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Full History


This history is based on a recently published web paper: D. R. Moorcroft,   A History of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario, Physics in Canada, Vol. 55 No. 4, pp 159-176, July/August 1999. It now includes information up to the year 2003.

In addition to Don's work, we are beginning to collect the history of prominent figures from our past.

Please view the table of contents in the left menu.

The Department of Physics and the Department of Astronomy were amalgamated to form a single department in July, 1996. The history of the present department is thus a combination of the history of physics and of astronomy at the University of Western Ontario. The emphasis will be on detailing the earlier years in the history of the Department(s), which are increasingly difficult to recover; the present and recent past are treated more briefly, being better left for more detailed consideration at some time in the future.

Background: The University of Western Ontario

The University of Western Ontario started life as The Western University, created in 1878 as an outgrowth of Huron College, the Anglican theological college in London, largely because of the vision and influence of the Right Rev. I. Hellmuth, Second Bishop of Huron. It was a financially shaky start; although the first classes in the Faculty of Arts were offered in 1881, they were soon discontinued, and it was only in 1895 that a couple of professors were hired to supplement the efforts of the Huron College staff, and lectures started up again. However, even by 1905 the total revenue of Western was only $3,500.00 (Tamblyn, 1938). On several occasions the Provost and President of the time, Dr. James, had to go in person to local citizens for donations to make it possible for salaries for the month to be met.

In 1908, the university broke with the Anglican Church and through a provincial act became a civic institution with a Senate responsible for academic policy and a Board of Governors to control finances. This same act empowered the City of London to make annual grants to Western, making it the first Canadian university to be partially controlled and financed by the local municipality. In spite of these changes the university continued to operate on a shoestring budget, and by 1912-13 there were still only 9 faculty members in the Faculty of Arts, including the university President.

Up to this point the university had rented space in several buildings around the city, but by 1916 the Board of Governors had acquired property for a future campus, to the derision of many who considered it to be ridiculously far from the city. The construction of new buildings was still just a dream, as the provincial government refused to consider financial support of any university other than the University of Toronto. Then in 1920 the Cody Royal Commission was appointed by the provincial government to investigate higher education in Ontario; amongst other things it recommended that although the University of Toronto would remain the provincial university, Western and Queens should be treated as regional universities and be given provincial grants, both for capital and current accounts. This was implemented, and resulted in a grant to Western of $800,000 for construction of new buildings. This was supplemented by a grant of $250,000 from the City of London and another $100,000 from the County of Middlesex. In 1922 the construction of the new campus was under way, and by the summer of 1924 the new arts and science buildings were open for use. In 1999 The University of Western Ontario remains on the same campus, but greatly expanded in numbers of students, faculty, staff and buildings.

Campus of The University of Western Ontario 1933
The campus as it was in 1933. From left to right the three buildings are the heating plant, University College, and the Science Building, all completed in 1924.

Next we turn to the faculty structure within which the sciences have found themselves at Western. The sciences started out in the Faculty of Arts, although it was not until long after the start of the Faculty in 1881 that the first science departments were established. Mathematics might be said to have existed since the appointment of Professor Patterson as professor of Mathematics in 1906, but it wasn't until 1915 that departments of Physics, Biology and Chemistry were established, followed by Geology in 1919. Over the next two decades science became an increasingly important part of the Faculty of Arts, so that by 1943 the faculty was renamed the Faculty of Arts and Science.

The president of the University from 1946 to 1967, Dr. George Edward Hall, was enthusiastic about establishing a college system at Western, modelled on Oxford and Cambridge. That started in 1950 with the establishment of a new position of Principal of University College (the name given to the arts building of 1924) within the Faculty of Arts and Science. In 1960 Middlesex College was constructed as a second college, devoted only to humanities and social sciences, while University College continued as a college of arts and science. In 1965 the sciences had grown to such an extent that a separate College of Science was created, administratively centred in the newly constructed Natural Science Centre. The last step in this college phase of the university's development occurred in 1966 with the construction of Talbot College. Even as Talbot College was being opened, it was apparent that the college system had failed to work as envisaged, and committees were meeting to disband the colleges as administrative units in favour or discipline-oriented faculties. As of 1 July 1968, the Faculty of Arts and Science was reconstituted into four faculties of Arts, Music, Science and Social Science. The other colleges continued for a one-year transitional period, but the College of Science changed into the Faculty of Science on 1 July 1968, and that faculty structure continues to the present day.

At the departmental level the story of physics and astronomy at Western is a complex one, because over the years those disciplines have been associated with various departments, as new departments were created, and more recently, as departments have been amalgamated. Although many of these associations will be mentioned in more detail in the remainder of this history, it may be helpful to have an overview of the chronology, and that is given in the following table.

1906   Mathematics
1915   Separate Physics and Mathematics Departments,
or possibly a joint Physics and Mathematics Department for one year.
1916   Physics Mathematics
1919 Geology    
1922     Mathematics and Astronomy
1958 Geology & Geophysics <== Geophys. Pure & Applied Math. & Astronomy
1959 Geology Geophysics   [Honors Astronomy program introduced
1962     Math.==>  
1964     <==Geophys,  
1966       Astronomy Mathematics
1967         Applied Math. Mathematics
1968     Astro. ==>      
1970     App. M. ==>      
1994 Earth Sciences        
1996   Physics & Astronomy    

Table 1. The chronology of departments at Western which have been connected with physics and astronomy. Arrows in the Physics column indicate transfers of faculty from Physics to other departments. Not shown in this table are the Department of Computer Science (1963-) and the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science (1981-), both of which started life in association with, or as part of, the Department of Mathematics.

Astronomy started in the Mathematics Department. The department's name changed to Mathematics and Astronomy in 1922, but for many years astronomy was represented by only a couple of courses, and it was not until 1959 that the first undergraduate program was introduced. In 1966 Astronomy separated from what since 1958 had been called the Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics and Astronomy and became an independent department. It remained as a Department of Astronomy for 30 years until its amalgamation with the Physics Department in 1996.

