History: Chapter 2 (1939-1967)

World War II through to the Occupation of the "New" Physics Building

Written by Edward W. Thomas, 2009. Based on the notes of L. David Wyly, Regent's Professor, and on general historical documents of the Institution.

Key Dates

  • 1941-1945: World War II requires many changes to curriculum and to the use of facilities.  Degree programs were foreshortened.
  • 1942-1943: Jimmy Carter, later President of the United States, was a student in the School of Physics. He subsequently transferred to the Naval Academy and from there he graduated. Interestingly, the School and the Institution have never been able to capitalize on this relationship.
  • 1943: Award of the first three B.S. degrees in Physics; one was to Leroy Woodward who in later years became a faculty member.
  • 1945: First “Annual Physics Department Picnic” given in the home of J.Q. Williams and his wife Ethel. (J.Q. was listed for the first time in the catalog in 1945. He had also just married Ethel Hembree, a librarian, and she masterminded the annual picnics. J.Q. obviously had a busy year.) The annual picnic continued up through the early 1980s.
  • 1957: The first Ph.D. degrees in Physics were awarded. The first was to Vincent W.  Shiel. In later life he became Chairman of the Board and main shareholder of “Sportsman’s Guide Inc.,” a $300,000,000/year mail order and internet company that sells sporting and outdoor equipment. The second graduate, one month later, was Eugene Patronis who stayed on at Tech, eventually became a full Professor, and probably is known best for his contributions to the science of acoustics and sound reproduction.
  • 1965: Ground is broken for the “New” Physics building.
  • 1967: The Howey Building is occupied.

The Hiring of Faculty and Development of Research Groups

There is no obvious “plan” behind the hiring patterns of this period. The notes provided by Dave Wyly, who was a faculty member throughout, give no hint of a “plan.” Rather we suspect the School hired whom it could find. Prior to 1939, the School’s sole function was to teach Physics to budding Engineers. So research and scholarly interests were pretty much irrelevant. Many of the Faculty of Physics prior to the late 1930s had degrees in Engineering subjects, almost all of them only at the B.S. or M.S. level. The Southeast United States was not a popular destination in this era. There was the problem of segregation with the tensions that it brought. Education, at all levels, was poor. Living conditions, prior to the universal adoption of air conditioning, could be pretty unpleasant for a number of months in the summer. A job teaching Physics at Tech, in Atlanta, was probably not really attractive. We suspect many of the faculty had personal reasons for wishing to work in the South; quite a number of them were from the South or had wives from the South. As we move to the 1960s we see faculty being hired from Europe; candidates from elsewhere in the USA were difficult to attract.

So, in the beginning, there is little obvious planning. With the advent of the Ph.D. degree, there was a need for research, and hiring required that faculty would bring a research activity to the school. As the first research groups become established they functioned as nuclei to attract other faculty with similar interests. From this has grown the School as we know it today.

The writer contends that the present mix of research subjects in the School was largely fixed by the interests of the first few research-related hirings. David Wyly brought us Nuclear Physics (which in 2009 has largely drifted away); J.Q. Williams, followed soon by Earl McDaniels, brought us Molecular and Atomic Physics, which remains a strong thrust of the School in 2009. Stevenson started the Solid State research program. Vernon Crawford and LeRoy Woodward were both heavily interested in the teaching of Optics and with the spectroscopy related research this perhaps was the nucleus for our developments in Optics. So how did it all evolve?

The situation in 1939

In 1939 the School’s faculty numbered eleven, including two at the rank of Instructor.  The School had yet to award its first B.S. degree, research degrees were not yet authorized and there was no research activity within the School. Head of the School, with the title of “Director of Physics” was Professor Joseph Howey. He had a Ph.D. from Yale and had published a small monograph on instructional laboratory practices. Professor Boland Edwards had been with the School since 1910; he had a B.S. degree in Engineering. The third Professor was Newton Samuel Herod who held B.A. and Ph.D. degrees. At the Associate Professor level were Earl Bortell, James Boyd, and Gerry Rosselot. At the Assistant Professor level were Walter Ewalt and Larry Johnson. Instructors were Stuart Whitcomb and L. David Wyly.

An interesting feature of the 1939 faculty was that a number of them went on to make rather substantial contributions to other units of Tech and to the University System of the State of Georgia. Gerry Rosselot, on the faculty of the School from 1934, was Director of EES (now called GTRI) from 1942 to 1952. James Boyd (also a Ph.D. from Yale) was also Director of EES, from 1957 to 1961. He subsequently became President of West Georgia College (1961-1971), Vice Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and for a brief time (May 1971 until April 1972) was acting President of Georgia Tech. Jim Boyd was also a prime mover in the formation of the company Scientific Atlanta (in 2007 taken over by Cisco Systems for 7 billion dollars). Larry Johnson (taught Physics from 1939 to 1943) was acting head of Georgia Tech’s School of Aeronautics from 1942 to 1947. He was heavily involved in the design of the Southern Technical Institute and from 1959 to 1970 was its Director; this Institution is now “The Southern Polytechnic Institute” located in Marietta. The 1939 Faculty included a future Vice Chancellor, three future University Presidents, two future directors of EES, and one future Director of an Engineering School at Tech. Quite a versatile group of people.

