APS News

Committee Picks First Five Historic Sites

The APS Historic Sites Committee has announced its first five picks for important physics history sites in the United States.

Following an earlier initiative of the Forum on History of Physics (see APS News, December 2002), the APS Executive Board appointed the committee last fall. It consists of John Rigden (Washington University, St. Louis), who serves as Chair, and Mildred Dresselhaus (MIT), Sidney Drell (SLAC), Gerald Holton (Harvard), and Gordon Baym (U.of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). Spencer Weart of the American Institute of Physic’s History Center, and Alan Chodos of APS act as committee advisors.

The goal of the historic sites initiative is described in a memo to the Executive Board by Rigden on behalf of the committee: "The purpose of the Historic Sites initiative is to raise public awareness of physics. We believe that unexpected encounters with an attractive plaque that identifies an important and interesting event in the history of physics will be an effective way of getting physics before the general public. Also, we recognize the initiative will benefit physicists by increasing their own awareness of important past scientific advances, hence of their membership in the historic evolution of their profession."

The committee decided, for its first selections, to take a chronological approach and concentrate on older sites with incontrovertible significance. The first five sites were specifically chosen in 2005 as part of the celebration of the World Year of Physics. They are:

  • Case Western Reserve University and the Michelson-Morley Experiment
  • Johns Hopkins University and Henry Rowland
  • Philadelphia and Ben Franklin
  • Washington University and Arthur Compton
  • Yale University and J. Willard Gibbs.

On sites where plaques already exist, the APS will place a small plaque identifying the site as being in the APS registry of historic physics sites. At sites where there is no existing commemoration, a larger plaque will describe in more detail the reason why the site has historical significance.

Later this year, the APS will launch a historic sites web page that will serve two purposes: first, to house the online registry of the sites already chosen, and second, to provide a mechanism for members of the physics community to nominate sites that they wish the committee to consider.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff