Housed on a low, two-shelf bookcase in the fourth floor conference room of the American Physical Society is a collection of inconspicuous green books. They occupy relatively little space and are mostly ignored by the people who use the conference room. They appear to be no more than decoration, adding color to the otherwise plain wooden shelves.
However within the pages of these archived volumes of the Bulletin of The American Physical Society (BAPS) is an enormous amount of scientific, political, cultural and historical information. Selecting several volumes at random can uncover such interesting and enlightening facts as these:
The first meeting of the Society was held in Fayerweather Hall, Columbia University, New York City, on Saturday, May 20, 1899. At this meeting, the motion was approved to formally organize the Physical Society with the following bylaws: that the election of members be by the Council; that there be four regular meetings annually; that the annual fee be five dollars; and that a regular bulletin be published.
The November 30-December 1, 1923 meeting in Chicago, Illinois contained 47 abstracts. The keynote address was given by Niels Bohr on "The Quantum Theory of Atoms with Several Electrons."
The annual dues for APS fellows in 1924 were $12; member dues were $9.
The registration fee for the 1936 annual meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was $1.
Among the six Honorary Members of the APS in February 1937 were Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, and Max Planck.
Published seven times per year, the subscription rate for BAPS in 1937 was $5 per year; $1 each for single copies. This rate remained unchanged for 31 years, until 1968, when the subscription fee was raised to $12 per year and $2 for back issues.
In November 1943, the staff of the APS and AIP eagerly awaited the opening of their new offices on East 45th Street in New York City, in a "stately and commodious building, formerly a private house of a magnificence now rare." The purchase price was $70,000, and the grand opening was planned for January 1944, "if the exceptional obstacles of wartime [could] be overcome."
"The Physics of the Solid State" was the theme of the 1947 meeting in Montreal, Canada. The largest percentage of contributed papers was dedicated to solid state physics, with another large percentage pertaining to nuclear physics research.
A banquet ticket at the 1951 annual meeting cost $5. The after-dinner speaker was J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Due to member pressure in 1968, the council voted on a recommendation to move the 1970 annual meeting from Chicago to protest events that occurred during the Democratic National Convention that year. While agreed to be well-motivated, the motion was defeated because it requested "a political protest in an area not related to physics."
The rate for a single room at New York City's Hilton Hotel for the 1969 Joint Meeting was $16. But you could get a single room at the YMCA for only $3.50 a night.
At the 1971 business meeting of the APS in New York, two important motions were passed. One called for a public plea to the U.S. President not to use nuclear weapons or devices in the Vietnam War, and recommended that APS members not engage in research activities that directly contributed to the commission of war crimes in Vietnam. The second charged APS members "with the duty of racial and sexual integration of their institutions" to help overcome the overwhelmingly white male dominance in the physics community.
An abstract in the program for the 1984 Joint APS/AAPT meeting in San Antonio, Texas noted that microcomputers "were just beginning to be used to gather and store data" in undergraduate physics labs.
As we pause during the APS Centennial Celebration to consider the contributions that physics has made to society, we should also consider the effect that society has had on the evolution of physics.
Consider the closing of Henry Rowland's presidential address, delivered at the second APS meeting on October 28, 1899: "Let us hold our heads high with a pure conscience while we seek the truth, and may the APS do its share now and in generations yet to come in trying to unravel the great problem of the constitution and laws of the universe." Dr. Rowland's words are as pivotal today as they were 100 years ago.
Additional highlights of the history of the APS, BAPS, and its research journals will be displayed in an exhibit at the Centennial Meeting in March. Stop by and browse through 100 years of world history — with a scientific twist.