Although there is some uncertainty, we will take the birth of the Department of Physics as taking place in 1915 ( footnote 1). It remained as a Physics Department until the 1996 amalgamation with Astronomy. During the 1950s and 1960s several new departments were started up, and a number of faculty and students from the Physics Department had important roles in the establishment of those departments. Two faculty members (1958 and 1964), a postdoctoral fellow (1958) and a graduate student (1962) formed the core of the new Geophysics Department, including the heads of that department throughout its 35 years of existence. In the early 1960s two former Physics graduate students and one Physics faculty member joined the Department of Mathematics, and in 1967 became founding members (and, for one of them, head) of the new Department of Applied Mathematics; another faculty member transferred from Physics to Applied Mathematics in 1970. Finally, in 1968 a faculty member transferred from Physics to the still young Astronomy Department. With that overview we are ready to look in more detail, first at Astronomy, and then at Physics.

Astronomy up to 1957: Beginnings

As with the rest of the Faculty of Arts, both Physics and Astronomy got off to a slow start at Western. It was only after the Faculty of Arts was revived in 1895 that there was any teaching in natural science, and the first mention of astronomy appears to be a course, "An outline of the main phenomena of our solar system," offered in the 1915-16 calendar by Professor Patterson, who was at the time the only Professor of Mathematics.

In 1921 Harold Reynolds Kingston [1921-47] (Queens, MA, 1908; Chicago, PhD, 1914) ( footnote 2) arrived from the University of Manitoba and took over as Head of the Department of Mathematics. He took a great, although largely amateur, interest in astronomy, and following his arrival at Western the name of the department was changed to the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy, a name which remained until 1958-59. The astronomy offerings were altered and expanded; in 1923-24 the calendar lists honors courses in Descriptive Astronomy and Mathematical Astronomy, as well as a graduate course in Celestial Mechanics. Dr. Kingston made observations of solar eclipses (London in 1925, and Louiseville, Quebec in 1932) in conjunction with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, whose London branch he helped to found. He apparently loved to share his enthusiasm for astronomy with the general public, presenting displays on astronomy at the Western Fair and frequently giving talks on astronomy to groups outside the university (Tamblyn, 1938, Willis, 1970).

By 1930 there were three faculty members in the Department, including, in particular, Gordon Richard Magee [1928-73] (Western, BA, 1925; Chicago, MSc, 1926, PhD, 1933), who was hired as an Instructor in 1928. He continued as a mainstay of the Department for over four decades until his retirement in 1973. Dr. Magee also had some astronomical connections through his PhD supervisor at Chicago, F.R. Moulton, who was well known for his work in celestial mechanics. When Dr. Kingston stepped down as Department Head in 1947 to take the position of Dean of Arts and Science, Dr. Magee took over both as Head of the Department of Mathematics and Astronomy (a position he maintained until 1967), and also in teaching astronomy, and promoting it in the community at large.

Dr. Kingston was a prime mover in getting Mrs. Hume Cronyn to finance the construction of the Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory. This building with its telescope was officially opened on 25 October 1940, and was presented to the University by Mrs. Cronyn in memory of her husband, grandson of the first Bishop of Huron (founder of Huron College). This was a fitting memorial to Hume Cronyn, who had an interest in scientific research, and as a member of the House of Commons was chairman of the special Commons committee which recommended the establishment of the National Research Council, of which he became a member, and continued so until his death in 1933.

Astronomy 1957 to 1991: Dr. Bill Wehlau

It was with the arrival of William Henry Wehlau [1957-91] (Berkeley, BA, 1949, PhD, 1953) at Western that astronomy began in earnest at the university. Bill Wehlau grew up in San Francisco and completed his education after serving in the U.S. infantry during the Second World War. After two years as instructor at the Case Institute of Technology (Warner and Swasey Observatory) he came to Western in 1955 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Mathematics and Astronomy Department. He was appointed to the faculty in 1957, and was rapidly promoted to Full Professor by 1961. In 1966 he became Head of the newly established Department of Astronomy (one of only two or three in Canada at the time; now there is only one - Toronto), and which he led until his retirement in 1991. He was an important figure in Canadian astronomy, actively involved in the negotiations leading to the construction of the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope (CFHT), and serving both on the Scientific Advisory Committee and on the Board (as member and chairman) of the CFHT from 1974 to 1985. He remained an active astronomer up to the time of his death in 1995.

Astronomy faculty
Left to right, Dr. Kingston, Dr. Magee (both from 1932 student yearbook), and Dr. Wehlau.
The 1960's were a decisive decade for astronomy at Western, as developments followed in rapid succession. Up until 1959 astronomy had been represented academically by just a few courses; it was only in 1959-60 that an honors astronomy program appeared in the university calendar, and in 1964 John Rice (now on the faculty of Brandon University) was the first student to graduate from the program; in 1969 he also became the first PhD to graduate in astronomy. In 1963 the first MSc in astronomy was awarded. Astronomy faculty arrived in numbers through the sixties, some to stay only briefly (Kim Innanen [1963-66], the future Dean of Science at York University, and Harry van der Laan [1964-67], later a Director-General of the European Southern Observatory), others remaining: Dave Gray [1966-present] (Michigan, PhD, 1966) and Jim Moorhead[1966-present] (UCLA, MSc, 1966); Mike Marlborough [1967-present] (Chicago, PhD, 1967), Romas Mitalas [1964 - 68 in Physics, 1968-96 in Astronomy] (Cornell, PhD, 1964), John Landstreet [1970-present] (Columbia, PhD, 1966). In 1965, filling in because of Bill Wehlau's serious illness with hepatitis, his wife, Amelia F. Wehlau [1965-1995] (Berkeley, PhD, 1953), began teaching part-time, and continued with the department until her retirement in 1995.