The 1939 Faculty included a triumvirate of teachers who were excellent classroom instructors and devoted themselves single-mindedly to the Introductory Physics courses taken by all Engineering students. These were Earl Bortell, Ed Prosser, and Walter Ewalt. Walter was still teaching when the School moved to the new building in 1967.

Dave Wyly was listed, in 1939, as an Instructor. He had a B.S. and M.A. degree from the Citadel in Charleston. Dr. Wyly was persuaded that his career would be enhanced if he acquired a Ph.D. So after two years at Tech he left and went to Yale (and also performed wartime Military Service) returning in 1945. Wyly subsequently created a research group in the School that graduated the first Ph.D.s and became a mainstay of the School’s research program for many decades. His research involved the studying the beta and gamma spectra of decaying radio-isotopes. The group always had a major interest in the development of instrumentation and was the first at Tech to incorporate small computers (PDP-8s) into research facilities. It became a large group and at one time involved six faculty. Wyly probably contributed more to the development of the School than any other of the faculty present in 1939. His career at Tech (1938 to 1985) spanned the introduction of all three degrees, the development of research programs, and the enormous growth of the School and of the Institution.

As the nation moved into World War II, there were significant changes to the curricula at Tech. The war increased hours of study and foreshortened degree programs. There was probably also a shortage of faculty. In the 1942 catalog we find that the School listed as a faculty member “Ed Moulthrop” whose degree is in Architecture!! Moulthrop had been a member of the School of Architecture for some years previously and was therefore housed on the top floor of the Physics Building. With wartime shortages he took teaching responsibilities in Physics, a few floors below. Moulthorp continued as a Physics Professor until 1945. Along the way he married the School’s secretary. In later life he joined an architectural practice that in the 1960s designed the “New” Physics building. Moulthorp was known internationally for turning very large wooden bowls.

The Situation in 1950

By now the School had expanded to sixteen faculty, of whom four were at the Instructor level. Five had Ph.D.s (three from Yale, one from Virginia, and one from Johns Hopkins). Joe Howey was the Director of the School.

In 1949 the School has hired its first “foreign” faculty member, Vernon Crawford. He was Canadian, with an American wife, and had received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. Crawford had a most remarkable career with Tech and with the University system as a whole. In 1964 he became Director of the School, in 1968 Dean of the General College, 1969 Acting President, followed by the position of Vice President for Academic Affairs. Finally in 1980 he became Chancellor of the University System and served in that position until his retirement in 1985. Vernon was an extremely affable individual. Faculty and students always felt fairly treated. He and his wife were extremely hospitable to young junior faculty and graduate students.

Dave Wily returned from his graduate studies at Yale. He was joined in 1951 by Charlie Braden and together they set up the nuclear spectroscopy research facility. Braden had enormous influence on the development of the School’s programs. He provided a steady hand and a moderating voice. He was always greatly concerned about maintaining the quality of the instructional programs. Braden served for many years as Associate Director of the School and briefly as Acting Director. Hal Brewer was employed as an instructor in 1950. He who later acquired a Ph.D. under Wyly and Braden, and Brewer then joined their research group as a faculty member providing theoretical support for the project. Nuclear Physics research developed quite rapidly and provided the research facility for the School’s earliest Ph.D. students.

J.Q. Williams joined the faculty in 1945 as an Instructor while he simultaneously worked on his M.S. degree in the School. By 1950 Williams was on leave to undertake his Ph.D. at Duke University. In 1951 he returned to the position of Assistant Professor. Also hired in 1951 was Tom Weatherly, and together he and Weatherly develop a research activity in Microwave Spectroscopy. J.Q. was the experimentalist, and Tom provided the theoretical component. This research attracted quite a number of students wishing to carry out M.S. thesis projects. During the war EES had developed a considerable capability for Radar and Microwave Communications. A number of the Engineers working on these sponsored projects wished to increase their educational background. So they joined the group of Weatherly and Williams and brought with them the practical expertise that they had already learned in EES. Some of these students left Tech to set up the company known as “Scientific Atlanta.” Notable among these students was Glen Robinson, who became CEO of the company. (The company was bought by Cisco Systems in 2007.)

So by 1950 or ‘51 the School has two research activities: Microwave Spectroscopy under Williams and Weatherly; Nuclear Spectroscopy under Wyly and Braden, with the addition of Brewer. Wyly and Braden soon have a number of Ph.D. students. Weatherly and Williams are particularly known for their successful M.S. students. In 1951 the School has eighteen faculty including two Instructors. But of these eighteen only five engage in research within the School.  A couple of the others are involved with applied research and development carried out in EES.  Over half the Faculty are involved only with Instruction.

