History of the Department


The study of physics has long been associated with the college. Indeed, one reason for the initial site of the college at Clarksville TN in 1848 was the willingness of the local populace to successfully raise funds for equipment in "natural philosophy" (as physics was then called).

Over the years, notable professors of physics at the college: William A. Forbes (1850-1860), William M. Stewart (1851-1878, also president of the college) and James Adair Lyon (1884-1915), played central roles in the growth and oversight of college affairs.

But the most well-known was Peyton Nalle Rhodes, physics professor from 1926-1949 before becoming college president. In recognition of his service both as physics professor and president, the name of Southwestern At Memphis was changed to Rhodes College in 1984 (the second time that the college was named for a physics professor). In the years of college growth post World War II, the department expanded, and began a long-term concentration on studies of the terrestrial atmosphere utilizing the infrared portion of the spectrum, led by Professor Jack H. Taylor, professor from 1956 until his retirement in 1992. Read Dr. Taylor′s compilation of "The History of Physics at Rhodes." [This PDF is quite large] 

The department began diversifying its research efforts with the hiring of Dr. Brent Hoffmeister in 1996, whose research involves the medical applications of physics. Faculty hires within the last 10 years have further broadened research interests and therefore enhanced opportunities for students. Dr. Ann Viano, a solid state physicist, joined the department in 1999 and investigates nanostructured and biomedical materials. Dr. Shubho Banerjee, who joined the department in 2002, is a theoretical condensed matter physicist studying problems in complex fluids. In 2010, Dr. David Rupke joined the department. Dr. Rupke recently served as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii. This year Elizabeth Young, who expects her Ph.D. from Princeton University in 2013 joined the department. Mechanical and aerospace engineering are Elizabeth′s area of research.

Browse the database of Physics alumni »

Top photo: Professor Jack Taylor discusses a research project with his students in 1959, using a slide rule as a pointer.  From left to right: William (Bill) Raines (′61), Robert MacQueen (′60), Prof. Taylor, Enloe Ritter (′61), Harry Swinney (′61), and Prof. Joe Freymuth.

Bottom photo: Professor and college president Peyton Rhodes during a 1963 eclipse research expedition to Gulkana, Alaska.