AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXIX, No. 2, Fall 1997


The American Physical Society and American Astronomical Society Lay Plans for 1999 Centennials

The American Physical Society is planning a number of events and services for its Centennial in 1999. Besides a gala meeting in Atlanta featuring exhibits, Nobel Prize winners, and much more, the Society will produce materials of broad value for spreading information about the history of physics during the past century.

A list will be made available of 200 or more excellent speakers willing to give colloquia to celebrate the Centennial during the fall of 1998 and the centennial year 1999. The list is being developed following the suggestions of APS units (divisions, forums, topical groups, sections and committees). The speakers will be urged to emphasize the historical, social, cultural, and political impacts of physics, giving general interest talks with an introduction setting their topic in the context of 20th century physics. A Centennial Speakers Book listing candidate speakers and topics will be distributed to all physics departments and other interested institutions during the spring of 1998. The Society hopes that all physics departments will include one or more centennial talks in their regular colloquium series.

To aid those who wish to give talks or otherwise spread historical information, a CD-ROM containing pictures of important 20th century physicists is being developed. This CD-ROM will be distributed to all the speakers on the Centennial Speakers Book list and will also be available for sale.

Reaching out still more broadly to the public and students, a 27-foot wall chart is being produced to present a timeline of the history of physics since the 1890s. The chart will emphasize the role of physics in technology and culture. Five themes will run through the chart: exploring the large (galaxies, stars, and spacetime); exploring the mid-size (the human to global scale); exploring the small (atoms, quarks, and quanta); making technology (techniques and devices); and exploring the living world (biomolecules and medicine). Funding will be sought so that the wall chart can be distributed free of charge to high schools and physics departments around the country. A version of the wall chart will be put on the World Wide Web, but the extent of this project is still being defined.

There will also be more conventional publications. A special issue of Reviews of Modern Physics, guest-edited by Ben Bederson, will cover a review of 20th century physics. A "coffee-table" picture book on the same topic, aimed at a wide general audience, is being produced as a joint effort between The American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics. The well-known science writer Curt Suplee will provide the text. Illustrations will be coordinated by AIP's Niels Bohr Library, and we would like to hear from anyone who can point us to striking images illustrating 20th-century physics concepts and the research that produced them.

Those with questions or wishing to contribute suggestions should contact Sherrie Preische, Assistant to the Executive Officer, The American Physical Society, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3844; phone 301-209-3255, fax 301-209-0865, e-mail

The American Astronomical Society. Plans are underway for a celebration at the 1999 AAS Centennial meeting in Chicago with a number of talks, including plenary talks, and perhaps a poster session. The item requiring the longest lead time is a Centennial book, now in progress, under the editorial leadership of David DeVorkin. The aim is to produce a popular history of the Society which most AAS members will want to buy, read, and treasure. Of the 28 chapters, more than half have already been through the full cycle of copy-editing and are ready to print. Sara Schechner Genuth, AAS's Centennial Curator, with the help of other Centennial Committee members, is assembling an AAS Centennial Display, to consist of photographs and photocopies of documents significant in the history of the Society. This Display will first be exhibited at the Centennial meeting and afterward will travel to AAS and AIP headquarters and to universities, observatories and research centers which wish to display it (and can afford the shipping and security costs associated with it).

The Centennial Committee has under consideration additional events. For example a field trip to Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago, located in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, where the AAS came into existence back in 1899. Also being considered are Centennial souvenirs such as T-shirts and mugs. Those with questions or wishing to contribute suggestions should contact the Chair of the Centennial Committee, Donald Osterbrock, Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064; e-mail

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AIP History Center Center for History of Physics
Phone: 301-209-3165
American Institute of Physics 2003 American Institute of Physics, One Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD 20740-3843. Email: Phone: 301-209-3100; Fax: 301-209-0843