The Situation in 1957

1957 was a banner year for the School as it hired eight new faculty with Professorial titles. Of these five had Ph.D.s, and together they created two new research projects to add to the Nuclear and Microwave Spectroscopy efforts already under way.

The 1957 Catalog included nine persons in the category of “Instructor,” which was also a faculty position. In the early days of the research programs, we hired prospective Ph.D. students into the position of Instructor. They would teach part time and perform their research part time.  In some cases, after gaining the Ph.D., they served at Tech as Assistant Professors and later rose in the professorial ranks. Of the nine instructors in 1957, four (Dulaney, Kendrick, Patronis, Stanford) later joined our Professorial ranks.

In 1957 the “Nuclear Physics” group had become seven strong. There were Wyly and Braden who founded the experimental spectroscopy group. In 1957 they were joined by Hal Brewer who was to provide a theoretical component to their work. (Hal had been an Instructor on the faculty but had left to get his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina.) Also with the experimental group were three persons at the rank of Instructor who eventually became Professorial titled faculty; these were Dulaney, Kendrick and Patronis. The three Instructors were all born in Georgia. Also joining the faculty in 1957 was R. Martin (Tino) Ahrens who was a theoretician able to devote much of his life to neutrino physics. He was known particularly for his work on neutrino mass. Ahrens was born in the USA to German parents. The family spent the war time years in Gemany. He later returned to the USA and received a Ph.D. at the University of St. Louis. He originally came to Atlanta to work at Lockheed when there was a program to design a nuclear powered military transport aircraft. Ahrens rapidly left that project and moved to Tech. His interest in neutrino Physics led him to become a prime mover in a project to detect nuclear explosions by their neutrino production. This project received enormous military funding that, for many years, was handled through a private off-campus company and only towards its end became a Georgia Tech project (in EES).

By 1957 there were four faculty active in Atomic and Molecular Physic. There are Williams and Weatherly whose projects in Microwave Spectroscopy of Molecules were well established. Earl McDaniel and David Martin arrived in 1957 and together set up a new project in the Physics of “Atomic Collisions.” McDaniel was a B.S. graduate of Tech and went to Michigan to get his Ph.D. There he met Dave Martin and eventually persuaded him to come to Tech. While at Michigan, they had both worked on Nuclear Physics projects. Arriving at Tech both were employed mainly through the Nuclear Sciences Division of EES and they held limited part time appointments in Physics. (McDaniel, at one point, became a part-time professor in the School of Electrical Engineering.) In EES they took over a 1 MeV Van de Graaff accelerator located in the Radio Isotopes Laboratory of EES (now known as the Emerson Building). This machine had been acquired to create neutrons (by D+D reactions) to “pump” a sub-critical reactor configuration. The neutron project never got any funding and the accelerator was available for anybody who could find the money to operate it. McDaniel and Martin devised a project to measure total ionization and charge transfer cross section of protons (and later some other ions) in various gases. The importance of the work was that the accelerator energy just spanned the region where theoretical predictions of the relevant cross sections should agree with experiment; the object was to check the correspondence. The project found ready support from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) who were interested in this data for the design of neutral beam injectors in Thermonuclear Power reactors. McDaniel and Martin also quickly created a second experimental set up to study “ion molecule reactions” at near thermal energies in a device known as a drift tube. A pulse of ions was created in a source and allowed to drift, under a very low electric field, through a gas. At the end of the drift space the ion arrival time spectrum and lateral spread were monitored. These two experimental measurements could be analyzed to acquire information on mobility and diffusion. The subject has a very long history and much of the published data was contradictory. McDaniel had become interest in the subject while using Geiger counters (which involve ions drifting through gases under electric fields) for his nuclear Physics Ph.D. The genius of the work done by McDaniel and Martin was that they added to the analytical system a mass spectrometer. In this way they could monitor the various parameters for each of the different ions emerging at the end of the drift tube. It became immediately apparent that most of the ions in their drift tube were in fact from contaminants such as air and vacuum pump oil; moreover that was probably the reason why previous studies of the subject were so contradictory. The first machine by McDaniel and Martin was a dismal failure. Basically it was too “dirty.” They subsequently junked their machine, and by 1964 had designed a completely new device that was built to the highest vacuum standards then being developed for Solid State Physics. The ion molecule experiments were strongly supported by the Air Force and Navy Research Offices that needed the data for understanding the phenomena occurring after atmospheric nuclear explosions.

