Department of Physics

Following the reorganization of the college in 1920 into departments, Rev. Joseph N. Donohue, C.S.C., served for three years as Head of the Department of Physics, and was succeeded by Rev. Thomas Irving, C.S.C., as Head of the Department in the 1923-24 school year; in the 1929-1930 school year Mr. Daniel Hull was appointed to this post and he served until 1937, at which time Rev. Henry J. Bolger, C.S.C., began a tenure which extended to 1963, when Dr. Charles Mullin took over, with Dr. Robert L. Anthony serving as Assistant Head. Father Bolger had been on the staff since 1930 with an interim of several years for graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology.

Prior to 1934, the Department of Physics existed primarily as a service department for the teaching of those students whose schedules called for a background in Physics. Except for the sections taught for the premedical students, the teaching was oriented almost completely toward engineering, although some effort had been directed to teaching of graduate courses; during this period many of the teachers listed on the staff of the Department of Physics were also engaged in the teaching of engineering subjects and of mathematics courses.

With the appointment of Rev. Henry J. Bolger, C.S.C., as Head of the Department of Physics in 1937, and the authorization by the University for the construction of an open-air Van de Graaff accelerator, a new era was initiated by the department. This accelerator was constructed in one of the large rooms on the south side of the Engineering Building, and a great deal of dedicated effort and donated hours on the part of Mr. George Collins and Mr. Edward Coomes went into the construction of this first research project of the department. It was used in a research program to study the interaction of electrons and gamma rays with nuclei. The faculty members during this initial research period (1934-1940) were Robert L. Anthony, Rev. H. J. Bolger, C.S.C., George B. Collins, Edward A. Coomes, Eugene Guth, Arthur Haas, and Bernard Waldman; and to these people can be given much of the credit for shaping the development of this department toward its present status. The first disintegration of a nucleus by electrons was accomplished at Notre Dame in 1939, and some of the earliest work on metastable levels in nuclei was done by this group. A doctoral program was instituted in 1939, and the first doctorate in physics was granted in 1942.

In 1939 the University authorized the construction of an enclosed and pressurized Van de Graaff accelerator. Shortly after the completion of this accelerator in an annex at the rear of Science Hall, the nuclear research program was interrupted by the war. G. B. Collins and E. A. Coomes joined the Radiation Laboratory (MIT), and Bernard Waldman joined the Los Alamos Laboratory of the Manhattan District Project. E. Guth and R. L. Anthony undertook a government-sponsored wartime research program in the properties of rubber. Although very little research in basic physics was done during the war period, many valuable scientific contacts were made. Since the Notre Dame accelerator was a very intense source of very hard X-rays, it was used by the Manhattan District Project for studies in radiation damage. Thus, the presence of the accelerator on the campus made Notre Dame a center for radiation studies and initiated valuable contacts between the University and some very outstanding scientists.

In the postwar period the research program developed very rapidly. Although the department included only nine faculty members and about ten graduate students in 1946, research was undertaken in three experimental areas as well as in theoretical physics. The areas of experimental research (and the associated faculty) were: polymer physics (E. Guth, R. L. Anthony), surface physics (E. A. Coomes, A. A. Petrauskas, J. Buck), and nuclear physics (B. Waldman). The theoretical physics group was enlarged by the addition of C. J. Mullin in 1945, and G. C. Wick in 1946.

The presence of G. C. Wick in the department (1946-48) inspired the theoretical group to do some outstanding pioneering research in nuclear physics. Meanwhile, interest in polymer physics diminished, and this area of research was discontinued when E. Guth left the faculty in 1955. At this time, polymer physics was not regarded as a basic area of research in physics. Some of the experimentalists who had been working in polymer physics joined the surface physics group; others discontinued research entirely.

The nuclear physics (accelerator) group was expanded by the addition of W. C. Miller (1948), C. P. Browne (1956), S. E. Darden (1957), and P. R. Chagnon (1963). When the department moved into Nieuwland Science Hall in 1952, a new Van de Graaff accelerator (very similar to its predecessor, but incorporating modern techniques) was constructed; this construction was supported by a grant of $30,000 from the AEC. Research in nuclear spectroscopy was begun in 1954 when J. W. Mihelich joined the faculty; research in this field was expanded by the addition of E. Funk to the faculty in 1958.

The faculty of the department now includes the following persons:

  • William R. Alling, Instructor;
  • Robert L. Anthony, Professor;
  • Cornelius P. Browne, Professor;
  • Paul R. Chagnon, Assistant Professor;
  • Edward A. Coomes, Professor;
  • Sperry E. Darden, Associate Professor;
  • Paul C. DeCelles, Associate Professor;
  • Ivan Derado, Assistant Professor;
  • Emerson G. Funk, Jr., Associate Professor;
  • Walter R. Johnson, Associate Professor;
  • Gerald L. Jones, Assistant Professor;
  • V. Paul Kenney, Associate Professor;
  • Joseph F. McNulty, Instructor;
  • Darwin J. Mead, Associate Professor;
  • John W. Mihelich, Professor;
  • Walter C. Miller, Professor;
  • Brother Adalbert Mrowca, C.S.C., Associate Professor;
  • Charles J. Mullin, Professor;
  • Alex A. Petrauskas, Associate Professor;
  • John A. Poirier, Associate Professor;
  • William D. Shephard, Assistant Professor;
  • Rev. James L. Shilts, C.S.C., Assistant Professor;
  • Bernard Waldman, Professor;
  • How-sen Wong, Assistant Professor.
The Centennial of Science at Notre Dame 1865-1965 , pg 35.