Department History

The content of this page is based on the article by Professors Emeritus Clarke and Sundaresan, published in "Physics in Canada, Vol 59, no. 1, January-February, 2003". Both Prof. Clarke and Prof. Sundaresan served as Chairs of the Department of Physics.

Additional information about the history of the Department of Physics at Carleton University can also be found on the Foucault Pendulum page.

The Department was formed as an independent academic unit very early in the development of Carleton. The first mention of Science Departments in the Calendar was in 1949 with the first Honours degrees in Science being granted in 1950. The Department initially consisted of Dr. Ross Love and the first chairman, Dr. Allan Munn. At that time, the Department was located in the second floor of the Tory Building, that being the first building on the new Rideau Campus. In 1966 the Department moved into its present building, sharing the facilities with the Department of Mathematics and the workshop that was to become the Science Technology Centre. The telescope was installed on the roof of the laboratory wing in the late '70s (Kessler). The next spatial expansion was into the new wing, including the part now known as the INCO Centre, which was occupied in 1993.

The present building takes its name from one of Canada's greatest physicists, Dr. Gerhard Herzberg, who in 1971 won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the spectroscopy of certain small molecules of interest in cosmology. Dr. Herzberg became a Visiting Professor in the Physics and Chemistry Departments, and in 1972 he agreed to let the building be named after him. A lecture series of the Faculty of Science has also been named after him.

Department Chairs

  • Allan Munn (1952 - 1961) (leave 1954-55, 1960-61) *
  • G. Ross Love (1954 - 1955, 1960-61)*
  • John Hart (1961 - 1962, 1963 - 64) *
  • E.P. Hincks (1964 - 1972) *
  • R.L. Clarke (1972 - 1978)*
  • M.K. Sundaresan (1978 - 1983)
  • L.A. Copley (1983 - 1986)
  • M.K. Sundaresan (1986 - 1987)
  • J.E. Hardy (1987 - 1990)
  • P.J.S. Watson (1990 - 1996)
  • J.C. Armitage (1996 - 2002)
  • Pat Kalyniak (2002 - 2005)
  • Paul Johns (2005 - 2008)
  • Pat Kalyniak (2008 - 2010)
  • Steve Godfrey (2010 - 2013)
  • Gerald Oakham (2013 - 2016)
  • Alain Bellerive (2016 - 2019)
  • Heather Logan (2019 - 2020)
  • Thomas Gregoire (2020 - present)

* deceased

Development of the Department

The department, like the other departments of the present Faculty of Science, grew largely in the early sixties and seventies into its present form with its strong involvement in research in high energy physics and medical physics. It is interesting to trace the history of this growth. In the early sixties, research in the department was confined mainly to studying the properties of dielectrics at high temperatures, a subject in which the first M.Sc. (1960) and Ph.D. (1964) degrees were awarded.

In 1963, the department sponsored an extension course in elementary particle physics which was taught by a two member team consisting of M.K. Sundaresan together with E. P. Hincks of the Cosmic Rays and High Energy Physics Division of the National Research Council. This was well received and paved the way for the introduction of new graduate courses in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, field theory and particle physics. In 1964 Hincks was persuaded to accept the position of Chair of the physics department and he moved the research program in the direction of high energy physics.

After his appointment, Hincks became heavily involved in studies of muonic atoms, the data being obtained at the University of Chicago Cyclotron in collaboration with H. L. Anderson of that institution. The first appointments of faculty members in the field of particle physics occurred in the department in this period. At the same time, Hincks was able to persuade the National Research Council to enlarge its high energy physics section by adding scientists there and he coordinated the activities of the two institutions for a number of years.

In the early to late seventies, further collaborations were established to do research at the University of California at Berkeley, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the National Accelerator Laboratory at Batavia, Illinois (now called the Fermilab). Some of these resulted in theses for graduate students and helped establish the reputation of Carleton as a place where high energy physics research is done.

In about 1966, a collaborative effort with the University of Ottawa in low energy nuclear physics was started. A 3 MV accelerator, the Dynamitron, was purchased and installed at the U of O. R.L. Clarke joined the department from the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories to lead this work. It lasted until about 1973, when the interests of the two Departments lead away from low energy nuclear physics.

During this period there were other activities, some terminated, some continuing. In the early 70's R.D. Barton and his students utilized the then very new precision timing devices to test the special theory of relativity by velocity of light in one direction - the classic test measured the two way velocity. T.J.S. Cole developed a high precision mass spectrometer which has been used for dating of ancient rocks by the potassium-argon ratio. That work has been carried on by the Department of Earth Sciences. Clarke brought from Chalk River a device for density measurement based on the Compton scattering of gamma rays. It was used for body imaging (tomography) and bone density measurement - with an obvious application, the detection of osteoporosis. This activity probably heralded the subsequent growth of medical physics in the department as an offshoot of applied nuclear physics.