In 1957 the School started its Solid State Physics program. The experimental capability was provided by Jim Stevenson who studied optical properties of solids. He measured dielectric constants, and his technology was chiefly ultra violet spectroscopy. Throughout his very long career at Tech, Jim was always striving to act as a leader of the School and of the Institution. He ultimately became Head of the School and finally Executive Assistant to the President. In his very early days at Tech, he realized that it was important to be associated with larger entities than the School of Physics. So he spent some summers working at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, and he also developed strong ties with the Solid State divisions at Oak Ridge. Also on hand in 1957, and often identified as being a Theoretical Solid State Physicist’ was Hal Gersch who arrived in 1953. Hal had enormous general knowledge of Theoretical Physics and could discuss competently most fields. He was seen as mostly published in the areas of Statistical Mechanics and Solid State. He attracted some of the best theoretical graduate students of the School. Hal had a fairly relaxed attitude towards life. He once said that he published only two papers per year, regular like clockwork. One was to showcase the work of his leading student and the student shared authorship. The second was Hal’s own personal research and he shared authorship with nobody. Also on the faculty, in the position of Instructor, was A.L. (Gus) Stanford who left for a few years and then returned to Tech in 1964 to accept a Professorial position. His early research activities were in experimental Solid State physics. He later studied the memory system of rats (!!) and wrote a considerable amount of educational literature.

The faculty discussed above represent those who in 1957 were present and contributed to the research activities of the School over an extended period; most remained active until about 1990. Their research represented the backbone upon which later developments were based. In many respects the three Physics subdivisions of Atomic and Molecular, Nuclear, and Solid State, represent the major divisions of the School for the next three decades. (The only exception perhaps was the introduction of Biophysics in the 1970s.) These three subjects were not chosen; they just happened. Faculty with research expertise were hired, and this is what they chose to do at Tech. Most of the faculty members mentioned above were either born in the South or were married to women who were from the South (the only obvious exceptions are Aherns, Braden, Martin, and Weatherly). Their reasons for coming to Tech were probably more personal than professional. It is almost unnecessary to note that all the faculty were male and Caucasian. At this time women and Black Americans were not admitted to Georgia Tech.

In addition to those faculty engaged in research within the School there were a considerable number of other faculty. Many of these (eight including some instructors) were hired solely as teachers and did not aspire to engage in research activities. A small number of faculty carried out Applied Research for groups in EES and were moved to EES full time.

During this decade there was one event that most people forget and which, at that time, brought great anguish to the School. For the year 1955-56 the School hired a new young faculty member, William K. Pursley, who had a Ph.D. degree from the University of Michigan. Wyly described him as “very quiet and unassuming.” Pursley died from a night-time mugging incident on Third Street as he walked up toward West Peachtree. The local newspaper made some insinuations about Pursley’s character. The School of Physics debated endlessly as to how to respond and ended up by doing nothing. The murderer was never found. For some years afterwards the Senior Class made a “William K. Pursley Award” to the outstanding senior in honor of the murdered faculty member.

The Situation in 1967

Where were we in 1967, the year that the School moved into its “New” building?  Reviewing the 1967-68 Catalog listing of the faculty we find 31 persons with Professorial titles; 18 full, 7 Associate, and 6 Assistant Professors. One of these was Emeritus and another (Wilkinson) was effectively an adjunct faculty member who rarely if ever visited the campus.  That meant 29 active faculty—a respectable number. By the late 1990s the total number of faculty was no different. Of the 29, however, nine were hired solely to teach in the School, the last, Bill Woolf, in 1962. Except for Jim Tanner, a Tech Ph.D. graduate hired first in 1963 for one year and then after another appointment elsewhere again in 1969, the School did not hire any other full time teachers until the early 2000s. A couple of these nine teachers had engaged in applied research activities within EES, but none of them had a Ph.D. and none carried out research in Physics.

Out of the 20 faculty with active research interests, six (McDaniel, Martin, Thomas, Scheibner, Young, and Harmer) managed most of their research funds and activities through EES. McDaniel located all his research facilities in the School’s building. The facilities of Martin and Thomas were partially housed in the building (their offices were in the Radio Isotopes building – now called Emerson) and the other three did not actively carry out research on the School’s premises. In fact Scheibner, Young, and Harmer did not normally teach courses in the School at this point in their career. So, that leaves 14 out of 30 faculty actually engaging in research within the walls of the building.

The Catalog also listed three people with the title of “Instructor.” These three were in fact senior Ph.D. students who were undertaking full instructional duties. For some years the title of Instructor was given to Ph.D. students. Very soon after 1967 the practice of giving control of classes to Ph.D. students ceased, and the use of the title Instructor largely vanished.

A significant number of the faculty of 1967-68 had received part (or in a couple of cases—all) of their university education at Tech. Six faculty had their B.S. degrees in Physics from Tech and three of these also had their Ph.D.s from Tech (Stanford, Dulaney and Patronis).  Many of the faculty were from the South or had married women from the South.

In 1967 the Catalog also listed the “Graduate Assistants” as part of the list of personnel.  But these were a select group. Many of the Graduate Students in Physics, supported by Assistantships, were not listed in the Catalog. The writer surmises that the Catalog included only Graduate Assistants whose salary was paid through Physics. A student working on a project that was administered through EES received a stipend through EES and was therefore an EES employee. Thus the students working for McDaniel, Martin, Thomas, Young, and Scheibner were omitted from the catalog list.