With Bill Wehlau's arrival the Hume Cronyn Observatory was finally put to use as a serious research instrument. Right up until his death Bill and his students produced valuable and productive research from the original refractor as well as with a 12" Cassegrain telescope which he had added to the observatory. However, Bill had bigger plans, and in the early 1960s, in addition to actively lobbying for Canadian participation in the construction of a 4-metre class telescope, Bill laid the groundwork for a larger instrument at Western.
Elginfield Observatory and crane
Completion of Elginfield Observatory, 1969.
By the time of the formation of the new Department of Astronomy in 1966, plans were well along; construction started in 1968, and the Elginfield Observatory, with its 1.2 metre telescope, was completed in the summer of 1969. It has been an excellent training facility for graduate students, and a fine research instrument, particularly for stellar spectroscopy (since the early 1980s it has been equipped with one of the larger Coudé spectrographs in the world).

Following Bill Wehlau's retirement in 1991, Dr. Dave Gray (Wisconsin, BSc, 1960; Michigan, MSc, 1962, PhD, 1966) took over as Acting Chair for 1991-92, and then Dr. John Landstreet (Reed, BA, 1962; Columbia, MA, 1963, PhD, 1966) became Chair in 1992, a position which he held until 1996.

The financial stresses of the 1990s were viewed as a threat to a small department such as Astronomy; accordingly the Dean of Science instructed the Chairs of Physics and Astronomy to develop a plan for the amalgamation of their two departments. This resulted in the formation of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in July 1996. Since the two departments had been together in the same building for the previous 15 years, this merger involved few physical changes beyond combining the two departmental offices into one. Although the Department of Astronomy has in this way ended its 30 years of independent existence, the amalgamated department continues to offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in astronomy, and the active research program in astronomy, which has sent out its graduate students into faculty positions in almost every province, continues unabated. 

Physics to 1939: Raymond Compton Dearle

The first existing record of lectures in physics is from 1895 when F.W. Merchant, the Principal of the London Collegiate Institute, volunteered his services to lecture in Physics at evening classes given at his school. From then until 1915 the only physics courses were a couple of options in the general arts program, but the tentative nature of these offerings is suggested by the story that in 1906 the new professor of mathematics volunteered to teach physics and also "to secure sufficient contributions for the necessary equipment" (Talman and Talman, p 53).

The birth of the physics department was marked by the arrival of Ernest Franklin Barker [1915-19] (Rochester, BA; Michigan, MA, PhD) as the first Professor of Physics. Although the calendar for 1915-16 advertises the first two years of a five year honors course in Mathematics and Physics, there is no record of any registrants before 1919-20. With no funds and little or no laboratory space or equipment it must have been a daunting task to try to establish a program, and in 1919 Dr. Barker resigned to accept a research fellowship at Michigan, where he spent the rest of his professional life, rising through the ranks to professor and Head of the Department of Physics (Allen, 1965).

The physics professorship at Western was then filled by Raymond Compton Dearle [1919-58] (Toronto, MA, 1917, PhD, 1919), who continued as Head of the Department for the next 30 years, until 1949. His energy, scholarship and administrative talents were a dominant factor in the development of the new department. Following completion of his graduate work at the University of Toronto with Professor J.C. McLennan, he was offered a position in McLennan's spectroscopy group, but at the same time he was approached by Western. In spite of the evident difficulties at Western, which that year had only 44 freshmen in the entire faculty of Arts, Dr. Dearle saw the opportunities of the position at Western, and took it up in September 1919 (Gwynne-Timothy, 1978, p.270; Misener, 1971, p.42).

In 1919 the 'Physics Department' was housed in one small, overcrowded "laboratory" in the London Public Health Institute. These conditions soon became impossible, and a barn behind Huron College was converted into an overflow laboratory.

Figure 5
On the left is the London Public Health Institute as it was in November 1956. From 1916 to 1921 the Physics Department occupied the outlined portion of the building. On the right is the old barn behind Huron College which provided extra laboratory space for Physics between 1919 and 1921.

This was an improvement, and also kept Dr. Dearle fit, pedalling his bicycle the two miles between the two buildings. In 1921 the Department moved into the old medical school, and very soon Dr. Dearle was helping to plan the new Sciences Building (now, in 1999, the Physics and Astronomy Building) whose construction began in 1922, and into which all the science departments moved starting in 1924.

Science Building at The University of Western Ontario, 1924
The Science Building in 1924, construction almost complete.

By this time the Physics Department had expanded threefold with the addition of two Instructors, Ray Leroi ("R.L.") Allen[1921-61] (Mount Allison, BA, 1917, MA, 1919) and Miss Willena Foster [1922-49] (Toronto, MA, 1918), both of whom became long-term members of the Department. "R.L." played an important role in the Department for many decades. Although he officially retired in 1961, he continued with a part-time appointment in the Department until 1965, at which time the university honoured him with an honorary degree. "R.L." continued working at Western, including a term as Assistant Dean of Arts, until his 'final' retirement in 1974 after 53 years of service with the University. Miss Foster came to Western from Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. She was responsible for the organization and equipping of the optics laboratory, and throughout the whole of her tenure she gave the lectures in optics (as well as other subjects, as required).

In 1919 the first 3 students registered in Mathematics and Physics. The seminar courses started in 1922-23, and Dr. Dearle gave the first seminar, reporting on Vegard's discovery of the auroral green line (explained a couple of years later by Shrum and McLennan in Toronto). Dr. Dearle gave the first graduate course on "Radiation" in 1923-24, and that year the first two MA degrees in physics were awarded (Allen, 1965).

The faculty increased to four in 1926 with the arrival of Dr. Donald Ainslie [1926-1931], who remained until 1931 when he returned to the University of Toronto. His place was taken by A.M.I.A.W. (Bill) Durnford [1931-1970] (Western, BA, 1925, MA, 1926; Toronto, PhD, 1931). Dr. Durnford was one of the very early graduates from the Western physics program, starting as a freshman in 1921. He joined the faculty following completion of his PhD at Toronto under Prof. McLennan. Bill Durnford carried a heavy teaching load throughout his long career, particularly during the Second World War, when he took additional teaching assignments to allow others to concentrate on radar research. He retired in 1970, and died at the age of 90 in 1994.