In the mid seventies, the NRC made a decision to slowly phase out its high energy physics activities. Since these activities were essential for the health of the department, efforts were successfully made by the department and the University to have the high energy physics group of NRC moved to Carleton. This arrangement lasted for a number of years until the early nineties. At that time the NRC decided to transfer all of its high energy physics section to Carleton under a special arrangement with the University. The Centre for Research in Particle Physics (CRPP) was created for this purpose.

Highlights of the activities of the combined Carleton-NRC (and now the CRPP) group include the very successful experiments on exotic (muonic) atoms, tests of weak interaction theories, contributions to some experiments at the Argonne and Fermilab near Chicago, SLAC at Stanford, and TRIUMF (UBC), the ARGUS collaboration in DESY, Hamburg, CLEO collaboration at Cornell, and the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). A major contribution to the OPAL experiment at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) was made by the Carleton group led by R.K. Carnegie and augmented by research scientists from the Institute for Particle Physics. Equipment for OPAL was built at the Science Technology Centre over several years from 1982 - 1989. The experiment is still operating well in 1997 and it is anticipated that it will continue running into the next millennium. It has generated a large number of publications and together with the ARGUS involvement helped the Carleton group win second place overall among Canadian physics departments in terms of the number of citations per published paper.

A small but active group in theoretical physics has also been built up at Carleton which specializes in particle physics phenomenology. There are four faculty in the group at present; however their numbers fluctuate due to their admirable administrative capabilities. They seem to provide many of the Departmental Chairs, Deans of Science and Vice-Presidents.

In the mid-eighties, the department decided to branch into a second major research area. Given the activities of Bob Clarke mentioned earlier, the natural selection was Medical Physics. Over the years, the program blossomed, and by 2011, the department boasted  five Medical Physics faculty and a large contingent of Medical Physics graduate students.  Although the Medical Physics group started out with only three faculty, they added to the considerable local expertise which in turn formed the Ottawa based research unit called the Ottawa Medical Physics Institute (OMPI).

In 2011, there were  30 OMPI scientist, 15 of which hold Adjunct Professor appointments at Carleton University. Their research is conducted at the NRC, Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre, Ottawa Hospital, A.E.C.L., A.E.C.B. and Health Canada. Their interests span Medical Physics including imaging, radiation standards, cancer radiotherapy, and biophysics. In 2005 , the on-campus research involved improvements in X-ray imaging (P.C. Johns), cancer treatment using the heating effects of ultrasound (R.L. Clarke and B.J. Jarosz), and a new (at the time) major initiative, the Carleton Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility comprising a small bore M.R.I. system. (G. Santyr)

Conferences and Distinctions

The first conference hosted by the Department was organized by the Chairman, Prof. E.P. Hincks, in 1966 on the topic of Muonic Atoms, marking the entry of the Department into the field of elementary particle physics. The Department has since been host to the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Physicists in 1972 (Clarke), and the annual Congress of the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists and the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine (Johns), held with the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society, in 1993. In 1992 the Department was host for the 3rd conference on 'Beyond the Standard Model' (Godfrey, Kalyniak). In May 1987 there was a 'National Conference: Canada and the SSC', on the Canadian contribution to the (then proposed) Superconducting Super Cyclotron (SSC). (Ogg)

The Department has nominated a distinguished share of the honourary degrees awarded by the University, including:

  • Lloyd G. Elliott (Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories)
  • Gerhard Herzberg (National Research Council)
  • J. Lorne Gray (Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories)
  • Harold E. Johns (Ontario Cancer Institute)
  • Edward P. Hincks (Carleton)
  • Erich Vogt (TRIUMF)
  • Clifford K. Hargrove (Carleton/CRPP)
  • Richard Taylor (SLAC)

The Present

The Department has come a long way from its unexceptional beginnings to being a vibrant participant in the fore-front of research in Particle Physics worthy of international recognition, and in Medical Physics, where the Department has become a major player among graduate schools in Canada.

 The characteristics of the Department have evolved over the years, from a predominately undergraduate teaching institution to one in which undergraduate teaching is combined with strongly focused graduate teaching and research. As of this writing, it is continuing to evolve, with a move to strengthen undergraduate teaching through a co-op program at the Honours level, and a program in Modern Technology at the M.Sc. level. Both are responses to the increasing emphasis of Carleton toward the high technology developments in the Ottawa area. Our international connections have increased in depth and strength through our involvement in Particle Physics. Our involvement with the community is, in some measure, helped by the way in which the Medical Physics program has developed.

In the present era of government cutbacks of funding to universities, Carleton has been able to preserve the areas of excellence it has striven so hard to create. The Physics Department has contributed its share of innovations in teaching and research training to continue this tradition, and will continue, it is to be hoped, for many years to come.

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