The 1967-68 Catalog included two technical support personnel. The first was Kelly Springfield who had been hired that year for the move to the new building and who served the School for decades as Senior Machinist and as manager of the Machine Shop. He formerly had been a machinist at the Atlanta Journal Constitution Printing Works. The second person was Mr.  Anderson who was shown with the title Machinist. Mr. Anderson worked for the School for many years doing routine maintenance and repairs of literally anything. Shortly after moving into the new building he retired. Also present were two secretaries. One, Anna Ruth Hale, served the School for forty years. She originally was hired as a typist (for the 1964-65 year). By the time she retired, she managed all of the School’s purchasing, all hourly payrolls, graduate recruitment file management, and served as the Chairperson’s personal secretary and doorkeeper.  Throughout this time Anna Ruth steadfastly refused to accept modern office facilities. Her trusty Selectric typewriter and desk calculator were all she needed. When, in the late 1980s she was forced to keep some financial records on a computer she persisted in duplicating them in a written accounts ledger. She had a superb ability to organize her many responsibilities. For most of her service she was the Secretary to the Director or Chair of the School. The other Secretary, Ruby Mainor, was first listed for the 1960-61 year (under the name Ruby Palmer). In the mid 1960s she left the School to attend to her family but reappeared after a year as a Secretary in the Dean’s office. Sometime later she married Ray Borkman a faculty member in Chemistry.

At occupancy of the “New” building in 1967 there were three major research concentrations, all lasting for many years. A leading group was the nuclear spectroscopy research activity headed up by Wyly. By 1967 the experimental research activity had grown to include five faculty member. These were Wyly himself, Braden, Patronis, Dulaney, and Kendrick. Patronis, Dulaney and Kendrick had all joined Georgia Tech originally as students pursuing their Ph.D.s. They stayed on as faculty. Also there were Brewer and Gatland, both theorists, with interest in Nuclear Physics. Brewer provided theoretical support to the work of Wyly’s experimental group; Gatland had independent interests. The second group was in Atomic and Molecular Physics. Originally this was Weatherly and Williams with their Microwave Spectroscopy activities. Established later was the Atomic Collisions programs that involved McDaniel, Martin, and Thomas. These three faculty maintained three largely separate research programs although McDaniel was quite instrumental in getting each activity started. Thomas and Martin performed much of their work at the Van der Graaff facility in the Emerson building, and their research was managed through the EES. A third recognizable group was in Physics of the Solid State, although here the faculty all worked essentially independently. Stevenson was the earliest experimentalist with work on the optical properties of solids. Working in EES, but with a nominal attachment to Physics were Ed Scheibner an Auger spectroscopict and Ray Young an xray crystallographer. Scheibner and Young did not teach courses in the School but did take Ph.D.  students for research dissertations. Included in this area we also listed Gersch and Ford as theoreticians and Stanford as an experimentalist. We suspect it was anticipated that all three would contribute to the Solid State reputation of the School. In practice Gersch’s interests ranged far beyond Solid State Physics, and Ford developed his great reputation in rather different fields.  Stanford carried out a small amount of research on the dielectric properties of solids and then moved to biophysics and instructional activities.

As we moved into the new building, and shortly thereafter, there were two new small research programs. The first was a “Low Temperature Physics Program” for which we hired Don Forester. The notion of moving to “Low Temperature Physics” was a definite attempt to implement a planned change in direction. Unfortunately, it was a failure. The subject required equipment and infra-structure support that Tech, through the School, was unable to provide.  Even acquisition of nitrogen and liquid helium was a daunting task; both had to be specifically shipped from a depot in Huntsville. Also it was very expensive and the School could not raise the grant money necessary to properly support the work. Ultimately the enterprise fell apart, and Forester moved on to the Naval Research Labs in Washington where he had an excellent scientific career.

The second “new” research interest was developed by Gus Stanford who was already on our faculty. He became interested in whether human (and animal) memory was basically electrostatic or magnetic in origin. He developed biological experiments to test this. One experiment was to put his own head between the poles of a large electromagnet and oscillate the field to see whether this scrambled his memory. A positive result would have demonstrated a magnetic origin to memory. Needless to say the experiment proved nothing. (Although Gus did claim to experience the sensation of flashes of light!) He subsequently designed experiments involving rats. The animals were trained to do something (e.g., turn left at a red light). Then they were sacrificed (i.e., killed) their brains extracted and mixed together in a kitchen blender. Some samples were then subjected to oscillating magnetic field to destroy magnetic memory, some were subject to oscillating electric fields to destroy electrostatic memory and some samples of blended brains were not further treated at all. The various brain samples were then injected into new rats, and the rats were tested to see whether they had acquired any of the “memory” of the original victims. Obviously the hope was that one kind of brain scrambling would destroy memory and thereby prove very clearly the nature of memory (at least in rats). Sadly none of the new rats seem to have any knowledge at all of what to do at red lights. The project elicited much outside interest and some significant early financial support. Everybody wanted to look at the rats and the whole premise of the project was so simple that “the man in the street,” and even our higher administration, could understand it. Many rats were sacrificed. Quite a number escaped and ran around the ground floor of the building at night. There were many malodorous situations.  The experiments were however inconclusive. The only conclusion was that one cannot transfer memory by transferring brains.