Faculty 1933
Physics faculty, 1931-1940, from the 1933 student yearbook. Left to right, with ranks as of 1933: Dr. Dearle, Professor and Head; R.L. Allen, Associate Professor; Willena Foster, Assistant Professor; Bill Durnford, Instructor.

For the next 10 years, until 1941, these four faculty members - Dearle, Allen, Foster and Durnford - carried the department through a very difficult period of reduced salaries and increased student enrolment.

As already indicated, in those days physics students started by registering in a Mathematics and Physics program; they then chose either a mathematics or physics option in their third and fourth years. In 1930 a second combined program was added in Chemistry and Physics, which attracted few but excellent students. According to R.L. Allen (Allen, 1965), during the first 15 years of its existence a higher percentage of its graduates continued to a PhD than in any other program at Western. These two programs continued until the end of the 1950s, when a major restructuring of programs in science took place.

Although not a faculty member during this period, Garnet Alexander Woonton [1940-48] (Western, BA, 1925, MA, 1931) was associated with the Department through the 1930's, and had a profound effect on the future course of the department.
physics 1939 5
Garnet A. Woonton at Western in the 1970s.

Gar Woonton had wide ranging interests and skills. In 1925 he graduated from Western in commerce and economics and won a prize in philosophy. After four years working as a technical assistant with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada, he returned to Western to study physics. Following completion of his MA in 1931 he remained at Western as demonstrator and research assistant in the Physics Department and as research fellow in Physiology for the next eight years. He was primarily responsible for setting up the Department's experimental broadcasting station, VE9BY. According to Woonton (Woonton, 1978) the station "was intended to measure the variation in the height of the ionosphere by a statistical study of reports from listeners. Broadcasts soon became social occasions in which everyone in any way associated with the department participated. The department had always been a friendly place; the broadcasts made it into a close knit family." The station laid the foundation for the radar research at Western during the Second World War, and was the start of radio- and radar-related research in the department which continues up to the present day. Woonton went on to a distinguished career in Physics. He joined the faculty of the Physics Department at Western in 1940 and by 1946 was a Research Professor of Physics. He was lured away to McGill in 1948 to set up the Eaton Electronics Research Lab; in 1955 he became the MacDonald Professor of Physics and Head of the Physics Department at McGill, a position he held until shortly before he left McGill for Laval in 1969 to become the first director of the Centre de Recherches sur les Atomes et les Molécules. Following his retirement in 1973 Gar Woonton returned to Western as Honorary Professor of Physics where he remained until his death in 1980.

Gar Woonton played an active role in the founding of the Canadian Association of Physicists in 1945 (initially called the Canadian Association of Professional Physicists). One of the more important of the planning meetings was held at Western, as was the second annual congress in 1947 (and subsequent congresses in 1953 and 1978). Gar Woonton was the fourth President of the CAP in 1948-49 (Forsyth, 1999; Hay, 1980). He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1950. He received an honorary degree from Western in 1955 (for further details on the life of Gar Woonton, see Hay, 1980).

Physics during WWII and beyond

The war brought about big changes in the Physics Department, as it became involved in a research program on radar which remained secret until after the end of the war. Many of the following details are gleaned from papers and documents left by Dr. Dearle (Dearle, 1948).

On 1 December 1939, Dr. Dearle, along with representatives of Toronto, Queens, McGill and McMaster, went to Ottawa for a meeting called by Dr. R.W. Boyle, Director of the National Research Council's Division of Physics and Electrical Engineering. It was a peculiar meeting, since Dr. Boyle had been sworn to secrecy about radar, and could only "talk around" the subject, saying nothing about the exact nature of the development nor just what it was he was seeking from these university representatives.

Nevertheless, this was enough to set things in motion, and very shortly the London Association for War Research was established, which included a number of prominent London citizens, in addition to members of research teams in medicine and physics. Early in 1940 the Association sent a memorandum to NRC, offering to develop "a portable device which can be used to automatically establish the co-ordinates of a distant object", which would require "sensitive receiving equipment for detecting the reflected energy" from high frequency waves. Unaware of its discovery, Western was offering to invent radar! In its startled reply, NRC suggested that "It would be wise to make modifications in your application, as the outline of the proposed research is really a brief statement of a project on which a very large proportion of the research facilities of Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. are and have been working for some years."

The Department moved very quickly, and by January 1940 it had added fourth-year courses in "Radio" and "Vacuum Tube Theory and Practice" so that it could turn out students who could enter the radar services quickly. By the next summer five students had already gone overseas, and the Department was running the first of several training programs for radio technicians, taken by about 400 servicemen over the next few years.

By November, 1940, Western was selected by NRC as one of three or four Canadian universities to join in an intensive radar research program. Under the direction of Dr. Dearle, and with the enthusiasm and skill of Gar Woonton, who was sent to the United States for special training, the Department converted itself into a laboratory to study the radiation and detection of centimetre wavelength waves. At first the Western research was focused on antenna radiation patterns. That winter the tests on antenna patterns were carried out first by dragging equipment on a sled (borrowed from one of the professor's children) around the University campus, and then the transmissions from the Science Building were monitored in a cold, unheated, green shed, via a variety of antennas mounted on its roof. Later the research turned to the investigation of crystal diodes as detectors of UHF waves (Woonton, 1978).

