Our History: 1963 to 1985

Faculty Growth and Evolution

Duke University in the 1960’s and 1970’s was an excellent institution drawing an undergraduate and graduate student body predominantly from the southeastern states, the East Coast and the Midwest. Although some faculty members were from the South, the great majority was recruited from a much wider national, and even international, pool than were the students.

In 1961, Physics Chair Nielsen resigned from the post because of poor health. Duke’s President, Daryl Hart asked Harold Lewis to act as Chair Pro Tem until a new chair would be hired. In September 1963, Henry Fairbank became a Professor of Physics and Chair, initially for a five-year term.

The Duke Physics Department, reflecting the national trend, expanded rapidly during this period. From 1963 to 1985, the department hired 47 new faculty members, 40 of them as tenure track assistant professors. Twenty-eight percent of these new faculty members remained in the department until the end of their careers. This was a much lower percentage than in the previous and subsequent periods of time. The typical pattern has been for a person who is hired on the tenure track to remain at Duke Physics for the remainder of his or her career. However, the sixties and seventies were years of great university expansion, when most university faculties were growing rapidly and many opportunities existed for university professors. Consequently, many faculty members hired during this period left Duke for other professional opportunities. Table 1 gives percentages of the Physics faculty staying at Duke until retirement, with comparisons to earlier and later periods in this history account. The large number of faculty members hired, particularly at the Assistant Professor level, from the 1960’s to the early 1980’s, is clearly atypical. The more normal pattern both earlier and subsequent to this period is fewer hires, and substantially higher retention rates.

The new Chair’s brother, William Martin Fairbank, had been in the department from 1952 through 1959, when he accepted the offer of a professorship at Stanford University. Lawrence Biedenharn, Lawrence (Larry) Evans, both hired in 1963, and Moo Han, hired in 1967, were theorists. Hugh Robinson, also hired in 1963, was an experimentalist. Earle Fowler was hired as the senior person in the High Energy Physics Group in 1963 and stayed in the department until 1970, when he left to become the chair of the Physics Department at Purdue University. Lloyd Fortney also joined the High Energy Physics Group. Edward (Ed) Bilpuch, who had been at Duke as a Research Associate for several years, joined what later became the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) as a faculty member, as did Russell Roberson, and Richard Walter. In addition, there were many faculty members who stayed for one or two years and then left Duke to pursue their careers elsewhere. There was, hence, great turnover in the lower faculty ranks of the department. In this period on the national level, there were many new job openings in academia and other opportunities outside of academia for scientists. Sixteen assistant professors, hired during the 60’s, left the department for opportunities available elsewhere.

The hiring of faculty members was very informal, not resembling at all the very extensive process that evolved in the next several decades. Lawrence Evans, Russell Roberson, and Edward Bilpuch all report that in the beginning of the 60’s there was no structured hiring process. Recruiting faculty was done by research group contacts, rather than via the advertised national search that later became the standard. Research groups informally contacted colleagues at other universities for names of qualified applicants who were interested in employment. When a candidate came to the campus, he met with some department members and gave a talk. If the research group expressed a desire to hire the candidate, and the Chair agreed, the Chair would proceed to get the verbal approval from the Dean to complete the hire. Indeed, the hiring was done very informally.

Russell Roberson tells about the informal procedure for his initial hiring. Ronald Tilley, who was a Visiting Assistant Professor at the beginning of the 1960’s called to tell him of a job opening at Duke. Russell, who was visiting family members in North Carolina at the time, came to the Duke campus, met with Edward Bilpuch, Harold Lewis (who was Dean at the time), and Fairbank, who “rounded up” some department faculty and students to hear Roberson give a talk on his research. After the formal talk, while Roberson was discussing his talk with graduate students at the front of the room, Bilpuch, Newson, Fairbank and Lewis got together in the back of the room to discuss whether to hire him. As Roberson was walking out of the room, Fairbank offered him a nine-month job as an Assistant Professor and a guarantee of three months of summer salary for work at the Tandem Lab.

