Melba Phillips

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Melba Newell Phillips
Melba Phillips.jpg
Born (1907-02-01)February 1, 1907
Near Hazleton, Gibson County, Indiana
Died November 8, 2004(2004-11-08) (aged 97)
Petersburg, Indiana
Awards Oersted Medal (1974)
Scientific career
Doctoral advisor J. Robert Oppenheimer

Melba Newell Phillips (February 1, 1907 – November 8, 2004) was an American physicist and pioneer science educator. One of the first doctoral students of J. Robert Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley, Phillips completed her Ph.D. in 1933, a time when few women pursued careers in science. In 1935 Oppenheimer and Phillips published[1] their description of the Oppenheimer-Phillips effect, an early contribution to nuclear physics that explained the behavior of accelerated nuclei of radioactive hydrogen atoms. Phillips was also known for refusing to cooperate with a U.S. Senate judiciary subcommittee's investigation on internal security during the McCarthy era that led to her dismissal from her professorship at Brooklyn College, where she was a professor of science from 1938 until 1952. (The college publicly and personally apologized to Phillips for the dismissal in 1987.)

Phillips also taught at the University of Minnesota (1941–44) and served as associate director of a teacher-training institute at Washington University (1957–62) in St. Louis, Missouri, before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago (1962–72) as a professor of physics. During her retirement years, Phillips was a visiting professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (1972–75) and taught at the University of Science and Technology of China, Chinese Academy of Science (1980), in Beijing. Phillips was a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition to teaching, Phillips co-authored science textbooks and was active in the American Association of Physics Teachers. The AAPT established the Melba Newell Phillips Medal in her honor in 1981 to recognize outstanding service to the organization.

Early life and education[edit]

Melba Phillips was born on February 1, 1907, near Hazleton, Gibson County, Indiana. She was the only daughter and oldest of Eilda Elizabeth (Meehan) and Virgil B. Phillips' four children.[2][3][4]

Phillips graduated from Union High school in 1922, at the age of fifteen. Intending to become an educator, Phillips studied mathematics at Oakland City College in Indiana, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1926.[2][5] Afterwards, Phillips taught at her former high school for two years before entering graduate school.[6]

Phillips earned a master's degree in physics from Battle Creek College in Michigan in 1928 and a doctorate degree in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1933.[2][3] She was one of the first doctoral students of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who later became scientific head of the Manhattan Project, the Allied effort to develop the atomic bomb.[7] In 1935 Oppenheimer and Phillips published their description of the Oppenheimer-Phillips effect, which explained the behavior of accelerated nuclei of radioactive, "heavy hydrogen" atoms.[2][7] The Oppenheimer-Phillips effect was one of the early contributions to nuclear physics.[8]

Career[edit]

In an era when few women were working as scientists, Phillips became a leading science educator and spent the majority of her career as a professor of physics.[2][8]

Phillips began teaching during the Great Depression. Initially, she took part-time, temporary positions at Battle Creek College (1928–30) and at Connecticut College for Women (1937–38).[3] Phillips also held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California and at Bryn Mawr College.[9][10] In early 1936 the American Association of University Women announced that Philips was the recipient of the its Margaret E. Maltby award, one of six women to receive its research fellowships for the 1936–37 academic year.[6] Phillips's research focused on application of quantum mechanics to the study of nuclear physics.[6] Prior to accepting a full-time faculty position at Brooklyn College in 1938, Phillips worked as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.[2][7]

With the exception of a three-year period during World War II, when she taught at the University of Minnesota (1941–44), Phillips spent a decade as a professor of physics at Brooklyn College (1938–52).[3][2] She also conducted research on a part-time basis at the Columbia University Radiation Laboratory.[6] In 1945, while teaching at Brooklyn College, Phillips helped organize the Federation of American Scientists at a meeting held in Washington, D.C.[7]

In 1952 Phillips was summoned to appear before the McCarran Commission, a judiciary subcommittee investigating internal security during the McCarthy era.[7][11] Although Phillips appeared before a subcommittee hearing in New York and agreed to answer questions relating to her work as a scientist and physics educator, she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights when asked about other topics, including questions about whether she was a member of the Communist party.[2] As a result of her refusal to cooperate with the commission as a matter of principle, Phillips, a highly-regarded physics educator, was dismissed from her professorship at Brooklyn College and her part-time position at the Columbia University Radiation Laboratory. She remained unemployed as a college professor for five years.[7]

While unemployed, Phillips lived on her modest savings and co-authored two science textbooks:[2] Principles of Physical Science (1957), with Francis Bonner, and Classical Electricity and Magnetism (1955), with Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky.[3] Both of these publications became standard textbooks in collegiate-level science courses.[11]

Phillips returned to teaching in 1957, when she became associate director of a teacher-training institute at Washington University. Phillips remained at St. Louis until 1962, when she joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a professor of physics.[3] Under her guidance the university began teaching physical science courses to non-science majors. She also made laboratory work part of its curriculum.[11] Phillips retired as a professor emerita from the University of Chicago in 1972, but continued to teach elsewhere.[2]

Philips was active in the American Association of Physics Teachers throughout her career. She became a member of the AAPT in 1943 and served as its first woman president (1966–67). She also co-edited the organization's official history.[7][8][9] In addition, Phillips served on the Commission in College Physics (1960–68) and on the advisory board of the School of Mathematics Study Group (1964–67).[3] For her service to the field of science education, Phillips was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[7]