The “New” Physics Building

The “New” physics building was constructed on the block bounded by 5th and 6th streets to the South and North, Atlantic and State Streets to the East and West. The whole area was residential, and over a period of years Georgia Tech acquired the properties for expansion purposes. Some of the campus expansion was facilitated by the (ill-named) “urban renewal” program of the Federal Government; although the writer is not sure that the properties on this particular block were acquired in this way. One of the writer’s own graduate students, Roger Fitzwilson, actually rented one of the houses on 6th Street across from the Institution. Roger liked to boast that he used to live next to the big oak tree in the Physics parking lot!

The Architect for the building was Edward (Ed) Moulthrop who, during the design, was working for the local practice known as “ Roberts and Co.” Strangely Moulthrop had been an Instructor in the School of Physics in the period 1942 to 1945. This was only a part-time position, and he was simultaneously a part-time Instructor in the Architecture Department, which occupied the top floor of the old Physics Building! Moulthrop’s position as Instructor may have been partly justified by the exigencies of the wartime period; his qualifications were in Architecture. While an Instructor in Physics, Ed Moulthorp married the School’s secretary! After retiring from his Architectural career, Moulthrop became well known as a turner of massive wooden bowls.

The base of the New Physics building is a long structure of three floors (basement, first and second) that was originally designed to house all the instructional activities and a small number of research laboratories. Then on the West end there was a three story “tower” that was supposed to house the bulk of the research activities. On the third and fourth floors of the tower are four large research labs, three faculty offices, and at each end of each floor one large room that was designed to be used as an office for multiple graduate students. Between the labs, on the West side of the building, there are small rooms, which were designed to be used as chemical “prep” rooms. The fifth floor was roughly the same except that the North East corner was occupied by a photographic dark room and small windowless work room. On the first and second floors the spaces below the tower were laid out the same as those above it. The State of Georgia appropriated only enough money to build the long three storey structure. In the early 1960s the National Science Foundation had programs to fund scientific building on university campuses.  So the plan was that the School of Physics would write an NSF proposal to cover the cost of the “Research Tower.” Fortunately the proposal was funded! Ground breaking for the building was in 1965. The official picture of the occasion shows shovels being wielded by Vernon Crawford, then Director of the School of Physics, George L Simpson Chancellor of the Board of Regents (who provided part of the funding), and Howard Page of the NSF (who provided the money for the “tower”).

The building was occupied in 1967. Research activities were distributed as follows. In the basement there were a series of small rooms built around a larger work area that was designed specifically to house the X-ray diffraction research facilities of Prof. R.A. (Ray) Young whohad always been associated with the EES with a part-time relationship with Physics. Young moved some of his equipment into Physics but retained a presence in EES. Earl McDaniel’s Drift Tube Research facility was housed in first floor lab W104. The equipment was assembled and tested in the “Old” Physics building. The students (led by Dan Albritton) tore it down and rebuilt it in the new building. Room W105 was allocated to McDaniel and Martin for Atomic Collisions research. In practice this space was taken over by Ed Thomas who built a small accelerator.  Weatherly and Williams occupied Rooms W109 and W110 with their Microwave Spectroscopy Research Labs. The four research labs on the second floor were all assigned to the Nuclear Research activities of Wyly, Braden, Patronis, Kendrick, and Dulaney. In practice one of these rooms was used largely as an electronics repair/development facility and became useful to the whole School. Jim Stevenson’s Solid State Labs occupied W301 and W303. Dr. Don Forester joined the School the year we moved to the new building. A pair of rooms on the fourth floor, W409 and W410, was assigned to him to set up a lab to study Low Temperature phenomena.  The remaining research lab spaces were left vacant and were used to accommodate new faculty as the School expanded. The large rooms on the fifth floor for many years were used for the storage of surplus equipment and in fact never housed a laboratory research facility. The large rooms at the end of each western corridor were not all used for their intended purpose as offices for multiple graduate students. Some faculty appropriated them as large personal offices. The first perhaps was Hal Gersch who moved in to room W510 as soon as the building was opened.  This trend continued for many years.

Early drawing for the design of the building (e.g., the figure reproduced on the cover of the 1969 graduate recruitment brochure) show that it was intended that Fifth Street continue to lie along the south wall and that this south side should be the main vehicular entrance. This is probably the reason for the imposing columnar structure along that side of the building. Fifth Street was in fact closed off, and that side of the building was never used for vehicular access.  The early drawing also shows a sunshade structure on the research tower roof. Perhaps they had intended for there to be a roof garden.