Lawrence Evans, who also joined the Department in 1963, reports a similar, very casual hiring process. Lawrence Biedenharn invited Evans to give a talk. He was not asked for a publication list or much background information. They were surprised to find out when he came that he had published a few articles of which they were not aware.

The current procedure requiring a formal application for the position with the presentation of a curriculum vitae, copies of publications, letters of reference and a variety of other documents, culminating in a very large dossier in support of the candidate, was unheard of during this period of time.

In 1970, William Walker, who had been at the University of Wisconsin, was hired as head of the High Energy Physics Group to replace Earle Fowler who had just moved to Purdue University. Walker tells of his surprise at the small size of the department, compared with the size of the Physics Department at Wisconsin, when he attended his first faculty meeting. Frank DeLucia, who received his Ph.D. under Walter Gordy, and then was a post-doc in Gordy’s molecular spectroscopy research group, became a faculty member in 1971. He was being groomed as Gordy’s successor. Alfred Goshaw was hired in 1973 and became one of the junior members of the High Energy Research Group.

Walker became Chair of the Department in 1975. His goal was to hire very able faculty and therefore add to the intellectual atmosphere. He hired Richard Palmer, a theorist, in 1977, and Henry Weller, a nuclear physicist, who came from the University of Florida, and who had received his Ph.D. at Duke. Eric Herbst, a theorist who studied molecular chemistry in space, was hired in 1981 and stayed with the department until 1993. He then moved to Ohio State University, having been persuaded to join Frank DeLucia who had left Duke to become the Chair of the Physics Department at Ohio State in 1989.

Robert Behringer, who had been an undergraduate as well as graduate student in Duke Physics and who had taught for several years at Wesleyan University, returned to Duke as an Assistant Professor in 1982 and joined the Low Temperature Physics group. By that time Henry Fairbank, whose research was in low temperature physics, had closed down his laboratory. Behringer started his own research group, inheriting some instrumentation from Fairbank’s research and did research in fluid dynamics, convection and turbulence at low temperatures. He published several joint publications with Horst Meyer. As Behringer’s career progressed, he turned his attention to experiments in granular flows.

Seog Oh joined the High Energy Physics Group as an Assistant Professor in 1984. George Rogosa, who had retired as a program officer in the Department of Energy, joined the department’s teaching staff as an Adjunct Professor and taught and nurtured with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Duke undergraduate students until his second retirement in 2008.

Many additional physicists, such as visiting and adjunct faculty, taught and did research in the department for a few years.

The High Energy Group: Experimental

Earle Fowler was recruited in 1963 to be head of a newly formed High Energy Group at Duke, following the departure of Martin M. Block for Northwestern University. His group was investigating strong and weak interactions at the Brookhaven AGS (Alternating Gradient Synchrotron). At Duke he hosted a number of conferences on hadron resonances. He also helped to establish the new university computer center in the Research Triangle.

Fowler was head of the group from 1963 to 1970 when he resigned to chair the Physics Department at Purdue University. Before Fowler left the Duke Department, he recruited William Walker from the University of Wisconsin Group. Walker arrived at Duke in 1970, bringing a strong research background in experimental high-energy physics, and great expertise in the cutting-edge technology of the time, bubble chambers. He had built several bubble chambers including a large one, under the auspices of Argonne National Laboratory and later used at Fermilab, which at the time was the largest accelerator lab in the world. This was the era of discovery of particle resonances that eventually led to the formulation of the quark model of hadrons. At Duke Walker built up a strong research group based upon the use of bubble chambers.

Lloyd Fortney arrived at Duke in 1962 and later two assistant professors, Dwight Carpenter and Carl Rose, were added to the group. Fortney built an elegant device for the automatic scanning of bubble chamber photographs. He stayed until his death in the late 1990’s, but the two other assistant professors left for other employment. In the early 1970’s James Loos, Alfred Goshaw and Peter Lucas were added to the high energy physics group. This team carried out a broad range of bubble chamber experiments at Argonne, Brookhaven and SLAC. These included major contributions to the exploration of particle resonances and the study of the properties of the recently discovered “charm” quark.

