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History of the Department

Physics at TCU 1924 – 1964: From the BA to the BS and Ph.D.

Physics has been taught at TCU since it was incorporated in 1873. Randolph Clark is listed in the historical records as the teacher of physics, math and natural science from 1873 to 1895. The first full-time physics professor was Dr. Newton Gaines, hired in 1924. At that time physics and chemistry were joint departments, but physics became an independent department in 1927-28 with Dr. Gaines as the first chairman.

 

1955 Dr. Gaines (left) with Dr. Morgan

1955 Dr. Gaines (left) with Dr. Morgan

Dr. Gaines received his BS in electrical engineering from UT Austin in 1912 and his Ph.D. from UT Austin in 1931, after he had already been teaching at TCU for seven years. Dr. Gaines’ research was in an area known today as biophysics. He investigated the effects of ultrasound on bacteria and found an effective way to sterilize milk with ultrasound. He had several publications in the early thirties in this area.  Dr. Gaines was very active in the Texas Folklore Society and was an expert in cowboy songs.  Every year he would don his cowboy outfit, including elaborate chaps and a ten-gallon hat, and sing his favorite cowboy songs, accompanying himself on the guitar. He was also known as an expert in throwing boomerangs and describing their behavior. Equipment was rare and perhaps more valued in those earlier days.  Dr. Gaines would stencil “stolen from TCU Physics department” on all of the department equipment and you may still come across a few items with this reminder of the earlier days. He also wrote notes in shorthand on many items that only he could read, however until 1941, physics at TCU  was a “one man” department so there wasn’t anyone else who needed to read the notes. Dr. Gaines continued to serve as department chair until his retirement in 1958.

Dr. Joseph Morgan was hired in 1941 and continued at TCU until his retirement in 1978, serving as chair when Dr. Gaines retired and moving into the role of vice president of the former TCU Research Foundation in 1971. Dr. Morgan was born in Kiev, Russia, raised in Philadelphia, and received his BA and MA degrees from Temple University. He received his Ph.D. from MIT in 1937 and spent a number of years at TAMU before coming to TCU. Dr. Morgan’s scholarly work was evident by his many published textbooks. He published Introduction to Geometrical and Physical Optics in 1953 and a two volume Introduction to University Physics text in 1969.  A unique feature of his texts was his idea of giving parallel derivations of important formulas using calculus and non-calculus approaches. This was a very useful pedagogical approach and sadly has not been widely used by current authors.  Dr. Morgan had a lifelong interest in serious music, and played the violin.  He published his last text, The Physical Basis of Musical Sound, in 1979, after his retirement.  He developed the physics of music course and pioneered physics for non-science majors at TCU. For many years, his sophomore optics course was considered by students to be the course that separated the “serious” physics majors from the rest.

1971 Dr. Moseley

1971 Dr. Moseley

Dr. H. Miller Moseley was hired in 1950 and served TCU for 40 years until retiring in 1990. Dr. Moseley received his BA degree from TCU in 1943 and his Ph.D. from University of North Carolina in 1950. Dr. Moseley was meticulously well organized. He was often known to begin a lecture writing in the upper left hand corner of the blackboard and finishing his derivation at the lower right end at precisely 50 minutes. He would consistently distinguish in his careful pronunciation lower and upper case omega so the students could better follow his lecture. In his early years at TCU, Dr. Moseley was in charge of advanced labs in mechanics and thermodynamics. He was careful with lab equipment and built wooden storage boxes to fit all the apparatus he would use in the labs.  Today, most of the boxes have been lost, but occasionally you may come across one in a storeroom, a nicely varnished natural colored wooden box with a hinged top and a neat hand written label to remind you of Dr. Moseley.

The curriculum for the BA degree was developed by 1928 when the department was established. The MS degree seems to have been available from the earliest time. In 1929 the first master’s thesis was “Some local illustrations of physical principles,” by Raymond Clifford Smith.  It was almost 20 years before a second MA was awarded.

In 1952, the Department and the other science programs moved into the new science building, Winton Scott Hall. Physics occupied the entire first floor with new lab space, a large lecture hall, ample office space and room to expand.

1963 Dr. Lysiak, standing, with his mentor, Dr. Mahendroo

1963 Dr. Lysiak, standing, with his mentor, Dr. Mahendroo

Dr. Morgan was instrumental in developing the Ph.D. program in physics, which was inaugurated in 1960. TCU was the fourth university in Texas to offer a Ph.D. in physics, following UT Austin, TAMU and Rice University. The first Ph.D. degree was awarded to Dr. Richard Lysiak in 1963. The beginning of the Ph.D. program added the expectation of serious scholarly research to the faculty’s agenda and the TCU ideal of the teacher-scholar was launched.

The addition of a Ph.D. program required the addition of new faculty and a triggered a growth spurt in the department. Dr. Leo Baggerly, who earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from CalTech, was hired in 1958 in anticipation of the new Ph.D. program. Among the first pieces of major research equipment acquired in 1960 was a small accelerator for development of a nuclear physics and later electron scattering research program. In 1960, Dr. Prem Mahendroo, with a Ph.D. from UT Austin, and Dr. Palmer Edwards, with a Ph.D. from Florida, were hired. These additions expanded the research program of the department. Dr. Mahendroo’s research was in NMR and EPR, requiring a major piece of research equipment, and Dr. Edwards was a specialist in magnetic whiskers. In 1962, Dr. Richard Raeuchle, with a Ph.D. from Iowa, and Dr. Alex Hoffman, with a Ph.D. from UT Austin joined the faculty. Hoffman split his time between math, physics and working as the director of the computer center, while Dr. Raeuchle did research in x-ray diffraction. In 1963, Dr. Charles Blount, with his Ph.D. from TAMU, and Dr. Richard Lysiak, the first TCU Ph.D, joined the faculty. Dr. Blount was a specialist in atomic spectroscopy,  requiring more major research equipment, and Dr. Lysiak, rather than continuing with NMR research, began a research program in Faraday rotation and later switched to non-linear optics.

1971 Dr. Blount

1971 Dr. Blount

In 1964, physics at TCU completed its 40th year with no special celebration, but the department was changing from a purely undergraduate teaching program comprised of two to three faculty members with an occasional master’s student to a new teacher-scholar faculty of nine who would continue to stress effective undergraduate teaching while significantly increasing graduate teaching and research. The Ph.D. program was now well underway having graduated three students in its first four years. To strengthen the undergraduate program and better prepare students for the demands of graduate research, the BS track in physics was established in 1963-64 to provide a more physics intensive alternative to the traditional BA degree.