COSAM News Articles 2023 June Auburn University’s Department of Physics celebrates a remarkable century

Auburn University’s Department of Physics celebrates a remarkable century

Published: 06/06/2023

By: Maria Gebhardt

Auburn University’s Department of Physics celebrated 100 years with students, faculty, staff and many faces from the past.

“Our future is incredibly bright with the outstanding students and postdoctoral researchers in our department,” said Allen Landers, professor and chair of the department. “Fred Allison came this to this university 100 years ago and tonight we are here to celebrate a century of the amazing journey of this department.”

The Fred Allison Laboratory was named after the former head of physics in 1964 and was recently demolished in 2019 when the new Leach Science Center officially opened.

Fred Allison was a legendary researcher at Auburn who made differences in the lives of many students and faculty. He even changed the future of another head of physics.

Howard Carr was an undergraduate student at Auburn with a double major in mathematics and history. When he took a class with Allison, he changed his major to physics and dedicated his career to advancing physics at the university.

The evening celebrated undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and postdoctoral researchers with an array of awards. Students were then inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma, or SPS, which also stands for Scholarship Physics Society. To date, 1,161 students have been inducted including Hank Hartsfield, Jr., who was a NASA astronaut from 1969 through 1987, and Kathryn Thornton Cordell, who was an astronaut from 1985 through 1996.

Two newly created awards were also presented.

“I am excited to announce two new awards that will live on in perpetuity in the department,” said Landers. “The Dr. Joseph D. Perez Graduate Student Award for Mission Excellence and the Dr. James D. Hanson Post Doctoral Scholarship Award.”

The evening concluded with James Hanson, professor emeritus, sharing an overview of the history of the department.

“In 1883, the Department of Physics was founded at Auburn University,” said Hanson. “In the academic year 1882-1883, enrollment for the entire university was only 130 students.”

President Broun was the only professor in 1883.  He then hired James Powell Cocke Southall (James P. C. Southall) to lead the department. Over the century, the following physicists held the positions as head/chair of the department developing it into what it into the world-class program it is today including:

  • James Powell Cocke Southall: 1901 – 1914
  • Arthur St. Charles Dunstan: 1914 – 1919
  • Benjamin Wooten: 1919 – 1922
  • Fred Allison: 1922 – 1953
  • Howard Carr: 1953 – 1978
  • Bob Kribel: 1978 – 1985
  • Earl Kinzer: 1985 - 1988
  • Joseph D. Perez: 1988 – 2012
  • James Hanson: 2012 – 2020
  • Allen Landers: 2020 – present


As the university grew, the Department of Physics continued to grow.

Hanson continued to share highlights of the history throughout the years. He concluded his presentation by thanking the audience and sharing his insight.

“It has been a tremendous honor and privilege teaching, researching and interacting with my wonderful colleagues during my time at Auburn,” said Hanson. “The one thing I want everyone to know tonight is that the whole world really is open to you when you earn a degree in physics.” 

View photos from the event: 


Department of Physics 100 Celebration
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