Manpower was in very short supply when, in 1940, a gray-haired woman walked into the Department, asking if she could be of some help. This was the Department's introduction to Elizabeth Laird (Toronto, BA, 1896; Bryn Mawr, PhD, 1901), one of the most remarkable individuals in the Department's history to date. Dr. Laird was born in Owen Sound in 1874, and lived at various places throughout Ontario where her father, a Methodist minister, had charges. She completed secondary school at the London Collegiate Institute, and then attended the University of Toronto where she graduated in 1896 with the Gold Medal in Mathematics and Physics. Following her PhD from Bryn Mawr in 1901 she joined the staff of the Physics Department at Mount Holyoke College, and two years later was named Professor and Head of the department, a position she held until her "retirement" to London in 1940. Her offer of help was quickly accepted, and she became an active member of the radar research team, working without remuneration (and taking her turn making measurements in the unheated 'green shed'). In 1945 her position in the Department was formally recognized with an appointment as Honorary Professor. She continued an active research program, including the supervision of several MSc students on the biological effects of microwave radiation, until her second retirement in 1953 at the age of 78. Dr. Laird continued to actively participate in departmental colloquia and other scientific meetings until shortly before her death in 1969 at the age of 94. She was recognized with an honorary DSc by the University of Toronto in 1927, and by an LLD from Western in 1954. In 1970 the Physics Department recognized this remarkable woman with the establishment of the annual Elizabeth Laird Memorial Lecture.

The end of the war brought a flood of veterans to the university, more than doubling the university enrolments between 1944-45 and 1946-47. In 1947, Gar Woonton and Dr. Dearle set up a new Radio Physics option for 3 rd and 4 th year students in the Mathematics and Physics Program. This was a most successful innovation, attracting large numbers of war veterans whose contact with radio and radar during the war gave them an interest in this new field. The program attracted many excellent students during the time it was offered (it last appeared in the 1963-64 calendar).

The end of the war also brought changes in graduate studies in the University and the Department. Not only did numbers increase, but new degrees and a new Faculty of Graduate Studies arose starting in 1947, largely at the behest of the new President, Dr. George Edward Hall. In 1947 the Physics Department graduated eight students with the new degree of Master of Science, in place of the previous MA degree. Plans were also initiated to establish PhD programs in the university, and by 1954 the Physics Department graduated its first PhDs.

At the start of 1945 there were still only five faculty members in the Department, with an average age of just under 50 (not counting Elizabeth Laird), and after the intensive work of the previous five years it must also have been a rather tired faculty. Starting in 1945, the Department began hiring new teaching staff. Of course, these were in short supply, so many people were hired as Instructors with only bachelor or master degrees, often teaching full loads while working on MSc or PhD degrees. Over a period of five years from 1945 to 1949 the staff doubled from 5 to 10; new arrivals included E. Harold Tull[1945-1966] (Western, MSc, 1945); John H. Blackwell [1947-1962] (Western, MSc, 1947, PhD, 1952); Ralph W. Nicholls[1948-1965] (Imperial College, PhD, 1951), Eric Brannen [1949-1987] (McGill, PhD, 1948), and Peter J. Sandiford [1946-1951] (Toronto, PhD, 1952). Very well liked by the students, Peter Sandiford was at Western all too briefly. He left in 1951 to work in the research division of the Ontario Hydro Commission, and eventually went on to become Professor of Transportation in the McGill Business School, where the computer laboratory has been named in his memory (Nicholls, 1999).

Some of the graduates from this period went on to prominent careers in science. I remember R.L. Allen telling me that he sometimes asked the students in the class to suggest questions for the final exam in the 4 th year course in electricity and magnetism which he taught (I think some of their mark was based on the quality of the questions). This led to difficulties for R.L. in 1946 when one of the students provided questions which were too difficult for the instructor, let alone the others in the class. The student's name was J. David Jackson (MIT, PhD, 1949; now emeritus professor of Physics, University of California, Berkeley), who went on to a very distinguished career, and, amongst graduate students, notoriety, as the author of Classical Electrodynamics, which has provided problems to confound several generations of graduate students (and the occasional instructor!). Western recognized Dr. Jackson with an Honorary D.Sc. in 1989. Recently Dr. Jackson has very generously endowed a graduate scholarship in the Department in memory of his parents, as well as two undergraduate science scholarships, named in honour of R.L. Allen and Gar Woonton.

Dr. Jackson won a gold medal in physics in 1946. That year a second gold medal winner was Donald M. Hunten (McGill, PhD, 1950), who graduated in the Chemistry and Physics program. He is now Regents Professor, Department of Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona, and an international authority on planetary atmospheres.

In 1948 John H. Chapman (McGill, PhD, 1951; 1921-1979) graduated with a B.Sc. from Western (a member of the first class to graduate in the Radio Physics option), and went on to an illustrious career in Ottawa, and has often been referred to as "the father of the Canadian space program." In particular, from 1958-71, Dr. Chapman played a key role in initiating and directing the hugely successful Alouette/ISIS scientific earth satellite program, and was assistant deputy minister for the Canadian space program in the 1970s. Innes K. MacKenzie (UBC, PhD, 1953) was another 1948 Radio Physics graduate (also MSc, 1949, Western). He went on to become the first Chairman of Physics at the University of Guelph (i.e., when it became a university).

In 1949 two gold medals were awarded. One, for Mathematics and Physics, was won by Parker Alford (Princeton, PhD, 1954), who returned to Western later as Department Chairman (see below). The other, for Radio Physics, was won by George Harrower (McGill, PhD, 1952), who went on to a career in radio astronomy at Queen's University. He served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science (64-69) and then as Academic Vice-Principal (69-76) at Queens before going to Lakehead University to serve as President from 1976 until 1984.

Space on campus was also in short supply after the war, and the University initiated a building program and a fund-raising campaign in late 1945. By April 1947, over $2.5 million had been raised, and almost immediately the Natural Science Building was extended with the addition of a two-storey plus basement addition across the north ends of the existing wings, providing badly needed laboratory space for Chemistry, Physics and Zoology (Talman and Talman, pp.181-182).

By 1949 Dr. Dearle had been Head of the Department for 30 very important years in the history of the Department, overseeing its development from a department with a single professor to a growing department with a promising future in graduate studies and research. He had led the department's war-time research program, for which he was honoured with an M.B.E. ("Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire"); in 1944 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Dearle decided that it was time to pass the leadership of the Department on to a younger physicist, while he would remain on staff as a Research Professor. He remained with the Department until his retirement in 1958. In 1960 the Physics Department honoured him by renaming the Physics Gold Medal the "Raymond Compton Dearle Gold Medal in Physics." The University recognized him with an honorary LLD in 1963; he died in 1970 at the age of 80.