Loos and Lucas left Duke for positions at Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab. Goshaw remained and helped to expand the Duke research effort with hybrid experiments that used the bubble chamber as a visual target and electronic particle detectors to measure and identify the particles produced. These were carried out at Brookhaven, SLAC and CERN. During this period in 1984, Seog Oh joined the Duke high energy physics group. Goshaw, Oh and Walker organized the transition from bubble chamber-based research to high energy collider experiments at Fermilab (the CDF experiment) where they participated in the discovery of the top quark.

Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory

After World War II, a number of Duke Physics faculty members were doing research in the area of nuclear physics. Henry Newson realized that neither Duke, University of North Carolina, nor North Carolina State University had large enough faculties to have independent nuclear physics programs, so he suggested that they combine them. A single coordinated group of nuclear physicists from the three major universities in the Research Triangle area would be in a strong position to compete for the funding needed to purchase expensive equipment and to do their research. The three universities agreed to form a regional laboratory, to be called the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL). It was founded in 1966 and is located on the Duke University campus.

At the time that TUNL was being formed, the researchers were fortunate to acquire two pieces of equipment: the 15 Mev cyclotron injector, and the tandem Van De Graaff accelerator. Their combination would permit the maximum energy output of the tandem alone to be doubled at a modest cost. George Rogosa, a program officer at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which later became the Department of Energy (DOE), told the TUNL researchers that DOE would fund the $2.5 million cost of the 30 Mev machine, if Duke would provide a building to house it. Duke’s Provost agreed to fund the building of TUNL, a four story building, with a laboratory on the two-story ground level and offices and a library on the upper two levels. In addition, the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology gave some financial support.

The system built by Lloyd Fortney, of the high energy group, for scanning bubble chamber pictures was built around a general purpose computer. With Fortney and Fowler's help Russell Roberson installed a similar data acquisition computer in the nuclear laboratory. This system was one of the first such system in nuclear physics in the US. Several international groups visited TUNL and returned home to built and install similar computer systems in their own labs. Roberson and an NCSU colleague, Chris Gould, visited China and Saudi Arabia and helped install the same software and hardware for their computer system.

The composition of the Duke TUNL faculty stayed relatively stable for the next thirty years. Harold Lewis, who became the Dean of Arts and Sciences, as well as Chair of the Department and Professor of Physics, remained at TUNL until his retirement. Henry Newson, Director of TUNL, led the facility until his death in 1978. Edward Bilpuch, who became an Assistant Professor in 1963, was the Deputy Director of TUNL; he succeeded Newson as Director of TUNL until his retirement from this position in 1992. Russell Roberson took the Directorship from 1992 to 1996. He and Richard Walter, as well as Henry Weller, who joined TUNL in 1981, remained at TUNL until their retirements. The only additional faculty members, who joined the Duke-TUNL faculty group during this era, were Calvin Howell and Werner Tornow in 1986.

TUNL had very stable and generous funding by the Department of Energy (DOE), and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission. Dr. George Rogosa, the DOE Program Officer, praised the program for the collaborative research performed by the three universities’ personnel, as well as the training of graduate students from the three universities. Together the critical mass of faculty and students doing work under one roof created much excitement and good research.

Atomic and Molecular Physics

The microwave molecular spectroscopy group, started by Walter Gordy, was concerned with investigation of energy levels of gaseous molecules. Gordy had an extremely productive period in his research with microwave physics. He developed techniques that allowed him to go to millimeter wavelengths, which permitted him to investigate differences in energy levels and atomic states of various gases. This important work led Gordy to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1964. The group included Ph.D. students and a number of postdoctoral associates.

Gordy had a gift for scientific writing, and in this period he authored two major monographs. His book on rotational spectroscopy, published in 1970, was succeeded by a second edition in 1984, both written with an associate, Robert L. Cook. The second book was about electron spin resonance, finished just before his death in 1985.

The electron spin resonance studies of gamma-ray or ultraviolet-irradiated biological samples, ranging from calves horns to thymidine crystals, played a significant role in the field of radiation damage studies just at the time when the role and structure of DNA were becoming understood. The group’s contributions at the molecular level were fundamental to the field. Gordy was influential in helping the field of biophysics gain recognition in the physics community.

