Physics

Links to graduates' home pages

Dr. Robert H. Romer, '52
Mr. Rexford Wilson, '53
Dr. Paul L. Penfield, '55
Dr. Jan Beyea, '61
Dr. Duane A. Bailey, '82
Dr. David Hall, '91
Mr. Nathaniel Murphy, '00

 

Information about other graduates' activities

 

Dr. Seymore Goldwasser, '35

I would like to state that my thinking processes in professional life were honed by my three math courses, my three physics courses and my 5 chemistry courses which allowed me to obtain my Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at Princeton in '39 after serving a year at Amherst doing research for Professor R.A. Beebe under a National Research Council Grant. At the time I attended Princeton, I was the only one with a B.A.; my classmates all had their M.S. degrees and obviously had had more advanced grounding in science than I. The fact that I completed my Ph.D. in the then usual three years speaks to the excellence of my Amherst training.
 

Mr. Frederick G. Baily, '50

My three years in Physics and Mathematics at Amherst provided a solid basis for the engineering programs at MIT and Caltech which followed my departure from Amherst.

I went to work for General Electric in Schenectady in 1951 with an assignment in the General Engineering Laboratory developing air turbines for local-power generation for the Boeing B-52. The bulk of my GE career was spent in the large steam turbine business in Schenectady in the design, development and application of fossil-fuel and nuclear units for utility power generation. As manager of Application Engineering I have had the opportunity to write a large number of technical articles and make numerous customer presentations around the world. My Amherst liberal education has proven very useful in these communication activities.

A short break was taken in the mid-1950's for a tour of duty with the US Navy, as chief engineer of a destroyer. I am retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

I retired from GE in 1994, but am presently working as a consultant at GE on a special project for a utility in Japan. I am available for interesting consulting opportunities elsewhere!

 
 

Mr. David Marsh, '50

Instead of studying for a masters I opted for RCA Institutes for two years, afterwards joining RCA's fledgling semiconductor development work within its tube division. Eight years later I joined IBM where I held various engineering and management positions, retiring in 1987.

My plan at first, as an undergraduate, had been to go to Amherst for three years and then go to MIT for two which would enable me to earn another bachelor's degree from Tech. That was not to be though. I was enjoying life at Amherst too much to want to leave after my junior year. That enjoyment translated into inadequate grades to make it to Tech. Also, I had a hearing handicap which surgery made worse not better as had been hoped. Belatedly, I began using a hearing aid-something I came to realize I should have done years earlier. But vanity won out over judgement!

I felt that Amherst's course content would have been more interesting had theory been tied to practice more, not just in the lab but "hands on" field trips too. (Like the present day EMR measurements reported in a recent issue of AMHERST.) I give high marks to the quality of instruction we had. My advice to all undergrads is still taking shape, but here goes anyway. Some will say of what follows that it is elementary or just common sense. Yet these are verities for me and maybe they'll help some.

1. Some of us get our bearings early on and some of us take longer to discern what's best for us. It can be useful to work for one or two semesters before deciding on what post graduate program to pursue and where.

2. When something isn't understood in a course or assignment, deal with it energetically and promptly with another person or your professor. Doing so is easier than falling behind and then trying to catch up. Procrastination can be one's enemy.

3. It's a difficult, competitive workplace out there. As a particular profession or career appeals to you find out what skills are needed. Give first priority to sharpening a skill or gaining new knowledge each day. However, don't think you need to know all there is to know about a new job before looking into it. On-the-job training can be a valuable teacher too. And finding a mentor never hurt!

 
 

Dr. J. Peter Toennies, '52

I am Director at a Max-Planck-Institute in Gottingen with a joint appointment at the Universities of Gottingen and Bonn. My group works on fundamental research pertaining to molecular interactions between atoms, ions and molecules in the gasphase, in a liquid helium droplet and on/with solid surfaces.

I am very much convinced that Amherst had a big impact on my career. I was especially inspired by the lectures of Professor David C. Grahame in the Chemistry Department who in his junior year Physical Chemistry course aroused my interest in atoms and molecules and processes at surfaces. Grahame also introduced me to Quantum Mechanics. I did my honors research with Bill Fairbank on microwave absorption in paramagnetic crystals. He was also an inspiring teacher. The close contact which we had with excellent teachers and researchers was I'm sure very important in guiding me towards a career in fundamental research.

