AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVI , No. 2, Fall 2004


Plans Underway to Designate Historic Physics
Sites in the U.S.

A variety of groups designate sites as "historic," attracting
attention to the events commemorated. More important, the publicity and ceremonies attending the announcement of a designation, and a permanent plaque plus other informational materials, can educate the public in the locality or even more widely. With these ends in mind, the chairman of the American Physical Society's Forum on the History of Physics, Michael Riordan, recently established an American Physical Society Historic Sites Committee.

The members of the committee have agreed that "the presence of strategically-placed plaques that identify sites of historical significance to physics will be an effective means to raise public awareness of physics. We also recognize the initiative will benefit physicists by increasing their own awareness of important past scientific advances, hence of their membership in the historic evolution of their profession."

The committee has recommended that two categories of sites be selected: sites with national or international significance to physics and its history, and sites of more local significance. The committee plans to select a set from potential sites suggested by committee members or from ones formally nominated by American Physical Society (APS) members; a nomination form and a few selection criteria will be posted on the Web. Both categories of sites will carry the imprimatur of the APS and will be given plaques following a standard format. Before APS makes public a selected site, the committee will obtain the endorsement of individuals historically connected to the event being celebrated, and will make an agreement with the local authority administering the site so a plaque can be mounted in public view. Background information about the events commemorated will be posted on a Web site.

Selection criteria are now being developed, drawing on the experience of the National Register of Historic Places of the U.S. National Park Service and other groups that already recognize sites of historical importance. The Historic Sites Committee will seek to launch the program by naming several sites for national recognition during the World Year of Physics 2005 (see article).

The initiative has been approved by the APS's Executive Board, which allocated some initial funds. Committee members are Gordon Baym, Sid Drell, Millie Dresselhaus, Gerald Holton, and John Rigden, chair, with Spencer Weart serving as advisor in his capacity as Director of the AIP Center for History of Physics.

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