Physics 1949 to 1960 - The Growth of Research and Graduate Studies in Physics - Donald Misener
One of the applicants for Head of the Department was Austin Donald
[1949-1960] (Toronto, MA, 1934; Cantab PhD, 1938). Amongst
Dr. Dearle's papers there is a handwritten letter from Dr. Misener to Dr.
Dearle dated May 2 1949 in which he expresses his disappointment that the
President seems to have "someone in mind who is a bit more 'colourful' than
I appear to be"; he goes on to point out some 'colourful' aspects of his
own career, wondering "if it might be wise to arrange a personal interview
with the President?" Attached to this letter is a handwritten note from
President Hall: "I like Misener's persistence and the way he has restated
his case. He must be Irish! Our chat on the 12th
should be interesting."
Evidently Dr. Hall must have found this 'chat' persuasive, for Dr. Misener
was appointed to the position, and took it up in the same year.
|Part 1 (of 4) of a group photograph taken at the
front of the Science Building (i.e., today's Physics and Astronomy
Building) in November 1957. The notation following each name indicates,
first, their position in the department at the time the photograph
was taken, followed by any later position which they might have had
(F - faculty/teaching staff; GS - graduate student; PDF - post-doctoral
fellow; S - secretary; T - technical staff). 1 - Dr. Durnford (F),
2 - Dr. Blackwell(F), 3 - Art Fulford (GS,F), 4 - Dr. Fraser(F), 5
- Dr. John MacDonald (Sessional lecturer in Radiological Physics),
6 - Bill Parkinson (GS), 7 - Dr. Alan Beck (PDF, future Head of the
Department of Geophysics).
It was a good decision for the Physics Department, and one which apparently
had the full support of the staff of the Department. Dr. Misener came to
Western after a decade on the staff at the University of Toronto. He brought
with him an outstanding record as a researcher in low-temperature physics,
practical war-time experience as an engineer working on anti-aircraft gun
sights, and a new interest in terrestrial heat flow. He had just been elected
a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and his terrestrial heat flow work
had resulted in an appointment to an NRC subcommittee on the Physics of
the Earth's Interior. He remained as Department Head until 1960, when he
resigned to become Director of the Ontario Research Foundation. He was the
7th President of the Canadian Association of Physicists in 1950-51 (for
more details on the life of Dr. Misener, see the obituary by Nicholls, 1996).
During this decade, about half the research in the Department was in radio
physics, stemming directly or indirectly from the war research of the 1940s.
However, Dr. Misener's arrival also led to the development of a research
group in geophysics. The most important member of this group was Robert
[1950-61] (Toronto, BASc, 1949, MA, 1950; Western,
PhD, 1952), who came to the Department in 1950, and like so many others
at the time was hired as an instructor while also registered as a graduate
student. Following his PhD in 1953 he rose rapidly within the University
so that by 1959 he was Professor and Head of the newly established Geophysics
Department. In 1965 he was appointed Dean of the new Faculty of Science,
and in 1966 he left Western to become first Vice-Chairman and then Chairman
of the Defence Research Board. From 1969 to 1971 he was chief scientific
advisor to Cabinetbefore going to Queens University as Dean of the Faculty
of Applied Science.
Charles M. Carmichael [1952-1964]
(Western, MSc, 1947,
PhD, 1960) was another young staff member who was doing his PhD in this
group; he transferred to the Geophysics Department in 1964. From 1952 to
1957 Charlie Carmichael was the one and only ‘preceptor' in the history
of the Department, apparently a title dreamed up by Misener to describe
his job looking after the undergraduate laboratories. Dr. John Blackwell
had started as an instructor in 1947, and worked on the theoretical aspects
of heat flow problems. In 1962 he moved to Mathematics, and became the first
head of the new Department of Applied Mathematics when it was formed in
1967. It should be noted that both Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Carmichael, as
well as several other faculty in the Mathematics/Applied Mathematics and
Geophysics departments, had appointments as honorary lecturers in Physics
and regularly taught physics courses for a number of years. Finally, Dr.
Alan Beck was in the Department briefly as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr.
Uffen, before becoming a faculty member in the new Geophysics Department.
He followed Dr. Uffen as Head of Geophysics, and remained in that position
until his retirement (and the end of Geophysics as an independent department)
|Part 2 of November 1957 photograph: 1 - Harold Tull
(F), 2 - Dr. Elizabeth Laird (F), 3 - Dr. Brannen (F), 4 - Charles
Carmichael (F&GS); 5 - Heinrich Froelich(GS,F), 6 - Garth Olde (GS),
7 - Ed Reeves (GS), 8 - David Robinson (GS), 9 - Pat Johnson (T),
10 - Margaret McNulty (S), 11 - Gerry Hébert (GS,F)[1964-1966].
It was with the arrival of Ralph Nicholls
in 1948 that
atomic and molecular physics became established as a research field at Western.
