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Stony Brook Physics & Astronomy: History

Former Chairs of the Department

  • Six past chairsSix past chairs

    Arnie Feingold, Alec Pond, Peter Kahn, Gene Sprouse, Janos Kirz, and Paul Grannis
    Spring 2003

See also:

Physicists as President of SBU

History of the Chair

Laszlo MihalyLaszlo Mihaly
The $5M donation to the Department from Jim Simons, that was announced in the Spring of 2009, created an enormous opportunity for us to rejuvenate the Department. Our enthusiasm was only slightly diminished by the continuing budget cuts. Armed with the Department's Strategic Plan, we hired 14 new faculty during Mihaly's tenure. The new colleagues included 9 junior faculty and several senior faculty holding joint appointments with BNL. The number of women faculty also increased dramatically. In conjuncture with the new hires we continued and expanded the renovation of laboratory space that started in the previous years. Our faculty continued to excel in terms of awards and promotions: 3 of us were appointed Distinguished Professor, 5 were elected to APS Fellow, and 7 were elected to Fellow of the AAAS.
Paul GrannisPaul Grannis
Stony Brook Physics and Astronomy seemed to have come to maturity in Grannis tenure, at least in the sense that we were able to hire seven excellent young faculty while losing five to raids from other top departments around the world. Our ability to hire in a period of fiscal austerity was due in large part to funds generated from senior faculty on leave in high visibility national positions. The defensive perimeter inherited from Kirz persisted and the weeds grew apace behind the fence, and the building leaks were repeatedly stanched. During this period, three of our faculty were elevated to distinguished professor, an Antarctic mountain was named for another, and the biannual Simons lectures were initiated.
Janos KirzJanos Kirz
In his own words describes his tenure the following way:
The Department had a decisive role in the preparation of the bid by BSA (the Stony Brook - Battelle entity) for taking over the management of Brookhaven National Laboratory. Janos Kirz chaired the search committee to select the director and his deputy: Physics professor John Marburger and Physics Chair Pater Paul respectively. Having thereby shrewdly arranged for a vacancy, Kirz slid seamlessly into the chair's office. He spent the first nine months as acting chair, trying to persuade the dean, Paul Armstrong, to take him seriously. The highlight of his tenure was the arrangement of a defensive perimeter, a chain-link fence to surround the Physics - Math complex. This achievement outlasted his tenure by many years.
Peter PaulPeter Paul
In 1998 Peter Paul chaired the development of the 1998 Nuclear Science Long Range Plan which led to the construction of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at BNL. (
Peter PaulPeter Paul
Peter Paul is a nuclear physicist who has worked in many subareas of the field: Nuclear structure physics, heavy ion physics, neutrino physics and particle accelerators. In the 1970’s and 80’s he and professor Gene Sprouse from SBU designed and built one of the first superconducting linear accelerators, in the Nuclear Structure laboratory at Stony Brook. It was used for research until 2006.
Peter KahnPeter Kahn (1979-1980: Acting Chair: Arnold Feingold)
The department had a period of growth during these years with the hiring of many Assistant Professors along with the design and construction of the LINAC accelerator. The department moved into its present building that enabled it to develop stronger and more diverse experimental programs.
Oakes AmesOakes Ames
Oakes Ames was an experimental nuclear physicist. Initially Oakes worked in the administration with Academic Vice President Bentley Glass and in 1969 became Chair of the department until 1974 when he resigned to become President of Connecticut College.
Mort HamermeshMort Hamermesh
Morton Hamermesh came from the University of Minnesota to serve as chair of the Department of Physics at Stony Brook during the year 1968-69. After a year he returned to Minnesota. He is known to all physics students as the author of the group theory book.
Max DresdenActing Chairs: Leonard Eisenbud and Max Dresden
After Alec Pond went to the join the administration as Provost, the department chose to seek an outside candidate for chairman. Max and Leonard kept the department on an even keel during this period.
Alexander PondT. Alexander Pond
Alec built the department into a cohesive and powerful entity. He brought the Einstein Chair to Stony Brook, with C.N. Yang as its occupant, and concurrently established the Institute for Theoretical Physics, today named the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics. Through Alec's leadership, in 1965 John Toll was recruited as Stony Brook's third President. After serving as Chair, Alec became Provost and even later, he went to Rutgers as Executive Vice.
Leonard EisenbudLeonard Eisenbud
Leonard received a B.S. degree from Union College in 1935 and a PhD. from Princeton in 1940 and spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study. Leonard joined the Stony Brook faculty in 1958 and was the guiding hand in the early years of the department's formation.
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