In the gas-phase work, ever higher frequencies were achieved, reaching 813 GHz, well into the sub-millimeter wavelengths or almost into the THz region, in 1970. A wide variety of molecular species were investigated, including free radicals. New techniques were explored, such as measuring Lamb dips.

One of the most successful students, Frank DeLucia, already introduced earlier, obtained his Ph.D. in 1969 for work on an HCN laser system in the millimeter wave region, became a postdoctoral associate and then a faculty member, and upon Gordy’s retirement in 1979 was a proud successor, smoothly providing further guidance to a second generation in the Microwave Laboratory. He served as Department Chair from 1984 to 1988. As previously mentioned, he left Duke in 1990 for the position of Physics Chair at The Ohio State University.

New technologies including cryogenic detectors were introduced that significantly increased the power and reliability of the experimental methods in the submillimeter wave spectral region. Programs in atmospheric and astronomical spectroscopy were started, along with supporting laboratory efforts in spectroscopy of gas phase molecules at cryogenic temperatures, the spectroscopy of ions in discharge plasmas, and studies of species with complex spectra, such as the internal rotor methanol.

The Funding of the microwave research was by the Army Research Office, Durham (AROD), the USAir Force (AFOSR) and the Office of Scientific Research (OSR), both for the gas phase and ESR programs.

Hugh Robinson, who had returned to the Department from Yale University as a tenured member of the faculty, led a research group involved with measurements of gyromagnetic ratios and hyperfine interactions in the ground states of hydrogen, deuterium, alkali metals, and ionic helium among others. The evacuated wall coated cells devised permitted high effective magnetic field homogeneity resulting in high-precision data. Application of this technique to ground-state hyperfine structure in Rubidium and Cesium resulted in high-accuracy atomic clock research. During his years at Duke, seven graduate students obtained their Ph.D. There were additional students, among them in particular Cyrus Rahman, who did not go for a degree, and who were an invaluable help to the program. Prof. Charles Johnson of NC State University was heavily involved in the research.

The many results were published in at least nine different journals, among them Physical Review Letters, Physical Review, IEEE Trans. Instrumentation and Measurement, IEEE J. Quantum Electronics etc. Among the funding agencies for this research program were the NSF, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research and Symmetricon for the clock research.

Theory: Mathematical Physics, High Energy and Nuclear Physics

The faculty engaged in theoretical research included Lawrence C. Biedenharn, Lawrence E. Evans and Moo-Young Han.

The research conducted by Biedenharn was concerned with many aspects of mathematical physics, among them the theory of Gauge groups, Angular Momentum, symmetries in quantum theory. Many visitors, some of them for terms of several months to a few years, collaborated with Biedenharn on numerous articles and books. One of them was Peter J. Brussaard (Utrecht) who coauthored a classic textbook on the excitation of nuclear states by electrostatic forces (Oxford U.P. 1965). Another was James Louck (Los Alamos National Laboratory) who coauthored with Biedenharn two monographs, Angular momentum in quantum physics and Racah-Wigner Algebra in Quantum Theory, published as part of the Encyclopedia of Mathematics and its Applications (Addison-Wesley, 1981). With Max Lohe (Australia) he published a book on Quantum Group Symmetry and q-Tensor Algebra (World Scientific, 1995). Further visitors and collaborators were Norbert Straumann (Zurich), Michael Danos (NIST, Gaithersburg), Walter Greiner (Frankfurt), and Yashir Dothan (Soreq, Israel). There was also collaboration over many years with Hendrik Van Dam, a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Furthermore, Biedenharn was co-editor, with Hendrik Van Dam, of the Journal of Mathematical Physics from 1985 until his retirement in 1993.