A small number of research activities did NOT move into Physics. Ed Schiebner, who had only a minor relationship with Physics, continued to house his Auger research in EES. Ray Young divided his activities between the New Physics building and EES for many years not coming over entirely to Physics until about 1981. The Van der Graaff facility operated by Thomas and Martin was too large to consider moving; it remained in the Radio Isotope Lab of EES (a building now called the Emerson Building).

The building designed in the early 1960s accommodated the type of research then being performed by the faculty of the School. Then the research involved small equipment. For the Nuclear group and the Microwave Spectroscopy group an equipment rack was a “large” item.  Stevenson had a couple of one meter long evacuable spectrometers. These were the largest items that needed to be accommodated above the first floor. The X-ray diffraction equipment of Young’s group was basically table top facilities. Only the high energy atomic Physics group with their Van der Graaff and extensive vacuum facilities involved any sort of “large” equipment; and they were not being moved. So, the School was designed for small research equipment. For that reason the elevator is small and quite inadequate for the movement of freight. The main doors to the four labs on each floor all open onto a restricted corridor and have little room for maneuver.  There is no loading dock. Only the two rooms allocated to McDaniel, Martin, and Thomas had any heavy lifting facility (moveable pulley systems mounted on the ceiling). No provision was made for exhausting pump fumes. The various building deficiencies that became apparent over the next twenty years were due to its having been designed for research of a different era—for the past rather than the future. building As soon as we moved in, we discovered two obvious deficiencies of the. First, the lighting in the four large lecture rooms was quite inadequate, and second, the chalkboards were too low. The lighting got fixed; the boards remain too low today.  Also, as the faculty moved into offices they found little metal boxes protruding from the middle of the floor that provided electrical outlets. These set unreasonable constraints on the placement of furniture and also tripped up many a person in those first years. Apparently somebody misread a blue print and put the outlets in the floor rather than in the walls.

The building design allowed some generous space for administrative activities and for expansion of the technical support activities. Room N109 was used originally by the Associate Director (The term “Director” was equivalent to our use of “Chair” today.) and the adjacent room C101A by the Director. The two rooms shared a private bathroom. After the first Associate Director (Howey) retired the subsequent Directors generally took over both rooms giving themselves a suite whose size was unrivaled on the campus. All other offices on the East and South side of the central patio were allocated to administrative support. There are a total of five such rooms and at the occupancy of the building there were only 3 administrative staff. (In 2006 these rooms were rebuilt, the central corridor taken in to the office space, and the whole configuration changed.)

In the basement a large number of rooms were allocated to workshop facilities, and the original building furnishing budget provided them with excellent machine tools. It was always the intention to expand the workshop to five or more personnel. In practice there were only two when the building was occupied, the number then never exceeded three, and by the early 2000s only one worked there. Along the south wall of the basement were a number of rooms that backed into the side of the hill and were without windows. The building plans listed these as for use as “glass workshops,” etc. In practice these technical services never arose and the rooms were initially devoted to storage. In the 1980s it was realized that the rooms had pretty good mechanical and thermal stability and made excellent locations for delicate electro-optical experiments; thus they became research space.

The very large room in the central part of the building was designed for laboratory based portion of the very large sophomore physics courses. The two rooms on the ground floor were for the first course in Classical Mechanics. The two rooms on the second floor for the second course in Electricity and Magnetism. On the third floor there was only a single room for the course on Optics and Modern Physics. It is not quite clear why the designers anticipated the student load would halve between the second and third quarters.

These comments on usage of the building’s space do of course refer to the configurations at the time of original occupancy. By 2009 considerable changes had been made to wall locations and to the usage of space.

Instructional Activities in 1967

A major role for the School has always been the instruction of the Engineers in the Introductory Physics courses that traditionally have been required of their curriculum. In 1967, under the quarter system, there were three courses. They were numbered 207, 208, and 209 and listed with the very bland title of “General Physics.” In the “old” physics building these courses had always been taught to about 30 students in a class. The class rooms were in fact too small for anything else. A typical “load” for a full time teacher was to teach three of these classes per quarter and that actually included supervising their 3 hour laboratory session. The high number of “teaching” staff of the School was in some measure justified by these large numbers of different class sections. With the move to the “new” Physics building, we made a major change.  The building was designed with four very large class rooms seating 125 or 150 students. The intention was to teach these introductory classes to large classes and so reduce the number of class sections to be taught. Reduction in the number of classes that the faculty taught should give them more time for research and enhance the reputation of the School.

The School also offered an enhanced “Honors” introductory curriculum targeted at potential Physics majors. The number of students entering the Freshman year as Physics majors was not great and many of these moved off after a year to Engineering disciplines. So, there was a real need to “recruit” majors away from Engineering and into Physics. We encouraged good students with strong mathematical backgrounds to take these “Honors” courses and then to transfer to Physics. The honors course was taught to only a small class (typically 30) and by one of our better teachers who considered the task to be a bit of an honor. The procedure was fairly successful. Generally over half the eventual Physics graduates had entered Tech as Engineering majors. The Engineers did not notice the loss. Most of the transfers came out of EE, and they had ten times the student numbers of the Physics program.

