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Department of Physics
University of Oregon

History of the Department

Natural philosophy (a term comprising both Physics and Chemistry that was commonly used in the 19th century) was part of the curriculum at the University of Oregon from the year it was founded in 1876. In 1879, approximately $2,000 were spent to purchase equipment for a physics laboratory, an unusual large sum at the time. Initially, physics was taught by Mark Bailey, Professor of Mathematics, but in 1879 the University appointed George H. Collier to the Chair of Physics, Chemistry, and Metallurgy. He hired E.H. McAllister and S.E. McClure, the latter of whom became Professor of Chemistry when the subjects of Physics and Chemistry were divided, while Collier remained Professor of Physics until 1895. Under his successor, Charles Fridel, the Department started to expand. In 1904, William P. Boynton, Assistant Professor of Physics, published a book on kinetic theory, which then was a very advanced topic. By 1920 the Department had three faculty members. After a tumultuous time during the Great Depression, when for a while the very existence of the University of Oregon was threatened, the Department has continued to expand. After World War II, research at the forefront of the scientific development was increasingly implemented at the University of Oregon. Here is a group photo taken in 1960. Gradually, the department grew to its present size of about 30 faculty members who are engaged in research in most of the active subfields of Physics.

Two past heads of the Physics Department, both of whom played major roles in shaping the department, have supplied essays about the history of the department:


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