II First Renewal Years: (1981-1990)
With the addition of two new faculty, Keramat Ali and David Naylor, the department now had six members, more than it had ever had. With the encouragement of the Dean, during a brief transitional period, the two External Members of the original Physics Review Committee, Séamus O’Shea (Chemistry) and Jack Hiscocks (Mathematics), as well as Luke Stebbins from Biology, were invited by the department to attend department meetings, perhaps to ensure that the new faculty got off to a good start in a department that had seen some turmoil over the previous five years.
This unusual arrangement lasted only about two years, ending in April of 1982, as it became clear that the new hires were both ambitious, and succeeding in launching their university careers. After many years of service as department chair, Joe Rood retired in 1986, at which time the department was allowed to recruit another research-active faculty member, Godfrey Gumbs, an NSERC University Research Fellow specializing in theoretical condensed matter physics.
Even better than the increase in the number of physics faculty was the success of all the newly recruited research active faculty in securing, for the first time, external, peer-reviewed, research funding. In 1982, both Keramat Ali and David Naylor were awarded NSERC grants, Ali to fund his studies on non-linear dynamics and the onset of chaos, and Naylor to fund his studies of star formation using home-built spectrometers which he planned to use on the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope. Similarly, in 1988, Godfrey Gumbs was awarded his first NSERC grant at Lethbridge to support his studies on surface properties of heterostructures and superconductivity.
Both David Naylor and Keramat Ali had been hired to renew the department, and to establish research programs. What difficulties did they face in a department that had little or no record of conducting or supporting research, and in a university whose entire focus had been providing a liberal arts undergraduate education? A heavy teaching load was the first hurdle: introductory physics instructors were expected to give lectures, to teach laboratory sections (including setting up and dismantling the experiments), and then to mark lab reports. In the absence of a well-established culture and history of research, these new faculty had to first create a research environment, and in this regard, they had an important ally in Séamus O’Shea, another research active faculty member in Chemistry hired in 1978.
Physics faculty had been allotted research laboratory space after the move to the new campus in 1970, but in the spring of 1980, Vice-President Owen Holmes reassigned some of this space to a senior and research-active chemist, Dr. Lorne Hepler, for his AOSTRA-funded research program. Lorne Hepler on his own eventually relinquished some of his space to David Naylor when he realized that David Naylor’s laboratory space requirements were quickly outstripping what he had been given when he was hired. When Lorne Hepler left in 1983, his lab was converted to the Chemistry Department glass blowing and technical services shop, leaving David Naylor’s lab as the only surviving space still devoted to experimental physics. That situation would prevail until the early 1990’s, when three new experimentalists joined the department.
As an experimentalist, David Naylor faced a particularly acute problem: there was no machine shop! The Dean of Arts & Science, Dr. Awny Cassis, negotiated an agreement with his counterpart at the University of Calgary which allowed David Naylor to use the University of Calgary machine shop. This creative solution worked well, enabling David Naylor to build his first interferometer.
To avoid scientific oblivion, for the first two years, when the academic year concluded, David Naylor and Keramat Ali traveled during the summer, Keramat to the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, and David to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), the European Space Agency’s main technology development and test centre for spacecraft and space technology in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Eventually, both Ali and Naylor successfully launched their research careers, and established a research culture which supported those who followed in the next decade.
In 1982, the University of Lethbridge was considered as a site for the Canadian Long Baseline Array (CLBA) radio telescope’s data processing facility. Following a visit to Lethbridge by the National Research Council (NRC) site selection team, the university Board of Governors not only issued an invitation to NRC to locate the Array headquarters at the university, but also recommended that should the facility be located at Lethbridge, the university commit to developing a Masters program in physics. Unfortunately, the university was not selected as the site, and the opportunity to launch a graduate program in physics was missed. Another decade would elapse before graduate studies in physics were possible.
For three years after the resignation of the department’s only Academic Assistant in 1979, the position had not been filled due to the ongoing departmental review. A number of senior students served as laboratory assistants during this period until Daniel Furgason was hired in 1983 to fill this vacancy, a position he has held ever since.
During spring convocation of 1985, astrophysicist Helen Hogg (at the time, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto) opened the university’s Astrophysical Observatory, a major resource for physics students, and a boon to the Lethbridge Amateur Astronomy Club.
Towards the end of the decade, the new university president, Howard Tennant initiated university-wide early retirements, which in physics saw the retirement of Sam Kounosu and Earl Milton in 1989, followed by Arvid Schultz in 1990. These retirements opened the door to hire three new experimentalists: in 1989, Nasser Ahmadi, a molecular spectroscopist, and in 1990, David Siminovitch, a solid-state NMR spectroscopist, and Mostafa Mohamed, a low-temperature physicist. In 1990, Godfrey Gumbs left to take up a faculty position at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where he currently holds a Distinguished Professorship.