Fifty years for physics and astronomy at Geneseo

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the physics and astronomy department, which has been providing instruction and research opportunities for Geneseo students since 1963. “The significance of this event is in how far we’ve come as a department,” Charlie Freeman, department chair and professor of physics, said. “There were three students in the first class, and last year there were close to 40.”

Aaron Steinhauer, associate professor of physics and astronomy, said, “It’s really just amazing that the department has only existed for 50 years. Now we’re the one of the biggest undergrad physics department in the nation.”

To celebrate the anniversary, the department held a “Physics Fest,” which Freeman said about 70 alumni and former faculty attended. Dutch Van Ry, a graduate of the class of 1964, was present and shared a history of the department. The event was held Aug. 30-31 and included a reception in the Integrated Science Center, stargazing and a barbecue on Conesus Lake.

“It was great to see people who had been part of the history of the department and to feel like I was a part of that history,” Steinhauer said.

When the physics and astronomy department began in 1963, it was originally headed by Robert “Duke” Sells, who was recognized by the college as a Distinguished Teaching Professor.

“The best thing this department did was to hire the first person, Robert Sells,” Steinhauer said. “He set the tone for the entire department. The department is still benefiting from the echoes of the first years he was here.”

Fifty years later, the department continues to make strides. Just below 200 students are enrolled in the physics program today.

Both Steinhauer and Freeman said they are proud of their department’s advanced equipment and faculty.

“We have a terrific faculty of nine who are dedicated to teaching and who like working with students,” Freeman said. “We take part in a lot of research, which is central for success after graduation.”

Danny Krolikowski, a sophomore physics major, participated in research with Steinhauer and serves as a teaching assistant in ASTR 101: Introduction to Astronomy.

“Not only is it great to get research experience, it’s almost always a fun time as well,” he said.

Freeman and Steinhauer both cited a strong sense of community as a pillar of their department.

“The original faculty laid the groundwork for close faculty-student interactions,” Freeman said. Krolikowski said he can attest to this, feeling that the physics department is a family.

“The professors are always willing to help and involve you in the department in any way possible, and there is a sense of community among physics majors that I don’t think really exists in other departments,” he said.

Fifty years after the first students studied physics and astronomy at Geneseo, Freeman said, “We just feel like we have a lot to celebrate.”