 
 

Dr. John D. Stackpole, '57

After Amherst I went on to MIT for an MS and Ph.D. (1964) in Meteorology. Needless to say, my intense Physics background at Amherst stood by me there and subsequently.

After MIT, I went to the National Weather Service (then Weather Bureau) and found the world's best job in Research and Development in Numerical Weather Prediction at the National Meteorological Center. So I stayed there for 30 years. For the last few years it was no longer the world's best job, as I became a Supervisor/Manager and had to do stuff (some of the time) that had little to do with Meteorology or Physics. But I contend my humanities background from Amherst paid off there.

After retiring, in 1994, I have since set myself up as a Professional Parliamentarian (expert on Robert's Rules of Order and the like) which, again, involves more humanities than physics, but is a fine part time second career in Consulting.

 
 

Dr. Thomas B. Greenslade, Jr., '59

Thomas Greenslade received his Ph.D. in physics at Rutgers in 1965 and has been on the physics faculty at Kenyon College since 1964. He has taught a wide range of physics courses over the years. His primary research interest lies in nineteenth century physics apparatus, but a number of his 150 publications deal with visual aids, lecture and laboratory apparatus and experiments, and the history of photography. He has received a Distinguished Service Citation from the American Association of Physics Teachers.
 
 

Dr. Robert A. Knox, '64

I received a Ph.D. from MIT in Physical Oceanography in 1971. I have had a satisfying career as a researcher in physical oceanography, with chances to think up, argue for, pursue funding for, and carry out my own projects. These have been mostly in the realm of observing the large-scale ocean circulation, and particularly the peculiar circulations that arise near the equator, because of the vanishing of the vertical component of the earth's rotation there.

I would not trade my Amherst education, nor the physics part of it, for anything. My years at Amherst constitute a very fundamental aspect of the person I have become, as is true for most alumni. The specific preparation in physics and mathematics enabled me to go into graduate programs of the caliber of physics at UC Berkeley and then oceanography at MIT. The Amherst imparted habit of thinking like a scientist has stood me in very good stead throughout, and even during the last few years, when my "job description" has not been so purely research-oriented. I am now Associate Director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, responsible for our fleet of research ships and the technical support groups on them. SIO is a major graduate/research component of a large, first-rank research university, but I remain convinced that such institutions have no lock on providing first-rate undergraduate science education. I do not for a minute wish I had my undergraduate years to do over again at Berkeley, MIT or UCSD.

 
 

Dr. Julian Blake, '66

I majored in physics at Amherst because I wanted to teach. Though I got an MAT at Harvard and taught a little, I ended up returning to Harvard for a Ph.D. and making semiconductor processing equipment for Eaton Corporation. Most recently I am heading the design of an ion implanter for active matrix flat panel displays. I've worked with a lot of very sharp and well educated physicists and engineers. Most of them can't explain anything to someone in another field, and do not even feel such an activity would be useful. The thing I am proudest of taking from Amherst is the ability and desire to include poets as well as physicists in my work.

 
 

Dr. Viktor K. Decyk, '70

Viktor Decyk received his Ph.D. in 1977 in physics from UCLA. He is a Research Physicist and Adjunct Professor at the Physics Department at UCLA, where he has been since 1977. In addition, he is a Principle Institute Scientist at the Institute of Plasma and Fusion Research at UCLA. He is also a member of the Technical Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA. (See also the "Numerical Tokamak Project" where much of Dr. Decyk's work is accessible.)
 
 

Mr. John C. Gulla, '79

I am the Associate Headmaster/Head of the Upper School at Riverdale Country School in New York City. I taught mathematics and physics for several years and am currently teaching history of science. My experience as a physics major was enormously influential. Profs. Towne, Gordon, Romer and Benson were memorable and the intellectual training physics provided is a lasting source of satisfaction both personally and professionally. Late night hours in Merrill and the view of the fields and of the Holyoke Range from the offices offered to majors call up waves of nostaglia.
 
