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February Photos of the Month

We’re big fans of Dr. Ronald Mickens here at Ex Libris Universum. In 2009 he donated his Ronald E. Mickens collection on African-American physicists, circa 1950-2008 to us at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, which consists of biographical files on numerous physicists that were solicited as part of an exhibit created by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), as well as part of his work writing obituaries for Physics Today. 

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One Intern’s Journey Through the AIP History Newsletters

The Center for History of Physics and Niels Bohr Library & Archives have been producing our longest-running publication, the AIP History Newsletter, since 1964. Until this fall, only issues from 2004 to the present were digitized and available on our website. Happily, it became my project to digitize and upload all of the newsletter issues from the beginning (1964) through 2003 as part of my fall internship. I am someone who loves to digitize stuff, so hip hip hooray! And thus, I entered the world of Niels Bohr, modern physics, and physics history. During my journey, I stumbled across some unexpected – but pleasantly surprising – mentions of a Chinese translator and an electro-ballistic apparatus used to measure the speed of cannonballs! (See Volume 17, No. 1 if you are interested.)

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The creation of a Wikipedia article shines a spotlight on the long-unacknowledged physicist who was the first to infer the light-emission mechanism for type Ia supernovae.
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In 1962 Titus Pankey Jr made a discovery that would change the course of the study of supernovae. In his Howard University dissertation, Pankey argued that the electromagnetic emissions of certain supernovae are powered by nickel-56 decay. He then produced what today’s astronomers would recognize as the prototypical light curve of a type Ia supernova, the variety of stellar explosion that over the past quarter century has enabled precision measurements of the universe’s expansion rate.

Pankey—who was the first person to graduate with a PhD in physics from Howard and among the first 10 Black physics PhD holders in the US—would not be recognized for his work for decades to come. To this day, Pankey’s contribution remains drastically under-cited compared with the work of Stirling Colgate and Chester McKee, who independently introduced the same idea about 56Ni in a 1969 Astrophysical Journal paper.

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January Photos of the Month

Once the buzz and jubilance of the New Year celebrations are over, January is a month known for darkness, calm, and perhaps a touch of dreariness. Here in Maryland, these last weeks have been the coldest we’ve had for quite some time.

Though it is certainly dark and cold, January has an important date of celebration for the town of Roselle, New Jersey. On January 19, 1883, during this gloomy time of year, many of Roselle’s streets, homes, businesses,  and the railway station shone with brilliant electric light by incandescent lightbulb for the first time. This was not just a first for Roselle, but for any town, anywhere. Thomas Edison chose Roselle as the location for his experiment in which he set out to prove that a town could be lit by electricity from a single generator, and it was a success. It must have been an awe-inspiring sight for the townspeople. I imagine that many were excited, though I also wonder if there was trepidation in the town that day for this new technology making such a dramatic appearance in their daily lives. Perhaps some were like Maggie Smith’s character the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, reacting to an electric candelabra - “Such a glare!”

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An Interview with Miriam Hiebert, NBLA researcher

Miriam Hiebert wrote The Uranium Club: Unearthing the Lost Relics of the Nazi Nuclear Program (2023). The book takes the reader on the journey of a uranium cube that mysteriously appeared on the desk of Tim Koeth at the University of Maryland with the note, “Taken from the reactor that Hitler tried to build. Gift of Ninninger,” and explores the history of nuclear power in the World War II era. She used Niels Bohr Library & Archives resources while doing research for the book, and we are thrilled that we got to interview her about the book and historical research!

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Celebrating 10 years of Teaching Guides

This year marks the tenth anniversary of one of the major educational endeavors at the Center for History of Physics (CHP). The Teaching Guides on History of the Physical Sciences (previously called the Teaching Guides on Women and Minorities in Physics, but we’ll just call them the “Teaching Guides”) first began in 2013 in an effort to diversify representation in the physics classroom. Now, ten years later, over 50 teaching guides are available online for K-12 classrooms, college professors, and anyone else who wants to learn about the diverse historical community of physical scientists.

The collection has expanded little by little every summer as it has been added to and worked on by graduate research assistants and interns from the Society of Physics Students (SPS). At CHP we have been delighted to welcome 14 SPS interns in total so far to work on the teaching guides, many of whom also spent time working with the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. We say it every year, but every summer our corner of AIP feels reinvigorated with the infectious energy our new coworkers bring and we’re always sad to see them leave. To mark the tenth anniversary of the teaching guides, I reconnected with some of our former interns to talk about their experiences and see where they are now.

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December is a month when many celebrate holidays, and this year I discovered one I hadn't heard of: National Microwave Oven Day, celebrated on December 6th. While we don’t have anything in our collections pertaining to the microwave oven – not even in our wonderful collection of Physics of Technology books, which covers inventions ranging from the laser to the toaster – we do have quite a few things on microwave physics more generally.

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University of Maryland has a nuclear reactor!

Before this past fall, many of us at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives did not realize that our library is just a few miles away from a nuclear reactor. Thanks to Miriam (Mimi) Hiebert and Tim Koeth of the University of Maryland, this changed when we got the offer to tour the University of Maryland Radiation Facilities.
To backtrack a little bit: first, we offered a tour! Mimi and Tim visited us at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives this past summer for a tour of our collections. Mimi Hiebert, who holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering, is an old friend of NBLA; she researched with us in the process of writing her newly released book,The Uranium Club: Unearthing the Lost Relics of the Nazi Nuclear Program, in which she sets the historical narrative of the race to develop nuclear weapons within the fascinating story of how Tim, in College Park, Maryland, ended up with a uranium cube that almost certainly originated in Nazi Germany. For more on this fascinating book, read the Physics Today article and look forward to our upcoming interview post with Mimi Hiebert!  During the tour of our library, Tim offered to take us on a tour of the Radiation Facilities at the University of Maryland, which are home to the Maryland University Training Reactor (MUTR), as well as Tim’s fascinating collection of uranium-related consumer products, Geiger counters from all eras, and other paraphernalia.

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November 2023 Photos of the Month

Birthstones!

If you have disposable income and like shiny objects, you’ve probably heard about birthstones. Birthstones are a collection of gemstones with one or more stones matched to the month of your birth. There is no standard set of birthstones, with separate groupings being created by gemology organizations in the United States, Britain, and Japan. Some months have more than one birthstone, and stones have been added or removed from lists as recently as 2016.

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National History Day Interviews

Every year, we look forward to National History Day® with great anticipation. NHD is a nation-wide history contest open to middle and high schoolers. Participants choose a topic and do an in-depth project, with the guidance of a mentor teacher. They can do individual or group projects, and can choose from five formats for their final project: a documentary, an exhibit, a performance, a paper, or a website. Contestants compete at the local, the state, and finally, the national level, for prizes in a wide variety of categories.