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Chapter 4 - The Correll and Henry Years (1952 - 1981)

Malcolm Correll assumed the headship of the physics department after O.H. Smith retired in 1952. Correll held a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and had taught physical science there during the war years. From 1948 to 1951 he was professor of physics and chairman of physical sciences at Oklahoma A & M. When named to the DePauw post, Correll was back at the University of Chicago serving as visiting lecturer in the natural sciences.

Correll came to DePauw at a time when the university enrollment was on the upswing and many departments, including physics, were on their way to doubling, or nearly doubling, in size. The number of full-time Ph.D.s on the physics staff went from two in 1952 to four in 1960; these staff additions followed in the wake of increasing department enrollments, which reached their highest level (relative to the total campus population) since the early 1930s.

The introductory courses attracted approximately 100 students per semester, and a total enrollment of 50-55 students in the upper-level courses was not unusual. During the Correll years, 1952-61, 41 students graduated from DePauw with a major in physics, with many of them going on to graduate work at schools such as Berkeley, Brown, Yale, and Wisconsin. Two of the best known majors from this period are Carl Poppe (1957), division leader of the Experimental Physics Division of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and former US. shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen (1959).

The first changes in staffing during Correll's tenure occurred in 1955. That summer, Ammerman resigned and left for the West Coast, where he took up employment with the North American Aviation Company, a national defense contractor. At the same time, Sprague began a year- long sabbatical leave to work with the Cosmic Ray Research Group at the University of Chicago. In order to fill these vacancies, Richard Murphy (B.A., DePauw, 1953) was hired as a sabbatical replacement for Sprague and Francis Worrell, a Ph.D from the University of Pittsburgh, was given a tenure-track appointment at the rank of associate professor. Worrell had previous teaching experience at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and, like so many others associated with the DePauw physics program, had done war-related research at the MIT Radiation Laboratory.

A number of course changes were put into effect after Sprague returned from sabbatical in the fall of 1956. The General Physics course was split into two sections, a calculus-based section for science and mathematics majors and a non-calculus section which became known as "pre-med" physics. Many of the course catalog numbers were adjusted, some course names were changed, and several courses were deleted, including the Optics and Thermodynamics course.

From the fall of 1956 to the spring of 1958, the department's teaching duties were handled by the three-man staff of Correll, Worrell and Sprague. Each was responsible for one introductory course as well as one or two advanced classes. Correll and Sprague were also actively involved in research throughout this period, doing most of their work in the summer months. Sprague was, for many years, a member of the team studying charged particle tracks in nuclear emulsions in collaboration with the Cosmic Ray Group; Correll was equally busy doing solar research at the High Altitude Observatory (HAO) in Colorado. Both men were funded by National Science Foundation grants and both published their research findings in highly respected physics journals. Correll also contributed several pedagogically- oriented articles to the American Journal of Physics, the monthly journal of the AAPT. 

Another staff change became necessary when Worrell left DePauw after accepting a Fulbright Lectureship to teach at Al-Hikma University in Baghdad. His replacement in the fall of 1958 was Bruce Danner, a 1956 DePauw graduate and a master's degree candidate at the State University of Iowa. Danner taught Intermediate Physics and several advanced laboratories during his two-year term on the faculty. In 1960, Danner went on to further graduate study at Ohio University and Ohio State, receiving his Ph.D. in physics from the latter institution in 1968. Currently, Danner is professor of physics and director of the Computer Center at Rose-Hulman.

Early in 1958, Correll was informed by President Russell J. Humbert that tentative plans for a new science building were being prepared; the physics department was asked to furnish the administration with a list of the physics facilities that would be needed in the new building. Correll saw in this an opportunity to push forward a plan to make dramatic improvements in the department. While on sabbatical at the HAO in September 1959, Correll completed a 20-page appraisal of the problems faced by the physics department along with an outline of its long-term goals. In this document, Correll called for a thorough revision of the upper-level course work, cited the need to attract more quality students to physics, and gave arguments for additional staffing in the department.