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 Misener [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 12 th 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.

Figure 9
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 - postdoctoral 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 James Uffen [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 Cabinet before 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 postdoctoral 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) in 1994.

Figure 10
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 Fulford [1957-1989] (Western, BSc, 53, PhD, 1961), and Heinrich R. Froelich [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.

Figure 11
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).

Donald R. Hay [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.

Figure 12
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 whole under the chairmanship of R.L. Allen (Allen, 1965)."

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 4 th 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 rivalled 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.

Bill McGowan 1969 to 1972

J. William McGowan [1969-84]] (St.-Francis Xavier, BSc, 1953; Carnegie-Mellon, MSc, 1958; Laval, PhD, 1961) came to Western from General Atomic in San Diego, where he had been for most of the time since his graduation from Laval. Bill introduced the Department to a new style of research with the construction of the MEIBE (Merged Electron and Ion Beam Experiment) laboratory, which permitted the measurement of scattering cross sections at very low rest-frame energies. With its van de Graaff accelerator and large amounts of ultra-high-vacuum equipment, it was laboratory physics on a new scale for the Department. Dr. McGowan also attempted to change the Department in other ways, and the few years of his chairmanship were quite turbulent. He resigned as Chair in 1972, but remained with the Department until 1984 when he accepted the position of Director of the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

During this period the Department hired a number of new faculty, laying the foundation for the present atomic and molecular physics group; this included T. Dean Gaily [1970-present] (Washington, PhD, 1968), S. David Rosner [1971-present] (Princeton, PhD, 1968), and, a bit later, Richard A. Holt [1976-present] (Princeton, PhD, 1973). It was an unusual period, as the Department was continuing to grow at the same time as funding and graduate student numbers were starting to decrease. It was the beginning of a period of relative stagnation. Following Bill McGowan's resignation, Gordon Lyon [1962-87] (Saskatchewan, BSc, 1956, PhD, 1961) served as Acting Chairman for 1972-73. In 1973, at the end of a period of almost 30 years of continuous growth, the Department had 27 faculty members, the largest at any time in its history. The faculty included, in addition to those already mentioned elsewhere in this history, the following long-term members of the Department: Yen Fu Bow [1966-1986] (Michigan, PhD, 1964), William R. Jarmain [1960-1977] (Western, BA, 1941, MSc, 1946), Robert P. Lowe [1968-present] (Western, BSc, 1957, PhD, 1967), John Nuttall [1972-1992] (Cambridge, PhD, 1961), and James (Jake) K.E. Tunaley [1971-1996] (Sheffield, PhD, 1967).

Parker Alford 1973 to 1984

The next Chairman was a prominent former graduate of Western, W. Parker Alford [1973-92] (Western, BSc, 1949; Princeton, PhD, 1954). Parker was born in London, and was a gold medal graduate from the Physics Department. Following his PhD he accepted a position in Physics at the University of Rochester; at the time he left to come to Western he was Acting Director of the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory at Rochester. Parker remained Department Chairman until 1984, and took normal retirement in 1992. Throughout his time in the Department, he maintained an active research program in intermediate energy nuclear physics. Since there was no nuclear physics activity at Western his research was carried out at other facilities, particularly, in the 80's and 90's, at TRIUMF, where he continues to participate in experiments. Parker's skills served the Department well through a difficult time when there were few opportunities for departmental renewal. Between 1973 and 1983, only one new faculty member was hired and three departed.

Chairs 1961 to 1989
Department Heads and Chairmen, 1961 - 1989. Left to right, Dr. Peter Forsyth (Head, 1961-1967), Dr. Bill McGowan (Chairman, 1969-1972), Dr. Parker Alford (Chairman, 1973-1984); Dr. Graham Rose (Chairman, 1984-1989).
By the end of Parker Alford's second term as Chairman the Department was getting old, which meant that the 1980's could be a period of rebuilding. That started in 1982 with an offer the Department couldn't refuse. The University was establishing a centre for surface science, Surface Science Western, and it was considered important that there be some related research activity in the Department of Physics, hence a position was available, with strings attached. The result was that in 1983 we hired Peter J. Schultz [1983-1995] (Guelph, PhD, 1981), who established the Positron Beam Laboratory, an important step in a great strengthening of Condensed Matter Physics at Western over the next decade. This strengthening had already started almost by accident, as plasma physics work by P.K. John [1968-1996] (Ohio State, PhD, 1963) was found to be useful in the preparation and study of amorphous silicon. This led to a research collaboration with B.Y. (Philip) Tong [1967-present] (UCSD, PhD, 1967) which lasted for some time. Finally, as Parker Alford's term as Chairman came to an end, the Department was also able to fill the vacancy resulting from Bill McGowan's departure with the appointment of J. Brian A. Mitchell [1984-present] (Belfast, PhD, 1975), who took over the operation of the MEIBE laboratory. 

Graham Rose 1984 to 1989

Parker Alford was followed as Department Chairman by Graham S. Rose [1961-93] (Birmingham, BSc, 1951, PhD, 1954), the first person to lead the Department who was not brought in from outside the University. Graham came to Western in 1961 from a position as Research Officer in the Division of Applied Physics at the National Research Council. He was on leave from the Department for several years, starting in 1970, when he served as Professor of Physics at University College, Cape Coast, Ghana, under the sponsorship of the Canadian International Development Agency. The next year he surprised us all by returning to Western to become Assistant Dean of Arts (1971-75) and then Acting Dean of Arts (1975-76). He served as Acting Chairman of the Department during Dr. Alford's study leave in 1978-79.