Before coming to Duke in 1963, Evans investigated formal aspects of quantum electrodynamics, alone and in collaboration with T. Fulton, G. Feldman and P.T. Matthews. This work addressed issues of gauge invariance of the renormalization program, among other things. Another paper approached the question of the relative intrinsic parities of the sigma and lambda particles and how this might be determined using electromagnetic decays; subsequent experiments used this analysis to establish that the sigma and lambda indeed have the same parity, as required by SU(3) symmetry. Work on implications of form factors in strong interaction decays included a PhD thesis by Arnold Lopez-Cepero. A pair of papers showing mass differences between charged and neutral mesons could be related by general arguments involved collaboration with N. Straumann, C. Cook and N.Lipschutz. Later, in collaboration with the Duke experimental particle physics group, Evans contributed an analysis of electromagnetic processes in reactions that created neutral pions. The articles by Evans and collaborators were published in Physical Review and Nuclear Physics.

M-Y.Han’s research specialty is in symmetry principles of elementary particle physics. Han and Y. Nambu are credited for having first introduced the SU(3) symmetry for quarks, later called the color symmetry of the Standard model. After Han’s appointment at Duke as an assistant professor, there was collaboration with Biedenharn in about twelve articles on various mathematical physics topics. However after his promotion to tenure, Han’s interests returned to further developments of symmetry among quarks under the new SU(3) group, later renamed the color SU(3) with corresponding color changes for the quarks. The gauge field theory was then dubbed quantum chromodynamics, QCD. During the period of 1974-76, Han and Nambu co-authored two more papers dealing with the subject of quarks, gluons and QCD. In addition to his research, Han has been the author of several monographs of physics, aimed at a non specialized readership.

Low Temperature Physics

The experimental research in low temperature physics directed by Horst Meyer used a number of different methods such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), calorimetry, acoustic velocity and attenuation, high-resolution density measurements in fluid helium, pressure measurements with a very sensitive strain gauge, high-resolution viscosity and thermal conductivity measurements. The research was directed towards the following areas:

  1. Study of the properties of solid 3He, 4He, H2 and D2.
  2. Investigations of the magnetic static and dynamic properties in rare earth iron garnets,
  3. Calorimetric study of some metals near their superconducting transition, of rare earth gallium garnets.
  4. Equation of State, calorimetric, acoustic and other dynamic properties of 3He and of 3He-4He mixtures near the liquid-vapor critical point.

Among the most notable results achieved were

  • The determination of the exchange coupling strength between neighboring spins in solid 3He, permitting an estimation of the nuclear ordering transition in solid 3He as a function of density. This transition was found several years later at Cornell University.
  • The discovery of quantum diffusion in dilute mixtures of ortho H2 (with rotational angular momentum J=1) in para H2 (with J=0). The discovery was made by observing via NMR the clustering of isolated J=1 molecules into J=1 pairs, which have a different NMR spectrum. The characteristic time constant for this clustering was found to pass over a maximum at 0.3 K and decrease sharply with decreasing temperature, indicating tendency towards ballistic motion. This new effect was also detected by measuring the time variation of the pressure inside the H2 sample.
  • The determination of the critical exponents in 3He near the liquid-vapor critical point from measurements mentioned above.

The research was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research. During the period from 1963 to 1985, 30 graduate students in this group obtained their PhDs.

Several postdoctoral associates, who introduced new experimental techniques, into the program made a profound impact on Meyer’s group. They were Earle Hunt, René Wanner, Moses H.W. Chan and Insuk Yu. The theorist A. Brooks Harris, Meyer’s first P.hD. student during his period at Harvard, joined the group and was appointed an instructor. The long-term and a very productive collaboration with him on various topics lasted well beyond Harris’ departure for the University of Pennsylvania.

A second Low Temperature group started with the arrival of Henry Fairbank in 1963, who brought from Yale University several of his graduate students and equipment. Fairbank continued his research on sound properties in liquid and solid 4He and 3He. The arrival of the theorist Robert Guyer as a postdoctoral associate was an important asset to Fairbank’s group. Guyer led the design and execution of the successful search to observe second sound in solid 4He. High precision measurements of the thermal conductivity of solid 4He and 3He were carried out by Dewey Lawson, a graduate student. After completing his Ph.D. in 1970 and two fruitful postdoctoral years at Cornell University, he returned to Duke in 1972 as postdoctoral associate and assistant professor to continue work in Fairbank’s group. Guyer, who had been promoted to assistant professor, published several articles with members of both Fairbank’s and Meyer’s groups. He left in 1970 for a tenured position at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. Unfortunately Fairbank’s research program came to an end by 1980, when external funding was discontinued. During the program’s lifetime, 7 graduate students received their Ph.Ds.