 

Dr. Gregory Tait, '82

I have obtained MS and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering, as well as worked in industry, government, and academia. I would highly recommend engineering as a career path, because, even in this time of down-sizing, job opportunities remain strong. I have enjoyed engineering science and design, and have participated in many interesting projects. These projects have included designing, developing, and building the satellite communications network for the USA Today newspaper. I also spent over 8 years as a research electronics engineer for the Naval Research Lab in Washington, DC, working on solid-state devices for microwave and millimeter-wave circuits. Currently I'm an assistant professor of electrical engineering and a research scientist at the Photonics Research Center, Dept. of the Army, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Here at West Point, I am able to teach as well as conduct research in pulsed lasers and ultra-fast electronics.

At no time was the transition to electrical engineering difficult, given the preparation I obtained from the Physics curriculum at Amherst. Although I lacked some specific EE course work in graduate school, the math and physics background I possessed served me well. Graduate schools in engineering recognize the excellent potential of physical science students, and usually admit them without restriction. During your studies at Amherst, concentrate on understanding physical principles and learning mathematical techniques. Also, become actively involved with laboratory work and experimental methods.

 
 

Mr. Tom Clement, '83

I've been working for Hewlett Packard for the past eight years in a variety of financial, operational, and management positions. I'm currently a member of a corporate project to implement a new internal "order fulfillment" (i.e., producing proposals, taking orders, procuring the proper materials and then manufacturing product to meet order demand, delivery, invoicing, etc.) system, with this implementation to begin next November. This has been a very exciting (though at times tiring) project, with considerable travel and the inevitable pressured deadlines. I have managed to visit Europe a few times due to this project, was in Japan for a week last year, and will spend two weeks this Decemeber visiting customers in Hong Kong and Australia.
 
 

Dr. Michael Sernyak, '83

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Psychiatry at Yale University. My clinical duties include being the Unit Chief of an 18 bed inpatient psychiatric unit at the Connecticut Mental Center. My research areas of interest include the treatment of bipolar disorder and the use of novel neuroleptics in psychotic disorders. I would like to say that there have been several lessons that I took away from my time in the physics department. First, I searched and believe I've found, an area which is as exciting to me as physics clearly was to the Amherst faculty. Second, I have tried to be as accessible to my residents and medical students as I found the faculty at Amherst. Third, my major has been the topic of numerous conversations when people learn that I am a psychiatrist who majored in physics as an undergradute.
 
 

Mr. Gabriel Finkelstein, '85

I am currently a part-time lecturer at Princeton in the history of science and the history of medicine. My dissertation is a biography of Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896), the founder of the discipline of electrophysiology and a leading cultural figure in nineteenth-century Germany. My work would not have been possible without a basic understanding of physics, and even more important, the habit of asking questions that was encouraged at Amherst.
 
 

Dr. Paul Vetter, '90

I earned my Ph.D. in Physics in 1995 from the University of Washington in Seattle, where I worked with Professor Norval Fortson and completed the world's most precise measurement of Parity violation in an atom. This work improves physicists' understanding of the Weak interaction, which is ordinarily studied at high-energy particle accelerators.

My experience as a physics major at Amherst emboldened me to make physics my livelihood. My research experience as an undergraduate was pivotal to my desire to continue performing research at the ragged edge of knowledge. I worked with Professor Hunter on a cool senior research thesis about precise spectroscopic measurements of the Stark effect in lithium. The close interaction with Amherst's talented and friendly physics faculty was the high point of my years at Amherst. Okay, maybe not the high point, but way up there. I had no intention of studying Physics when I began at Amherst. Go figure.

 
 

Dr. Christianna Contopoulos, '91

At Amherst I double majored in Physics and Asian Studies, and then went on to study international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. At Fletcher I focused on the impact that technology has on all aspects of life in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia. For my doctorate dissertation I addressed the issue of modernization of the Greek Shipping Industry. This topic (I like to think) finally brings together all aspects of my background: my technical training at Amherst, my interest in all matters that affect Greece and my fascination with Asia.

