research funding became noticeable. “Thirteen grants and contracts now support the major part of the research in this department, two from the National Science Foundation, and the remainder from the Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Washington), and the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory.” The funding was of the order of $200,000 for 1964-65 (bearing in mind that the salary of an assistant professor was of the order of $10,000.) By any measure, 1963 through 1965 was a period of growth. Another trend, the placement of classes accessible to working students, evening classes, paid off in the number of students which in turn justified the hiring of faculty.

The main argument for the growth of the faculty was the number of students in the introductory courses. That student population came from a number of sources. There were the pre-medical students who came from the College of Liberal Arts, as well as those from the other sciences, chemistry and biology. These populations overlapped. There was a contingent from the Sargent College of Allied Health Professions, which trained therapists, coaches and medical technicians. There was a contingent of students who had degrees and who wanted to change careers who took the courses in the evenings, and those who wanted to learn something about the physical sciences and who mostly took the astronomy courses. There were engineers who would become an increasing clientele of the Physics Department.


Although the engineering component at that time was relatively small and the faculty in engineering did not exceed that in physics until 1982, 1964 was a significant year for engineering and because of the relationship between physics and engineering, for the Physics Department as well. The origin of engineering at Boston University was the New England Aircraft School, located at Logan Airfield which trained engine and airframe mechanics. In 1951, the school joined Boston University to offer an Associate in Science degree and became the College of Industrial Technology. In 1963, Arthur Thompson became dean of the college and in 1964 it was renamed as the College of Engineering. In the announcement dated April 1964, entitled “Brief Bulletin about Boston University” President Case states in part:

The concept of education now developing in this School is one broadly embracing the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences as well as the engineering sciences. The College of Engineering is, therefore, a more appropriate title for this school than is the College of Industrial Technology.

Case goes on,

Returning recently from an oversees visit ….. I had the compelling conviction that our headlong propulsion into the scientific-technological era places unprecedented obligations on higher education. Science cannot solve our problems of human relationships. Therefore, more grounding in the social sciences and the humanities is essential to enable leaders in the technological age to wrestle with problems of human worth and dignity…

The name change was noted both in The Boston Herald, February 28, 1964 and The Boston Globe.


This was also the year when some significant changes to the undergraduate curriculum were made. “A two year sequence in Principles of Physics, with two years of calculus concurrent, designed for physics majors, mathematics majors and all engineering students,” was introduced.

The former General Physics course, PY103-104 has been discontinued. In its place we have two courses: a one year course, Elementary Physics, PY105-106, using no mathematics beyond that expected for entrance to CLA, and another one year course, General Physics, PY111-112, which has a year of calculus as prerequisite…The course using calculus is designed for chemists and other science majors who can not spend two years in the program designed for physics majors and engineers. The course without the calculus is designed for non-science liberal arts students, and will be suitable for those majors in a non-physical science who do not study differential calculus. ...We hope that most pre-medical students will elect PY 111-112.

Some of the faculty comments are noteworthy and might illuminate the mood of the department. One faculty member writes,

In the one-year course offered in the DCE (Evening Division) program for sophomore physics majors, chemists and mathematicians this year I found an appalling admixture of incompetent and undisciplined part-time students together with students attempting to pass the course for transfer credit into another university. One half of the class received failing marks. ...Most students were inarticulate, reticent and frequently absent in recitation sections.

Another remarks on the undergraduate physics program.

The present program seems like a sound one…It is troubling, therefore, to find so few students going through the program as physics majors. This year, only two students are going though as physics majors, and one of them is decidedly marginal. (Of course the best physics student in the senior class decided to join the Peace Corps.)

The quality of students was decidedly unsatisfactory. There were also students, on both the graduate and undergraduate level, who worked during the day and hoped to obtain a degree in the evening by attending one or two classes per semester. The trouble with that was that by the time one of the later classes was taken, the students forgot the contents of a prerequisite class leaving the instructor with the choice of a lengthy review, which ate into the intended class content, or covering the required class without student comprehension.

Others comment on the state of the department.

I think we reached a turning point of some sort. The volume of research activity in the department is approaching critical size…..But are we willing to consider ourselves a professional department consisting of faculty members intellectually involved in physics and related subjects, or do we want to be amateurs, on the sidelines…? There is a strong positive element in the warm, humane atmosphere that we maintain among ourselves; this we should not lose. But at the same time we should realize that we are in the real world, where physics is constantly changing and evolving…

While praising congenial atmosphere which Cohen created, this faculty member calls for more drive and action on the part of faculty to get into the center of physics rather than working on the periphery. There was also a whimper of a complaint about the department’s growth.

This year I felt the full impact of the new size the Physics Department has attained, in terms of impersonality, difficulty of feeling a sense of common cause with all of my colleagues, and decreasing availability of the Chairman when little things turn up which need discussion. On the other hand, relative to its size, I think the department is a flourishing institution, with much more mutual communication and understanding than is usually found in equivalent bodies. I think the devotion and insight that have gone into its construction, and which continue to be expended on it, will bear a tidy crop of results in future years.

There was a dissenting note on the part of THE astronomer, Hawkins, which portents the departure of the astronomers from the Physics Department, several years in the future. Hawkins writes;

On the negative side, astronomy is not being helped by being classified as one of the branches of physics. In particular the basis of division of budgetary funds between the two disciplines is not clear. On the positive side the inclusion of astronomy in the Physics Comprehensive Exam is beneficial…

As one sees from the table, astronomy contributed a significant portion of the students in the Physics Department, and yet, that year, there was only one professor and two instructor-lecturers. This was a very small portion of the department.