In 1982 Robert P. Behringer, who had obtained his Ph.D. at Duke in 1975 and was on the faculty at Wesleyan University, returned to Duke and brought with him a graduate student. He moved into the laboratory space of Fairbank and started his low temperature research, attracting several new graduate students, among them the first student from China, Hong Gao, who received a special university fellowship. Experiments in the Behringer group included convection and other dynamic experiments in liquid helium. He also collaborated with Meyer on research leading to several publications. In the late eighties, Behringer got involved with granular flow experiments, which later became his main interest and attracted wide attention.

Theory: Condensed Matter Physics

The theorists in condensed matter physics during the period of 1963 to 1986 included Harris and Guyer, mentioned earlier, John Sykes whose interest was in liquid 3He, Eberhard Riedel, whose research was in critical phenomena, Richard G. Palmer with interest among others in glasses, spin glasses and neural networks, and Zvi Friedman, who worked on statistical mechanics, mostly critical phenomena, but who left after two years for Israel. There was substantial interaction between these theorists and the experimentalists. The collaboration of Guyer with the group of Henry Fairbank was mentioned earlier. A joint publication between Riedel, Behringer and Meyer on tricritical scaling in 3He-4He mixtures appeared in 1976. Both Guyer’s and Riedel’s departure from Duke to tenured positions in larger departments were a substantial loss to the Duke Physics research program.

Undergraduate Education

At this time, the Sputnik era mentality was dominant among science students. Although on the Duke campus, many students’ thoughts were occupied with the social issues of integration and the Vietnam War, the physics majors, usually about 10 students in each class, were more focused on the race for American technological superiority. Students majoring in physics usually wanted to continue their physics education at the graduate level. Those who did not have this interest were often discouraged from being physics majors. Many years later, beliefs changed and a physics undergraduate education, particularly the analytic skills developed, was seen as valuable training to be used in a variety of other fields.

At Duke, undergraduate courses were initially different and separate from courses open to graduate students. During the 1970’s the administration saw the advantage of offering some courses which were open to both advanced undergraduates and to graduate students. Courses were renumbered to achieve a new category --- those open to both groups.

In the early 1960's there were two introductory survey courses. One was taken mainly by students in nursing and others seeking to satisfy a science requirement; it was a non-calculus course. When the nursing school stopped requiring physics the enrollment dwindled and the course was eventually dropped. In its place, courses were developed for students wishing to satisfy a science requirement, such as the courses in astronomy and in physics treated historically.

The other survey course, taught fall-spring only until 1964, was a calculus based introduction, taken by all students needing such a course; these included engineering students, pre-med students, and science majors. A special section was created for prospective physics majors. At the request of the engineering school, a spring-fall version was added so the engineering students could start physics in the spring of their first year. Later the course was renumbered to distinguish it from the version for physics majors. But until around 1990 the course for premeds and other science majors was much the same as that for engineers. The teaching format was changed around 1970 from one with large lectures and recitation sections to one with smaller individual sections of about 50. Given the small size of the tenure-track faculty, much of the teaching in these smaller courses had to be done by adjunct faculty and post-doctoral associates; this caused wide variability in experience and skill of the instructors, and uneven standards between the courses. In the 1980's the format was changed back to large lectures. 

In the early 1960’s the electronics laboratory was developed to accompany undergraduate students’ coursework in electronics. Lloyd Fortney, who was first hired as a postdoctoral associate, and then as a faculty member, was in charge of the lab’s development since the late seventies until his death in 1998. The first lab consisted of vacuum tube technology. Over the years, there was a transition from vacuum tubes to integrated circuits.