In addition, Correll invited two outside reviewers--Charles Whitmer, chairman of the physics department at Rutgers, and Dean Harold Schilling of Penn State--to, in Correll's words, "help us analyze the status of the physics department and to chart the course for its future development." The Whitmer-Schilling report, based on the reviewers' October 1959 visit to Minshall Lab and interviews with students and faculty, echoed many of the concerns of Correll. They wrote of the need for a course in quantum mechanics and for a lab course in atomic and nuclear physics. The facilities were found lacking; Whitmer and Schilling noted that a fair portion of the lab equipment was "obsolete or in poor repair" and that the physics library was about 20 years out of date. The report concluded with the recommendation that the department staff be enlarged and time given to the faculty for the development of projects to modify and update the curriculum. Furthermore, the reviewers suggested that a sum of $60,000 be provided by the university over a four year period to modernize instructional equipment and to help the faculty initiate research that would involve undergraduates to a greater extent.

Unfortunately, circumstances never allowed Correll the opportunity to follow up on these proposals. The university, which saw the physics instructional budget double from 1956 to 1960, was not ready to commit itself to the large outlay recommended by the Whitmer-Schilling report. Also, the proposed science facility, initially targeted for completion in the early '60s, was now seen to be many years away. Finally, Correll's research activities and his commitments with the AAPT (he became president-elect of the AAPT in February 1960) began to draw more and more time away from his work at DePauw In the end, Correll abandoned his dreams for DePauw and instead looked for new challenges elsewhere. In the spring of 1961, he turned in his resignation and accepted the post of general education director at the University of Colorado.

Two other staff appointments were made in Correll's final years at DePauw. John Warren arrived in the fall of 1959, fresh from completing his doctoral work at the University of Maryland in the area of electron-phonon interactions in metals. Another young assistant professor, Paul Kissinger, was added to the department after Danner's departure in 1960. Kissinger, an experimental solid state physicist from Rutgers, was "strongly encouraged" by Whitmer to apply for the DePauw position. When he began his teaching career at DePauw, Kissinger held a master's degree from Northwestern University and was putting the finishing touches to his doctoral dissertation.

The staff of Correll, Sprague, Kissinger, and Warren-the first four-man Ph.D. staff in physics-- was together for only a year. Warren left in the spring of 1961 in order to pursue his research interests full time in the Physics Division of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Correll also resigned at the same time, necessitating a search for another assistant professor and a new department head.

The latter position went to Hugh Henry, who was then head of the Safety, Fire, and Radiation Control Department at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Henry was an authority on health problems related to the handling of radioactive substances and was a leader in developing criteria for the prevention of critical-mass accidents in facilities using fissionable material. He received his Ph.D from the University of Virginia in 1940 and was associate professor of physics at the University of Georgia before going to Oak Ridge in 1949. While at Oak Ridge, Henry authored, or co-authored, a large number of journal articles and U.S. Government technical documents on the subjects of nuclear safety and the health hazards of radiation. After coming to DePauw, Henry remained active in the field of radiation physics. He served as referee for several technical magazines and was twice U.S. delegate to meetings of the International Standards Organization Technical Committee 85.

By the fall of 1962, a course in thermodynamics and several graduate courses had been added to the catalog and Henry was offering a new course in radiation physics using new equipment purchased with an NSF course development grant. (Notes for the Radiation Physics course formed the basis for Henry's text Fundamentals of Radiation Protection, published in 1969.) The equipment obtained through NSF was augmented 10 years later by the addition of several research grade items, such as neutron sources and measuring instruments, which resulted in DePauw having one of the best-equipped nuclear physics laboratories of any university of its type in the nation.

More extensive changes in the undergraduate physics curriculum were made in 1965-66, prompted in part by the changeover from the "credit- hour" to the "course" system. All of the course numbers in physics were changed and many of the courses were retitled; for example, the two- semester, six credit-hour course in applied mathematics, Intermediate Physics (Physics 303-304), became the one course-credit Introduction to Theoretical Physics (Physics 322). A course in quantum mechanics was added and the reading courses for juniors and seniors were consolidated into the variable credit Selected Topics in Physics. An advanced course in mechanics finally made its way into the physics curriculum, although the mathematics department still taught the Statics and Dynamics courses required for pre-engineering students.

Henry, Sprague and Kissinger were the mainstays of the physics department during the '60s. However, the fourth member of the staff, for various reasons, seemed to be caught in a revolving door, with four individuals occupying the junior staff position from 1961 to 1968. The first of these was Gene Stoppenhagen, who arrived with Henry in 1961 as the replacement for Warren. Stoppenhagen was a 1958 DePauw graduate and held a master's degree from the University of Washington. Because he did not have a Ph.D., Stoppenhagen was given a three-year appointment at the rank of instructor. Afterward Stoppenhagen, like Danner four years earlier, resumed graduate work at Ohio University, where he became an associate professor of physics at the university's Lancaster campus.