A small number of the classes were taught on Saturday mornings. These were often “3 hour” credit classes given on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. The writer was, for a number of years, responsible for a “Modern Physics” course for Engineers which was given on this schedule. A 9 o’clock Saturday morning class was not very enjoyable for a single faculty member who enjoyed a Friday night out on the town. It was not enjoyed by the students either who likewise were late to bed Friday and late to rise Saturday. After a few more years the Saturday classes were abandoned.

The School was awarding the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physics. The undergraduate curriculum was designed for a student who was preparing for Graduate School in Physics. We realized, however, that if this was the only objective for the instructional program then we would not have many students to take it. Moreover quite a number of our better students really wanted to consider graduate school in a subject other than Physics. (EE was very popular.)  So, to make the curriculum more palatable to students, we allowed for a fairly large fraction of the classes to be “electives.” A student planning to go to graduate school in Physics would of course devote these electives to advanced courses in preparation for graduate school. But a student interested in an Engineering discipline might choose to take those electives in that discipline.

Social Matters in 1967

Members of the Faculty whose offices were located within the School’s building had a very strong social interaction. They knew each other’s families and spent social time together.  Faculty who were based outside the School’s walls were not fully accepted into this grouping.  They in turn made their work related interactions with the location of their research. For Thomas and Martin, for example, that was the Nuclear Sciences Division of EES. For Scheibner and Young it was the Physical Sciences Division of EES. It often appeared that the faculty based in the School’s building made the decisions and charted the course of the School. The faculty based outside the School often were left out of the loop. That did not really create any great tensions.  The faculty outside the School were involved heavily in large scale research programs and were not much interested in questions of courses and curricula.

Most of the faculty would gather together for lunchtime sandwiches. Within the new building they of course used the room denoted “Faculty Lounge.” On Thursdays most of the faculty would go out for a restaurant lunch choosing a different location each week. For a recently arrived young faculty member these Thursday luncheons were an excellent introduction to the culinary delights of Atlanta. It often appeared that important decisions for the School were made at these lunch time meetings. Faculty whose offices were outside the School did not generally attend these lunch time meetings.

Annually there was a “Faculty Picnic” held early in the Fall quarter. Originally these picnics were held in J.Q. Williams’ back yard. The main dish was lobster, cooked on site.  Organization was generally in the hands of the wives of the faculty. This was a major social event enjoyed greatly by all who attended. Only faculty (including Post Docs and Research titled personnel), retired Faculty, and Staff were invited to these picnics. Faculty located outside the School made a point of attending these affairs. We also sent invitations to the Dean, and on some occasions, he would attend. In later years the event moved out of Williams’ back yard and to the park beside the Atlanta Waterworks Reservoirs. For a while Williams (or more accurately J.Q.’s wife Ethel) continued to organize the event and to manage the cooking. Eventually lobster declined in importance as the price increased and many people opted instead for shrimp and a few for chicken. Williams retired and gave up organizing the event. It proved difficult to find people to continue the traditions. The wives of faculty had increasingly become active in their own careers and had neither the enthusiasm nor the time to organize picnics for their husbands.  The faculty themselves ceased to volunteer to manage the affair. So by the mid 1980s the annual picnic came to an end.

Some of the senior faculty were very generous in inviting new faculty into their homes and providing them with social interactions. Earl McDaniel and his wife Frances were particularly active and ran an excellent dinner party. A young faculty member would also be invited to a quiet dinner in the back yard of Vernon Crawford, the School’s Director, and his wife Helen.

In the mid 1960s Atlanta was a fairly compact city and people lived close to each other and close to Tech. Crawford and Gersch had adjacent houses about two miles north of the Campus. Lenox Square was an unroofed suburban shopping mall with a grocery store as well as branches of Rich’s and Davison’s (both now taken over by Macy’s) in free standing buildings.  The center of city life was the downtown area. One could go to the theater, restaurant or bar and frequently run in to one’s colleagues. The writer remembers that the “International” restaurants in Atlanta in about 1964 consisted of one French, one Italian, one German, and one Chinese establishment. There were large numbers of other eating places, but they were dominantly “American” style restaurants with menus based on steaks and hamburgers. The city suffered from the residual problems of segregation. The writer had a number of scientific contacts with Morehouse College where there was a small group active in Experimental Atomic Physics. The members of the Morehouse group were quite happy to come visit Tech. But the African American members of the group steadfastly refused to join us all for lunch at a city restaurant.  After some carefully inquiry we found out that they were concerned about being made to feel unwelcome and just did not want to face the hassle. The reader will note that the city has greatly changed since the 1960s.