Department History

Joseph Culler, first chair of the Physics Department

Joseph Culler, circa 1903

Miami Physics has its origins in the departments of natural philosophy (1832-45) and natural science (1845-73). The Physics and Chemistry Department was formed in 1885 under the leadership of Henry Snyder, and from 1898 to 1902, Raymond Hughes led the department, after which he went on to become Miami’s 15th president and Iowa State University’s 8th president. In 1903, the Physics Department was formed with Joseph Culler as chairman and the only full-time faculty member.

In 1926, Ray L. Edwards was named chair of physics, a position he held until 1956. During his 30-year tenure, the department grew with the addition of professors Dave Griffing, John Snider, George Arfken, Phil Macklin, Don Kelly, Joe Priest, Jim Poth, and Glenn Julian. Our Master’s program preceded the establishment of Miami’s Society of Physics Students Chapter in 1932, with several physics graduate students among the inaugural inductees.

During Dr. Edwards tenure, the department was located in Hughes Hall (which was renamed Kreger Hall in 1968). In 1961, Culler Hall was built specifically for the Physics Department, although it shared some of the space with Math, and later, Aeronautics. In 2014, the department moved back to a totally renovated Kreger Hall, complete with state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities, and common spaces for study and collaboration.

Miami Physics has a history of excellence in teaching, scholarship and leadership in physics education. In 1945, the prestigious Oersted Medal was awarded to Ray Edwards for notable contributions to the teaching of physics. Our faculty have published numerous texts, including Arfken’s world-renowned “Mathematical Methods for Physicists”; Priest’s “Energy: Principles, Problems and Alternatives”; Griffing’s “The Dynamics of Sports”; Kelly’s “Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics”; Arfken, Griffing, Kelly and Priest’s “University Physics”; and Paul DeVries’ “A First Course in Computational Physics”. The late Jim Poth and Beverley Taylor have been leaders at the state and national levels in physics education. Taylor was named both an APS Fellow and an AAPT Fellow in recognition of her contributions in that area.