While working on my dissertation I worked as a consultant at the Union of Greek Shipowners and since September I have been working at the Chartering Department of a large shipping corporation in Athens. I now think that I have found the perfect occupation!

Although I did not go into a career in Physics what I learned at Amherst has been tremendously important in what I have done since then. I may not recall some (if not many) of the formulae that I learned, but my training in physics taught me a way of thinking and of tackling the problems that arise in daily work. Also, physics "stuff" always pops up: for instance, when negotiating a specific cargo for one of the vessels I am glad that I have an idea what specific gravity, cubic capacity, pumping pressure, and dynamic loading stresses are!

 
 

Ms. Karen Fox, '91

I graduated from Amherst with a double major in physics and english. I always planned to go on to physics graduate school until about half way through taking the physics graduate record exam senior year. Whether mere moment of panic or grand epiphany I have yet to figure out, but I suddenly realized that I loved studying phyiscs - I just wasn't as good at doing it. After a short existential crisis, I found a new career path in science writing. Basically, I'm a journalist, but I only cover physics. Which means I get to learn all the science I want and never have to be tested ever. Its great.

I went to graduate school in Science Communication at the University of California, Santa Cruz and went on to work for a variety of magazines and newspapers before getting my current job. For the last two years, I have produced a radio show called "Science Report" for the American Institute of Physics. It's played on about 200 stations around the country and you can check it out in Real Audio format at AudioNet). I also do some freelance writing for a variety of magazines including Science and New Scientist. If you're interested in further details of the path from GRE crash to science writer bliss, you might want to check out the American Institute of Physics Careers Bulletin Board where I answered a lot of questions about getting into science writing.

Amherst, since it is of course the best college in the world, prepared me well for what I'm doing now.

 
 

Mr. Pablo Balan, '93

After graduating from Amherst, I moved to New York City where, after a brief stint as an assistant to fashion photographers, I got a job on Wall Street working for what's called a "Hedge Fund" - an investment fund with a high risk, high potential return strategy.

After a year and a half of struggling to adapt to corporate America, I decided I would be happier going into business by myself, and joined a friend with considerably more experience in setting up a fund of our own. We have been operating for almost three months, with relatively good results.

Although there is no direct connection between physics and the financial markets, I believe studying physics helped me develop a general intuition about dynamic systems which informs my decision making in the markets and gives me a better sense of how individual expectations and strategies coalesce to give each market a particular set of dynamics. There are some people in the field who have attempted to apply a stricter approach in translating concepts in Chaos Theory and Non-linear Dynamics to the financial markets with various degrees of success. Although such theories interest me, I haven't had the time to explore them fully.

Recently, I did some consulting work for the United Nations Environment Program, setting up a database of institutional contacts in order to aid the distribution of environmental research and networking publications. I will be spending most of this summer on a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to help preserve some of the huge "Leather-Back" and "Corey" turtles which nest there, as well as several types of migratory birds.

In September, I will be starting a Masters in International Affairs at Columbus School of International and Public Affairs. I feel this is necessary because the kind of work I have been doing has highlighted certain deficiencies in my education - I never took much economics or political science as Amherst. I have also set up a small photographic studio and darkroom at home, with the intention of doing portraiture work and I have dabbled into the growing field of digital imaging.

 
 

Mr. Greg Smith, '93

I am a second year graduate student in physics at Harvard University. I am focusing on theoretical physics. I am interested in understanding how simple classically chaotic systems behave quantum mechanically; I am also trying to learn about a quantum phenomenon known as localization.

In my opinion, the Amherst College Physics Department is excellent. The professors take their commitment to teaching very seriously, which is not always the case at larger research universities. For the serious physics student planning on attending graduate school, Amherst provides a different emphasis than state Ivy League universities. At a large university, students tend to take more high-level physics and math classes than do students at Amherst. As a result, Amherst students must work hard to catch up during the first year of graduate school. However, at Amherst the frequent student/professor contact, and the senior thesis projects encouraged by the department foster curiosity and nurture a student's ability to think independently. Ultimately, these are the qualities one needs to do research in physics.