The next five years was a period of renewal for the Department, and with Graham's leadership and administrative skills the Department made the most of the opportunities. One of these opportunities came from a provincial review of the graduate program in 1985, which was very critical of the paucity of theorists in the Department, and put the Department on probation. Graham used this as very effective ammunition with the university administration to make some advanced replacements, and to hire, over the next few years four new theoreticians in all the major research areas in the Department:

  • Michael G. Cottam [1987-present] (Oxford, PhD, 1969)
  • Jean-Pierre St.-Maurice [1987-present] (Yale, PhD, 1975)
  • Mahi Singh [1988-present] (Banaras, PhD, 1976)
  • S. Pedro Goldman [1988-present] (Windsor, PhD, 1981).

Also hired at this time was Robert J. Sica [1988-present] (Alaska, PhD, 1985).


Graham also played an important part in negotiations with AECL and within the university which culminated in 1986 with a 2.5 MV Van de Graaff positive ion accelerator being installed in the basement of the Physics and Astronomy Building, and with 4 senior scientists coming to Western - Ian V. Mitchell [1986-present] (ANU, Canberra, PhD, 1964) and Dr. Peter Norton as Professors to Physics and Chemistry, respectively, and Drs. Willy Lennard and Keith Griffiths as Research Scientists, also to Physics and Chemistry, respectively; together the personnel and facilities are known as Interface Science Western (ISW). Subsequently, ISW developed a second laboratory housing a 1.7 MV high current Tandem accelerator which is able to deliver beams of both light and heavy ions. With the addition of ISW condensed matter physics became a major research field in the Department.

Don Moorcroft 1989 to 1998

The next Chairman of the Department was Donald R. Moorcroft [1963-present]] (Toronto, BASc, 1957; Saskatchewan, MSc, 1960, PhD, 1962), the author of this history. That being the case, it will not be appropriate to say much beyond giving a few facts from this period.

Financial cutbacks were a dominant factor during these years. Between 1990 and 1996 the number of faculty in the original Physics Department decreased from 25 to 18, while at the same time the fraction of research active faculty (as indicated by the holding of NSERC grants) went from 71% to 89%. Although ten faculty members retired or resigned during this period, three new faculty members were hired: Wayne K. Hocking [1990-present] (Adelaide, PhD, 1981), Martin T. Zinke-Allmang[1990-present] (Heidelberg, Dr. rer. nat., 1985), and Peter J. Simpson [1996-present] (Western, MSc, 1988, PhD, 1992). During the same period the Astronomy Department also shrank from 7 faculty to 5, with 3 retirements, and one new faculty member: Hugh M.P. Couchman [1991-present] (Cambridge, PhD, 1986). Perhaps the most significant event of this period has already been mentioned: the amalgamation of the Physics and Astronomy Departments in 1996.

The Department in 2003

Our current chair ( footnote 3 ), Michael G. Cottam [1987-present] (Cambridge, BSc, 1966; Oxford, PhD, 1969) came to us in 1987 from the University of Essex, England, where he had been teaching since 1973. On his arrival he already had an established reputation in condensed matter physics as an expert on magnetic properties.

Today the amalgamated Department of Physics and Astronomy has 23 faculty members, 21 working in four major research areas, and two devoted to physics education. In the following list, the year following each faculty member's name is the year of entry into a probationary or tenured appointment:

Hugh Couchman (1991) - Cosmic Structure Formation & Numerical N-body Algorithms
Dave Gray (1966)- Rotation of Stars, Magnetic Cycles, Stellar granulation
John Landstreet (1970)- Upper Main Sequence A and B Stars
Mike Marlborough (1967)- Atmospheres of Hot Stars, Interstellar Medium, Radiation Transfer
Jim Moorhead (1966) - Variable Stars, Spectroscopy, Instrumentation

Atomic and Molecular Physics:
Pedro Goldman (1988) - Relativistic calculations in atomic physics
Dick Holt (1976) - Atomic and molecular spectroscopy and lifetimes
Brian Mitchell (1984)- Atomic collisions
Dave Rosner (1971)-Atomic and molecular spectroscopy and lifetimes

Atmospheric and Space Physics:
Wayne Hocking (1991) - atmospheric dynamics
Jim Jones (1966) - Meteors, comets and interplanetary dust
Bob Lowe (1968) - Composition and dynamics of the middle atmosphere
Don Moorcroft (1963) - Plasma physics of the auroral ionosphere
Jean-Pierre St.-Maurice (1987) - Space Plasma Physics
Bob Sica (1988) - Lidar measurements of dynamics and thermodynamics in the middle atmosphere

Condensed Matter Physics
Mike Cottam (1987) - quantum theory of condensed matter systems
Ian Mitchell (1986) - Surface and interface studies using ion beams
Mahi Singh (1987) - Quantum transport and optical properties in condensed matter
Peter Simpson (1996) - Study of solids & surfaces with slow positron beams
Philip Tong (1967) - Thin film semiconductors and photonic band gap materials
Martin Zinke-Allmang (1990) - Dynamic processes during thin film growth, especially of semiconductor heterosystems.

Physics Education
Dean Gaily (1970)
Patrick Whippey (1966)

Connections with other departments

Although the Physics and Astronomy Department has never had a regular faculty member working in medical physics, there has been a very long-standing association between the Department and medical physicists working in local hospitals and research institutes, dating back to 1957 when Dr. John MacDonald, Senior Physicist (and later Chief Physicist) at the London Regional Cancer Centre (LRCC) had an appointment in the Physics Department as Sessional Lecturer, a position which continued until his retirement in 1985. Dr. MacDonald (and later others) gave a senior undergraduate/graduate course in Radiological Physics, and over the years many graduate students have obtained MSc and PhD degrees in medical physics through the Physics Department. At present, the Department has 10 Adjunct Professors in medical physics who supervise graduate students in radiological physics (Dr. Jerry Battista, LRCC; Dr. Peter Munro, LRCC; Dr. Jake Van Dyk, LRCC) and medical imaging (Dr. D. Drost, Lawson Research Institute (LRI); Dr. Aaron Fenster, Robarts Research Institute (RRI); Dr. Ravi Menon, RRI; Dr. Frank Prato, LRI; Dr. Brian Rutt, RRI; Dr. Terry Thompson, LRI).

