POTM: Back to School

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September 14, 2021

POTM: Back to School

September Photos of the Month

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The school house where Harold Urey taught in 1911. Credit: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Urey Collection.

Whenever I think of September I think of back-to-school. Even though I know for many students, the new school year starts in August, September is indelibly linked in my mind with “Back to School” season. Perhaps it’s all the shiny new notebooks and pens for sale, or my own memories of September somehow being both exciting but also (it felt like) the longest month in the year. One of the annual school events that always brought some excitement was school picture day.

School photographs make good gifts for friends and family, but they also provide a great glimpse back in time. When looking at these Emilio Segrè Visual Archives (ESVA) photographs, I wonder if these budding scientists were excited to get their pictures taken. What did they think about their futures? And, if they ever looked back on these photos, what did they feel looking at their younger selves?


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On the left, Portrait of Richard Hanau, High School Years, 1932-1935. On the right, a portrait of Richard Hanau, 1966.

On the left, Portrait of Richard Hanau, High School Years, 1932-1935. On the right, a portrait of Richard Hanau, 1966.

Richard Hanau, pictured above, was born in 1917 in New York City. He spent much of his career at the University of Kentucky and was active in the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Optical Society of America. Hanau also traveled to many different universities as a visiting professor, including in Indonesia, Rochester, and Puerto Rico. I’m delighted at how clearly recognizable he is from a young age because of his distinctive hair style!


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On the left, William Meggers on graduation day circa 1906 from Clintonville High School in Clintonville, Wisconsin. On the right, a 1947 portrait of Meggers.

On the left, William Meggers on graduation day circa 1906 from Clintonville High School in Clintonville, Wisconsin. On the right, a 1947 portrait of Meggers.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, W.F. Meggers Collection. Catalog IDs Meggers William G9 and Meggers William A8.

William Meggers was undoubtedly celebrating when he graduated from high school. You can see his diploma (or a prop of it) on his knee and a marvelous boutonnière in his lapel. Meggers was born in 1888 and grew up in Wisconsin. He spent most of his career working at the National Bureau of Standards where he eventually became Chief of the Spectroscopy Section. Meggers also became the President of the Optical Society of America (now called The Optical Society) and a member of the American Institute of Physics Board of Directors. Both the OSA and the AIP have awards named in his honor.


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On the left, Ronald Mallett's graduation picture from Altoona Area High School, class of 1962. On the right, Ronald Mallett in his office lecturing to graduate students, 2006.

On the left, Ronald Mallett's graduation picture from Altoona Area High School, class of 1962. On the right, Ronald Mallett in his office lecturing to graduate students, 2006.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Gift of Dr. Ronald Mallett. Catalog IDs Mallett Ronald A1 and Mallett Ronald B2.

I love how excited Ronald Mallett is for his graduation picture too. Mallett is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut where he has worked since 1975. He is a member of both the American Physical Society and the National Society of Black Physicists, but he is perhaps best known for his work on time travel, as well as relativity, black holes, and cosmology in general.


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On the left, Donald Clayton’s commencement portrait for graduation from Highland Park High School, Dallas, TX in 1953. On the right, Donald Clayton at the blackboard lecturing on pulsars to a Rice University astronomy class, 1982.

On the left, Donald Clayton’s commencement portrait for graduation from Highland Park High School, Dallas, TX in 1953. On the right, Donald Clayton at the blackboard lecturing on pulsars to a Rice University astronomy class, 1982.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Clayton Collection. Catalog IDs Clayton Donald A5 and Clayton Donald B4.

The angle at which Donald Clayton’s commencement photograph was taken I can only think of as being distinctly 1950s. Clayton was born in 1935 and grew up in Iowa and Texas. He worked at a number of different universities including Rice University and Clemson University as an astrophysicist. One of his major contributions concerned the formation of chemical elements from supernovae, for which he was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.


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Emilio Segrè (standing, sixth from right) in a grade school class photo.

Emilio Segrè (standing, sixth from right) in a grade school class photo.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Segrè Collection. Catalog ID Segre Emilio E11.

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Portrait of Emilio Segrè in Turin, Italy, January 1963.

Portrait of Emilio Segrè in Turin, Italy, January 1963.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Segrè Collection. Catalog ID Segre Emilio A24.

Emilio Segrè is of course the namesake of the visual archives, but here he is as a young grade school student long before he became a Professor at the University of Rome or California, or worked on the Manhattan Project, or won the Nobel Prize. But he was interested in science even from a very early age. He recalled in an oral history interview,

“When I was six years old, because it happens to be dated, I have a school book, a notebook, in which it says "Physics experiments by Emilio Segrè." I wrote all the little experiments that I was doing, which I read in books more or less for children, but I liked to do them myself. I had the spectrum of the sun, the atmospheric pressure—all my little experiments.” 


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On the left, Hedwig Kohn with her school class, 1906. Kohn is fourth from the left at the far end of the table. On the right, a portrait of Hedwig Kohn circa 1945.

On the left, Hedwig Kohn with her school class, 1906. Kohn is fourth from the left at the far end of the table. On the right, a portrait of Hedwig Kohn circa 1945.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, gifts of Dr. Wilhelm Tappe, Kohn Photo Collection. Catalog IDs Kohn Hedwig D10 and Kohn Hedwig A3.

This photograph on the left is a more informal class picture, one of a handful that were taken on an excursion. Hedwig Kohn was born in Breslau (now Wrocław), Poland, and was one of only three women who were awarded the right to teach at the university level in Germany before WWII. She was dismissed from her position in Germany in 1933 because she was Jewish, after which she moved to the United States and worked at Wellesley College and then Duke University. She worked on flame spectroscopy and other related experiments on spectral emissions.


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D. Allen Bromley class photo, 1940.

D. Allen Bromley class photo, 1940.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Bromley Collection. Catalog ID Bromley David Allan G9.

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Portrait of D. Allan Bromley.

Portrait of D. Allan Bromley.

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection. Catalog ID Bromley David Allan A2.

Finally, David Bromley offered his own caption to his school photograph, which included all the students at his school:

"The entire student body of the Westmeath Continuation School where I attended grades 9 [nine] through 12 [twelve]; photo taken in September 1940. I am on the extreme right and grew almost a foot in height during the following year."

Bromley was born in 1926 in the small town of Westmeath, Ontario, which indeed had a very small population. Bromley recalled in a 1986 oral history interview,

“Westmeath at one point was one of the major outposts of civilization in the north of Canada. But in about 1850 or so the railway moving west to the West Coast bypassed Westmeath and so it ceased to be as major a center as it once was. Since about that time it has stabilized at a population of about 200. As a matter of fact, when I was in the senior year of grade school and the senior year of high school, I was the only student in the class.”

Bromley grew in physical and metaphorical stature over the years. He eventually became the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy under President George H. W. Bush.

About the Author: 

Joanna Behrman

Joanna Behrman is the Assistant Public Historian at the Center for History of Physics (CHP). She holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and specializes in the history of women in physics. At CHP she is in charge of education and outreach projects. One of her favorite works in the collection is Dorothy Weeks’s unpublished memoir.

Caption: Madalyn Avery, Household Physics Laboratory Manual (New York: Macmillan Company, 1940), page 8

See all articles by Joanna Behrman

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