Washington University Physics Department

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Michael at the blackboard, lecturing
From "McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences" brochure,
circa 1978-79.

  • Education and Universities (South Africa/Great Britain)
  • Job offers and hiring at Washington University

    Upon leaving the University of Bristol where he had done his PhD, Michael had job offers from Columbia University in New York as well as the Weitzmann Institute in Jerusalem, in addition to Washington U. However, neither of the other two was for a permanent position, as compared to the position offered in St. Louis. He then proceeded to spend his entire career at Washington University. [More complete educational background shown here.]

    The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted in a May, 1956 article that he had been hired at Washington University. His hiring was in the last paragraph of an article about the hiring of Edward Condon to be the new chairman of the physics department, a gutsy and principled move by the University, considering Condon had been ensnared in the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations.

    Although the above link describes his hiring as a research associate, by the time he arrived the following October, his position was that of an assistant professor (tenure track).

    The Post-Dispatch also noted when he was granted tenure as an associate professor [column 5] in April 1961 (but was apparently no longer publishing such notes when he became a full professor in 1967).

  • Cosmic Rays (Research and talks/articles)
  • Director of Wash U. Observatory
  • Chairman of Library Services Committee

    Michael reading journal
    Michael reading journal in WU Physics Library;
    From "Programs in Physics" brochure, circa 1981.

    The Wash U Physics Department had its own separate library until 2021. For nearly 40 years, Michael was chair of the Library Services Committee, which handled hiring of the department librarian and other staff, advising on which journals to which to subscribe, book acquisitions, and more.
  • Undergraduate advisor (one of four)

    For several decades, there were four professors who served as undergraduate advisors, helping physics majors figure out which courses to take, writing recommendations for graduate school applications, and more. (This included simply being available to chat with students seeking course or career guidance.)

  • Editor of "Alumni Notes" section of physics department newsletter for > 20 years.

    Michael was centrally involved in the creation of the departmental newsletter, as shown in this inaugural issue from May 1992. He was the editor of the Alumni Notes from its inception until 2015. He was the sole editor until 2008, and remained a co-editor until 2015.

  • Compton/Ferguson lectures (Chair of selection committee)
  • Saturday Science series (founded in 1994 by Michael)
  • 1958 recruiting brochure for prospective physics graduate students
    (See photo and description of Michael on page 3.)
  • Archaeoastronomy and the Center for Archaeometry
  • Chair of local organizing committee for 1992 Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Symposium
  • Awards received over the years
  • Active in department long after retirement

    Michael retired in 1999 but remained a highly active emeritus for many years thereafter. This page from the 2013 Physics Department Newsletter describes his recent activities with the Saturday Science Series, the centenary of the discovery of cosmic rays celebration (invited paper in Nature and invited talk at a symposium at the University of Denver), chairing the Compton/Ferguson lectures committee, speaking about Woodhenge, and editing the Alumni Notes. Other pages of this PDF newsletter have a page on his researching the background of faculty in a 1923 departmental photo (p 13), and more.

  • Michael's personal library was donated to the physics department, and his papers were given to the Washington University Archives, which mounted a posthumous exhibit on display during the summer of 2023.
  • Annual departmental photos (1957-2019)
    Notes about the Physics Photos

    Michael arrived in the fall of 1956, so the spring 1957 photo was the first group photo of which he was a part. He then appeared in every photo until 2019 (with the exceptions of 1963 (on sabbatical at Imperial College, London) and 2005 (not sure why)). There was no photo in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Arthur Holly Compton (by then the University Chancellor) appears in the 1961 photo (front row, 4th from left).

    In 2018 and 2019, a massive construction project redoing the main entrance to the university prevented the steps of Brookings Hall from being used for the photos, hence the different background. The photos were normally taken from this location.

    Photo credit: Thanks to Dr. Scott Handley (WU Physics Department) for providing images that filled in gaps in my collection of the annual departmental photos.

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