 
 

Mr. Matt Kuntz, '93

I am presently a first year graduate student in the Physics Department at Cornell University. I am taking typical first year graduate physics classes (Quantum I, E&M, Quantum II, Statistical Mechanics), and Ta'ing an undergraduate E&M class for engineering students. I have not yet decided what I will be researching. My Amherst eduction in Physics has left me with many holes to fill in, but what it did teach me it taught me well.
 
 

Ms. Jennifer Daubney, '94

I have not made traditional use of my physics degree. In fact, my job as a computer programmer does not have any concrete relation to my physics education at all. However, an education in physics provided training in a mode of thinking that's become valued by an increasing number of computer companies.

I work for a computer consulting firm called Keane, Inc. The company has offices nationwide, but I work out of the Northern New England branch in Bedford, New Hampshire. I sent them my resume expecting to receive only another rejection letter to hang on my wall, since I'd never taken a computer science class in college. However, their human resources rep called and told me that Keane is interested in physics majors because of their ability to approach a problem from many different angles in order to find a solution. Apparently, some companies in the computer world have found that physics majors have more flexibility of thought than their counterparts in computer science.

Keane sent me through their 7-week training program in August of 1994, and I've been working as a programmer ever since. I think it's a great opportunity as most positions in physics require years more of schooling. For anyone looking for something new or wanting to postpone a graduate degree, computer programming can be an excellent and fairly lucrative alternative.

 
 

Mr. Jonathan Jung, '95

After graduating from Amherst, the anticipated difficulty that physics majors face when looking for work became a reality. I eventually found myself at Teradyne in Boston as a System Test Technician. My job was to assemble, test and troubleshoot their line of Automatic Testing Equipment - systems used by integrated circuit manufacturers for fast, large-scale testing. The job was more tedious than challenging, and had nothing to do with physics. But after working there for less than a year, I landed a job at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the nation's foremost hotbed of radar technology, as a Software Engineer. I develop and maintain software for mission planning and radar data extraction/analysis in the area of Ballistic Missile Defense. It is fun and interesting, and often involves matrix multiplication, numerical intergration and Fourier transforms - reminders that my background in physics is a valuable asset.
 

Mr. Benjamin Weiss, '95

A degree in physics - particularly from a place like Amherst - teaches you to be rigorous, gives you an almost puritanical work ethic, a sense of strong self-discipline that you can carry with you into a wide variety of seemingly disparate pursuits. Anyone who has computed that 16 by 16 Ubermatrix in Professor Hunter's quantum mechanics class knows this ... put quite simply, it teaches you not to say something is true, UNTIL YOU'VE SHOWN IT TO BE SO. This is more than it sounds. At Amherst the special twist is that the physics is combined with a liberal arts education, and you see these things spilling into each other (exactly as the cliche goes). In my art history classes I found that (believe it or not - I'm sure most of the physics professors DON'T) I had an advantage; I could look at these paintings and pull them apart with a degree of order, precision, and thoroughness that my non-physics classmates did not enjoy. And this has carried me all the way to Singapore, where I am now a Princeton-in-Asia International Fellow at Temasek Polytechnic, teaching precalculus and calculus for a year. Princeton-in-Asia is a work-abroad type fellowship program run out of Princeton University that sends people all over Asia (from Macau to Indonesia to Kazakhstan) to all kinds of crazy jobs. I am here in Singapore with another Amherst physics alum (Chris Vinnard, '95) and word has it that a third physics 96'er has applied as well (to work as an editor in a Tokyo magazine).
 
 

Mr. Jonathan Lackman, '96

Studying Physics at Amherst was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a journey of discovery that I'll never forget, and one that got better and better each year. After graduation, I pursued another interest -- art history -- getting an MA at NYU and writing about art for various publications. After that, I returned to the fold, as science editor at About.com. I continue to do that, and now also supervise the editors of other areas -- arts, cultures, education, history, news, politics and religion. (About.com is the most trafficked news, information and entertainment Web site, according to research firm Media Metrix.) In the spring of 2001, I'm teaching a graduate class in the NYU Journalism department.
 

Physics and Astronomy Department

AC# 2244
Amherst College
Amherst, MA 01002-5000
413-542-2251
Larry Hunter, Chair

Particle Paths