The Applied Mathematics Department at Western has several theoretical physicists on its faculty. About a decade ago a Collaborative PhD Program in Theoretical Physics was established which is jointly administered by the two departments and allows students to register in either department, without regard to the department of his/her supervisor. Through this program PhD students in Physics and Astronomy have access to a regular theoretical physics seminar, and to theoretical physics research in the Applied Mathematics Department in both subatomic physics (Dr. Victor Elias, Dr. Gerry McKeon, and Dr. Roger Migneron) and atomic physics (Dr. Trevor Luke).

A long-standing association with the Electrical Engineering Department began with the creation of the Centre for Radio Science in 1967, and continues to this day in Space and Atmospheric research (Dr. John MacDougall and Dr. Alan Webster). The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Chemical Physics was established in 1973 to encourage research in areas which bridge two or more traditional disciplines, and includes over 30 members from the departments of Applied Mathematics, Chemistry, Engineering, Earth Science, Physics and Astronomy (10 members), and from the Robarts Research Institute.


In spite of its length, this is a very incomplete history. It says nothing of the support provided by our dedicated office and technical staff (in particular, over the years our fine machine and electronics shops have been an important part of the successes of almost all of the major research laboratories in the Department), and much less space has been devoted to the teaching side of the department than it deserves.

As a slight redress to this imbalance, I want to end with at least a mention of some of the outstanding teachers in the Department who have received formal recognition from outside the university in recent years. Dr. Dean Gaily was a winner of the OCUFA Teaching Award in 1990 and a 3M Teaching Fellowship in 1991. Dr. Pedro Goldman, in addition to having a teaching award in the Faculty of Music named in his honour, was the winner of the 1998 Canadian Association of Physicists Medal for Excellence in Teaching Physics. Patrick Whippey [1966-present] (Reading, PhD, 1966) has for many years been deeply involved with science education, not only in the university classroom, but also in the community at large. In recognition of these contributions, Dr. Whippey was awarded the Distinguished Service Award for 1998 by Youth Science Foundation Canada.


I am indebted to many faculty members for their comments. I am especially grateful to the following former students, technicians, faculty, department heads and chairs, and professors emeritus and emerita for their written and verbal recollections and comments: P.A. Alford, C.M. Carmichael, P.A. Forsyth, P.A. Fraser, J.A. Fulford, G.R. Hébert, J.D. Jackson, R.W. Nicholls, G.S. Rose, D. Rumbold, J. Talman, and A. Wehlau. I particularly want to thank Mr. Alton Ross, the son-in-law of Dr. Dearle, for making available to me Dr. Dearle's papers, which were an important and valuable source of information for this history. I also acknowledge the assistance of the staff of the UWO Regional Collection for access to historical information about the Departments and the University. Finally, I thank Mr. Paul Chefurka for permission to use his photograph of Dr. McGowan, and Victor Aziz Photography Ltd. for permission to use the photographs of Dr. Forsyth, Dr. Alford, and Dr. Rose.


In addition to the specific information indicated by the references in the text, some of the following material was very widely used for information about the university (indicated by *) and about the department (indicated by †).

†Allen, R.L., Notes on the history of the UWO Physics Department, the text of a talk given in 1965 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Department, unpublished typescript, 13 pp.

Dearle, R.C., University of Western Ontario - Radar , undated, but probably written in 1948 or 1949. This is the primary source of information about the radar research at Western during the Second World War, but it was supplemented with various items of correspondence in Dr. Dearle's papers, very kindly made available to the author by Mr. Elton Ross, the son-in-law of Dr. Dearle.

†Ferguson, H.I.S., Physics Research in Canadian Universities - The University of Western Ontario , manuscript dated May 1969. *Fox, W.S., Sherwood Fox of Western , Burns and MacEachern, Toronto, 1964.

*Gwynne-Timothy, J.R.W., Western's First Century, UWO , 1978.

Hay, D.R., Garnet Alexander Woonton, 1906-1980 , Proc. Roy. Soc. Can., Series IV, v.18, 120-123, 1980.

Misener, A.D., Raymond Compton Dearle 1890 - 1970 , Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 4th series, v.9, 42-45, 1971.

Nicholls, R.W., Austin Donald Misener (Jan. 19 th 1911 - March 5 th 1996 , Physics in Canada, Physics in Canada, Vol.52(4), 147, 1996.

Nicholls, R.W., unpublished recollections on the history of the UWO Physics Department, September 1998 and March 1999.

*Talman, J.J., and R.D. Talman, Western - 1878-1953 , The University of Western Ontario, 1953.

*W.F. Tamblyn, These Sixty Years , University of Western Ontario, 1938.

*R.B. Willis, Western 1939-1970: Odds and Ends , The University of Western Ontario, 1970.

Woonton, G.A., unpublished typescript on the history of the department, 2 February, 1978, 2 pages.


Footnote 1

According to the university calendar, the first physics professor was hired into a temporary Department of Mathematics and Physics in 1915, and it was in the following year that Physics became a separate department. However, the departmental tradition, supported by notes made by Prof. Allen (Allen, 1965), who joined the department in 1921, is that the Physics Department actually had its beginning in 1915. This would not be the only time that the calendar recognized a decision which was in effect for only a few months, or which was, in the end, not put into effect at all. For the purpose of this history we will go along with Prof. Allen, and take 1915 as the beginning of the Physics Department.

Footnote 2

Throughout this history, square brackets will be used to indicate the period of time an individual was in physics and/or astronomy at Western. I have not counted time spent as a postdoctoral fellow, or in a limited-term position, although before 1967 the latter was not clearly defined. Normally, these appear the first time a person is named in the history, and they are followed by the advanced degrees held by the individual. For heads, chairmen and important individuals in the history, all degrees are given; for other faculty members only the highest degree is given, except that all degrees from Western are included.

Footnote 3

Chairmen mutated into chairs at Western in the early 1990s.