Also, beginning in the 1960’s, Horst Meyer took the lead in setting up the Advanced Laboratory for junior and senior physics majors. This Laboratory, which was housed in the subbasement on one side of the Physics Building, consisted of a number of small rooms, each housing one or more experiments. Hugh Robinson set up one optical experiment in the Advanced Laboratory. Each student was required to take two semesters of the Laboratory course. Keeping records in a lab-book was mandatory, and grades were based on reports as well as on the lab-book. Students also could take one semester of undergraduate research, in which they could build an experiment. Horst Meyer always taught this course and was assisted by his graduate students who were the course Teaching Assistants, as well as Ed Morgan, who as a lab technician, worked with the students until his retirement. This teaching arrangement worked very well and continued well beyond the 1963 to 1985 period.

Graduate Education

Nationwide, in the 1960’s, there was an expansion of graduate student enrollments. All graduate students in Physics at Duke received support through Fellowships, Teaching Assistantships, or were paid as Research Assistants from Research grants, such as from the National Science Foundation.

The overwhelming majority of Duke Physics’ graduate students during this period were white males, which mirrored the population in Physics programs throughout the United States. Of the 196 students who received Ph.Ds in Physics at Duke, 184 were white males. Of the 72 students who received Masters’ degrees, 57 were white males. Since very few women majored in Physics at the undergraduate level, there were few in the graduate applicant pool. This is similar to other Physics Departments.

In 1983, toward the end of the period we are covering here, the “China-U.S. Physics Examination and Application (CUSPEA) program began bringing 100 of the brightest students from mainland China to American universities to study Physics. The Duke Physics graduate admissions committee examined the records of these 100 students and made offers to some of them to join our graduate program. Horst Meyer and Robert Behringer were two of the first faculty members to have these students join their research groups. Horst Meyer convinced President Terry Sanford to offer two university fellowships to the first two Chinese students. Other research groups benefited in subsequent years when Chinese students came to study with them. The CUSPEA program ended in 1989. Subsequently, Chinese students wishing to study in the United States made their own applications for graduate study and started coming to the United States in increasing numbers.

Recruitment of students was often an informal process, with faculty members at other institutions recommending that their students join a research group at Duke. One example is Henry Weller who came because a faculty member in his undergraduate program at Rutgers suggested he come to Duke to study nuclear physics. He felt that the general attitude of the faculty and chair was to take good care of graduate students, to help them progress toward their degree.

In the seventies, graduate students were required to have reading ability in a foreign language and had to take a written test. This requirement was eventually removed.

Buildings and Facilities

A scientific research operation is an expensive undertaking. To continue having excellent science departments, universities have to invest in up to date science laboratory and research space. The Physics research groups at Duke were well funded and didn’t have to depend as much on Duke as would have been the case had not the outside sources of funding been so good. Duke built the Physics Building in the late 1940’s and NSF gave the department money to enlarge the Physics Building in the mid 1960’s. This gave the department space to provide experimental labs for the various research groups.

During this same time period, the mid 1960’s, the TUNL Building was constructed in back of the Physics Building, as discussed above, with funding from Duke University and a grant from the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology.

The Research Triangle Park

The Research Triangle Park (RTP) was founded in January 1959 by a committee of government, university, and business leaders as a model for research, innovation, and economic development. The original intent was to improve the economic climate of the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill area by providing employment opportunities for the graduates of the local universities. Land (originally 4,400 acres) was provided, hoping to attract research oriented companies to the area which could benefit from the highly educated workforce, as well as the proximity to the local universities.

Marcus Hobbs, who was a chemist, Dean of the Graduate School, and Provost at Duke, was one of the Park’s visionary architects. He, working along with others, persuaded companies to locate their research facilities in the new park.

Computers were just being developed and commercialized. The Triangle Universities Computer Center, (TUCC), a large IBM computer was located centrally in the newly formed Research Triangle Park. The computer was available to students and faculty in the Triangle area and was the first opportunity for local university faculty, students and researcher staffs to have computer-assisted analyses of their data. Both Earle Fowler and Russell Roberson served as Board Members of the Triangle Universities Computer Center in those early days.



  • Horst Meyer provided and gathered much of the information for this essay. The assistance of Lawrence E. Evans, and Edward Bilpuch is very much appreciated. If you have any corrections or additions, please contact maxine@phy.duke.edu.