Later years[edit]

After her retirement from the University of Chicago in 1972, Phillips continued teaching as a visiting professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook (1972–75) and at the Graduate School of the University of Science and Technology of China, Chinese Academy of Science, in Beijing in 1980.[7]

In 1987 Brooklyn College publicly and personally apologized to Phillips for her dismissal from the College in 1952.[2][7]

Death and legacy[edit]

Phillips died of coronary artery disease on November 8, 2004, at the age of ninety-seven, in a nursing home in Petersburg, Indiana.[7]

As a leading physics educator of her era, Phillips received numerous citations and awards for her contributions to science education.[7] Phillips is especially noted for developing and implementing curriculum for teaching physics and co-authoring two textbooks in the 1950s for collegiate physics courses. She also wrote and edited works history of physics and the history of the American Association of Physics Teachers.[7][9]

Honors and tributes[edit]

  • Member, Phi Beta Kappa.[2]
  • Fellow, American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[7]
  • In 1974 Phillips was awarded the Oersted Medal from the American Association of Physics Teachers; she was also the recipient of the AAPT's Distinguished Service Citation in 1963.[9]
  • Phillips became the first recipient of the Melba Newell Phillips Medal, an award that the AAPT established in 1981. The medal is periodically presented to AAPT members "who have provided creative leadership and dedicated service that resulted in exceptional contributions to AAPT."[12]
  • In 1981 Phillips received the Karl Taylor Compton Award from the American Institute of Physics.[9]
  • In 1988 she was the recipient of Vanderbilt University's Guy and Rebecca Forman Award for Outstanding Teaching in Undergraduate Physics.[9]
  • In 1997 Brooklyn College established a scholarship her honor.[7]
  • In 2003 the American Physical Society awarded its Joseph Burton Forum Award to Phillips for her contributions to science education, her role in founding the Federation of American Scientists, and as service as a role model "of a principled scientist."[7][9]

Selected published works[edit]

  • Principles of Physical Science, co-authored with Francis Bonner (Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1957)[3]
  • Classical Electricity and Magnetism, co-authored with Wolfgang Panofsky (1957)[3][13]
  • Principles of Electrodynamics and Relativity, co-authored with P. G. Bergmann (1962)[3]
  • On Teaching Physics: Reprints of American Journal of Physics Articles from the First Half Century of AAPT (American Association of Physics Teachers, 1979) [14]
  • Physics History from AAPT Journals (American Association of Physics Teachers, 1985)[15]
  • History of Physics (Readings from Physics Today, No 2) (American Institute of Physics, 1985)[16]
  • History of Physics II: The Life and Times of Modern Physics (Readings from Physics Today, No 5). (American Institute of Physics, 1992)[17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Oppenheimer, J. R.; Phillips, M. (15 September 1935). "Note on the Transmutation Function for Deuterons". Phys. Rev. 48: 500–2. Bibcode:1935PhRv...48..500O. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.48.500. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Arthur L. Miley (2016). Pike County, Indiana Notables: 1816–2016. La Jolla, California: Art Miley. pp. 24–27. OCLC 956712003. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Donald Eugene Thompson and R. E. Banta (1974). Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1917–1966; A Continuation of Indiana Authors and Their Books, 1816–1916, and containing additional names from the earlier period. Crawfordsville, Indiana: Wabash College. pp. 480–81. OCLC 929100. 
  4. ^ Louise S. Grinstein, Rose K. Rose, Miriam H. Rafailovich (1993). Women in Chemistry and Physics. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313273820. 
  5. ^ Jill Marshall (2014). Women in Physics. American Association of Physics Teachers. p. 97. ISBN 9781931024204. 
  6. ^ a b c d Jill P. Weiss (September 15, 2016). "Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience, Part I". Blogging Hoosier History. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Patricia Sullivan (November 17, 2004). "Physicist Melba Phillips, 97, Dies". The Washington Post. Washington, D. C.: B04. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b c Associated Press (November 18, 2004). "Melba Phillips, 97, Physicist Who Worked With Oppenheimer, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Melba Phillips, physicist, 1907-2004". University of Chicago News Office. November 16, 2004. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Scope of Material" in "Oral History Interview with Melba Newell Phillips, 1977 December 5". Information Portal. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  11. ^ a b c Jill P. Weiss (September 15, 2016). "Melba Phillips: Leader in Science and Conscience, Part II". Blogging Hoosier History. Indiana Historical Bureau. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Melba Newell Phillips Medal". American Association of Physics Teachers. Retrieved April 18, 2016. 
  13. ^ Melba Phillips and Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky (2005). Classical Electricity and Magnetism (Second ed.). Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-43924-0. 
  14. ^ Melba Phillips (1979). On Teaching Physics: Reprints of American Journal of Physics Articles from the First Half Century of AAPT. Stony Brook, New York: American Association of Physics Teachers. OCLC 760987351. 
  15. ^ Melba Phillips, ed. (1985). Physics History from AAPT Journals. College Park, Maryland: American Association of Physics Teachers. ISBN 0-917853-14-8. 
  16. ^ Spencer R. Weart and Melba Phillips (1985). History of Physics. Readings from Physics Today. 2. New York: American Institute of Physics. ISBN 9780883184684. 
  17. ^ Melba Phillips (1992). History of Physics II: The Life and Times of Modern Physics. Readings from Physics Today. 5. New York: American Institute of Physics. ISBN 0-88318-846-5. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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