Stoppenhagen was followed by John Spangler, a young and promising spectroscopist from Duke University. Spangler was an ROTC student in college and, at the time he applied for the DePauw position, was just coming off active duty as a lieutenant in the Army. Spangler remained at DePauw for only one year; in 1965, he resigned to take a similar position at his undergraduate alma mater, Kansas State.

Roger Ptak was another outstanding young physicist whose stay at DePauw, beginning in 1966, was relatively brief. Ptak had a Ph.D from Cornell University, where he had studied astrophysics with such luminaries as E.E. Salpeter and Philip Morrison; while at Cornell, Ptak had gained a reputation as one of the best graduate instructors on campus. He brought the same humor and enthusiasm to his teaching at DePauw but, as Spangler before him, was not completely happy here. Ptak left in 1968 to accept an assistant professorship at Bowling Green State University.

During the 1967-68 school year, Kissinger was on sabbatical leave at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; the next year, Henry did neutron dosimetry research at the Idaho Falls reactor testing facility. While the two men were on leave, they were replaced by Robert Severance, a Massachusetts high school math teacher with an M.A. in physics from Williams College. Severance, who as an undergrad won All-American honors in swimming, represented the department as a one-man team in the intramural competition. As it turned out, the department was crowned the IM swim champion for two straight years!

The physics staff stabilized after Ernest Henninger joined the department in 1968. The new assistant professor was a Wabash graduate with an M.A.T. from Harvard and a Ph.D from Purdue. Henninger was just coming off a two-year postdoctoral position at Cal Tech, where he was engaged in X-ray diffraction studies in association with the chemical engineering department.

At the time Henninger arrived, enrollments in physics, which had fallen steadily in the mid-1960s, finally leveled off to about 4.5% of the total university population. Surprisingly, the number of physics majors remained fairly constant through this period, enough to warrant the establishment of a Sigma Pi Sigma chapter at DePauw. The installation of the DePauw section of the national physics honor society was held on May 11, 1966 and was presided over by the Executive Secretary of Sigma Pi Sigma, Dr. Marsh W. White of Penn State. The charter members of the DePauw section included Sprague, Kissinger, Henry and five physics students-- John Godwin, David Joncich, Larry Junod, A. Alexander Kennel, and David Rice.

Two years later, on April 22, 1968, the DePauw chapter of the national Society of Physics Students (SPS) was founded. The SPS chapter met regularly for the next several years, with Henninger serving as chapter adviser. Historically, however, the SPS club was not the first DePauw academic organization to involve physics students. In 1888 there was a DePauw Scientific Club followed by the DePauw Science Association toward the turn of the century. The first exclusively-physics organization seems to have been the Physics Club of 1907, presided over by Professor Naylor. Finally, from 1929 to 1937, there was a DePauw Science Club composed of faculty and students from all the science departments. The Science Club held monthly lecture programs which alternated among the participating departments.

The 1970s was one of the quieter decades in the history of the physics department. The only significant change in curriculum was the switch of the Statics and Dynamics courses from the mathematics department over to physics in 1979. One staff change occurred in 1971, when Sprague retired after 25 years on the faculty. Because of low enrollments, Sprague was not replaced, reducing the staff to three full-time positions. As professor emeritus, Sprague returned to teach part-time from 1974 to 1976 while Henninger, Kissinger and Henry were on a series of consecutive leaves.

Still, during this somewhat quiescent period there were several important happenings. Under the leadership of Kissinger, who wrote the proposal and directed the project, DePauw received a College Science Improvement Grant of $286,000 from the NSF. Student-faculty research projects received major overall emphasis. These projects generated student enthusiasm for research, helped retool the faculty and significantly increased the utilization of science facilities during the summer months.

But certainly, the major event of the decade for the science departments was the long-awaited opening of the $7.2 million Science and Mathematics Center in 1972. The three-story, 135,000 square foot building was officially dedicated on Old Gold Day in October 1972; the ceremony followed a major two-day symposium entitled "Man in the Middle: How Science Can Help Him," with addresses by EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus, Percy Julian, and Joe Allen, among others. As for Minshall Lab, it was decided that the cost of refurbishing the building for general classroom use would far outweigh its benefit to the university. In the summer of 1973, the building was razed (with much effort) and the site returned to its natural state.

 

 

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