Almost from the beginning this was a very well-funded research program,
as a result of a paper which Ralph gave in 1950 at a meeting of the Optical
Society of America. His paper on "The excitation mechanism of N2" attracted
the attention of the small audience of four, all from Air Force Cambridge
Research Laboratories, with an interest in the implications of Ralph's work
for auroral excitation mechanisms. Almost immediately he was offered a $67K
contract to build a group to do laboratory auroral work, and the contract
was launched with an International Conference on Auroral Physics held at
Western on July 1951. The meeting brought a number of prominent physicists
to Western, including Hannes Alfvén (Nobel Prize, 1970), Sidney Chapman
and Carl Størmer, who were jointly responsible for important theoretical
ideas on how the solar wind could cause the aurora, as well as other notables
such as Sir Harry Massey and David Bates (later 'Sir') . An amusing sidelight
of this meeting is that Ralph Nicholls, who had come from Imperial College
with an unfinished PhD, was examined on it in his own office during a break
in the conference one afternoon! (Nicholls, 1998)
In the early 1950s Dr. Brannen and Dr. Dearle developed a new research program
that stemmed indirectly, if not directly, from the war-time radar research,
the use of the racetrack microtron for the generation of sub-millimetre
radiation. Several future faculty members did some or all of their graduate
research with Dr. Brannen, including Thomas W.W. Stewart
[1959-86] (Western, BSc, 1953, MSc, 1955), Harry I.S. Ferguson
[1959-83] (Western, BSc, 1951, MSc, 1953, PhD, 1958), J. Arthur
[1957-1989] (Western, BSc, 53, PhD, 1961), and Heinrich
[1962-94] (Western, MSc, 1958, PhD, 1962), who continued
microtron research into the mid-seventies when he was involved with Dr.
McGowan in a project to develop a microtron for radiation therapy. Dr. Brannen
extended his interests to shorter wavelengths, and investigated the properties
of molecular gas lasers (28-700 microns), as well as studying the absorption
of gases, liquids and thin films with these sources.
Donald R. Hay
|Part 3 of November 1957 photograph: 1 - Dr. Dearle
(F), 2 - Dr. Misener (F), 3 - R.L. Allen (F), 4 - Ram Agarwal (GS),
5 - Peter Manuel (GS, F-Math/Applied Math.), 6 - Nora Dwyer (S), 7
- Meryl Edwards (GS), 8 - Dr. Wehlau (F - Math/Astronomy), 9 - Dennis
McConnell (GS), 10 - Ed Thompson (T), 11 - R.C. Murty (GS, F), 12
- Mike Watson (GS), 13 - David Longlois (T).
[1958-1985] (Western, BSc, 1946, MSc, 1947;
McGill, PhD, 1952) returned to Western in 1958 and established a new research
program in lower atmospheric physics, particularly micrometeorology, which
he continued until his death in 1985. A bit later, Rama C. Murty
[1961-1993] (Western, PhD, 1962) also started research in the same field,
studying atmospheric electricity.
With so many young staff (between 1950 and 1955 over half the staff were
under 35) and most of them ex-servicemen, it is not surprising that quite
a number of stories of high jinks date from those days. I will confine myself
here to just one of these stories, in which an instructor and his class
were trapped in the classroom by colleagues who tied the two doors together
on the outside with a stout rope. This problem was solved by pulling the
pins from the doors; the instructor triumphantly marched out of the room
carrying the door just as the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds came
down the hall. This took place in about 1961, but I have learned that it
was a reprise of a very similar prank which took place in the same room
and with the same lecturer over a decade earlier, in about 1950.
By the time Dr. Misener left in 1960 to take up the directorship of the
Ontario Research Foundation, the Department had grown to 14 faculty members,
and had a strong and active research and graduate program. The Department
also experienced a similar growth in physical space. In 1958 the Biological
and Geological Sciences Building was constructed, and when the departments
left, the bulk of the Science Building was occupied by the Physics and Chemistry
Departments, and it became known as the Physics and Chemistry Building.
|Part 4 of November 1957 photograph: 1 - Dr. Nicholls
(F), 2 - Dr. Donald Richard Stevenson (F)[1957-1959]; 3 - Dr. Uffen
(F), 4 - Fred Zelonka (GS), 5 - Reginald Reynolds (Demonstrator),
6 - Del Rumbold (T), 7 - John Stockhausen (GS), 8 - Gord Graham (T),
9 - Farouk Aziz Khan (GS).
Dr. Misener's departure created a brief "inter-regnum", before the arrival
of his replacement. In July 1960, Bob Uffen (the Head of Geophysics) was
appointed Acting Head of Physics. Having been appointed Vice-Principal and
Principal-Designate of University College, he resigned as Acting Head of
Physics in February 1961. From then until November 1961, according to Professor
Allen, "the staff of the department carried on as a committee of the
under the chairmanship of R.L. Allen (Allen, 1965)."