Western University Physics adn AstronomyWestern Science

The 1960s - Rapid Growth: Peter Forsyth

In November 1961, Peter Allan Forsyth [1961-87] (Saskatchewan, BA, 1942, MA, 1947; McGill, PhD, 1951; F.R.S.C., 1960) came to Western from the University of Saskatchewan to become the 4th Head of the Department of Physics. Following his graduate work at McGill Peter Forsyth joined the Radio Physics Laboratory of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment in Ottawa; he was Superintendent of the laboratory when he left in 1958 to become Professor of Physics and Senior Scientist in the Institute of Upper Atmospheric Physics at the University of Saskatchewan. With a background in radar, and a research interest in auroral physics, Peter Forsyth drew the two threads of auroral and ionospheric physics and radio physics together, and set a pattern of research that remained important at Western for the next four decades up to the present day. He continued as Head until 1967, when he stepped down to establish the Centre for Radio Science at Western, and served as the Director of that Centre from 1967 until his retirement in 1987. With Gordon F. Lyon [1962-87] (Saskatchewan, PhD, 1961) and Art Fulford, and also, for a time, Eric L. Vogan [1964-1990] (Western, BSc, 1946, MSc, 1947; McGill, PhD, 1952), he carried out many satellite- and rocket-borne experiments, using space-borne radio transmitters to study the structure of the ionosphere.

In addition to his contributions to Western, Dr. Forsyth played an important role in establishing science policy in Canada, both as author and co-author of a number of studies sponsored by the Science Council of Canada, NRC, CAP, and NSERC, but especially in setting up and directing the Space Science Coordination Office at the National Research Council from 1976 to 1979. He was the 35th President of the Canadian Association of Physicists in 1979-80.

The 1960's was a time of almost frenetic growth at all universities, and faculty came and went with great rapidity. From 1960 to 1969 the number of faculty members in the Physics Department increased from 14 to 24; in that same decade 21 new faculty were hired, and 10 faculty left, all but one (R.L. Allen, the only retirement) to other positions either in other Departments at Western or at other universities. In 1960 there were 4 faculty working in radio physics, 3 in atomic and molecular physics, and 2 in geophysics. By 1969 two faculty were working in condensed matter, 2 in plasma physics, 13 in radio and/or atmospheric and space physics, and 4 in atomic and molecular physics.

Similarly, there was a tremendous construction boom on campus; hardly a year passed without at least one new building appearing. In 1966 the new Chemistry Building was just one of three buildings completed that year. Now, the old Science Building, which had once housed all the science departments in the university plus the cafeteria, was almost entirely occupied by the Physics Department, and it became the Physics Building. The graduate student population also grew, reaching a maximum of about 45 students in 1969, the largest number of graduate students in the history of the Department, and rivaled again only in recent years.

When Peter Forsyth stepped down as Head, Peter A. Fraser [1956-70]] (Western, BSc and gold medal, 1950; Wisconsin, MSc, 1952; Western, PhD, 1954) was appointed as Acting Chair, and served in that position from July 1967 until June 1969, while the Department searched for a replacement for Dr. Forsyth. Dr. Fraser did his PhD on theoretical molecular physics with Ralph Nicholls, and was one of the first PhD students to graduate from the Department. In 1970 he transferred to the Department of Applied Mathematics where he remained until retirement in 1993.