Physics 112

Allan Russell with telescope

Prof. Allan Russell (right), circa 1968-1970.

In 1968, the Colleges hired Allan Russell as professor of physics and associate provost.

Russell introduced Physics 112: Introduction to Astronomy, the first astronomy course offered since 1954. Russell described it as, “A study of our knowledge of the celestial universe from Pythagoras to Pioneer 10 and from our own small geoid to the largest galactic cluster. Topics include the origin of the solar system, uniqueness of life in the universe and the ways that man has come to realize his physical insignificance as his intellect has grown to encompass the cosmos.”

The course consisted of readings and lectures, with observation sessions led by a student assistant. According to the 1972 Gregory, a student publication which collected course critiques, "It was generally agreed that these sessions did not tie in with the rest of the course, and it appeared that many did not consider them part of the course at all."

However, students enjoyed the textbooks, slides, and Russell's "entusiasm for the subject."

Space Colonization illustration

Unidentified space colonization painting, undated.

Allan Russell

Prof. Russell, circa 1970-1980.

In addition to astronomy, Russell had a strong interest in space colonization.

In 1970, his matriculation address, "Noah II", envisioned space colonization as the future of the human race. Colonies in Space by T. A. Heppenheimer was added as a required text for Physics 112, and in 1975, Russell participated in a NASA-sponsored study in Mountain View, California.

In October 1985, Russell helped organize the conference "Space Colonization: Technology and the Liberal Arts" in conjunction with Colgate University. The published proceedings of the conference can be found in the Warren Hunting Smith Library.

By 1987, the course description for Physics 112 read, “The celestial universe from planets of the sun to stars of the galaxies, with emphasis on how we have come to know what we claim to know. The latter part of the course includes a study of the future possibilities for human beings in space.”

In 1975, interest in astronomy generated by Russell's class led the Colleges to purchase a portable 12-inch Newtonian reflecting telescope, and in 1977 a small observatory was built on campus. It was a 12' x 12' cinder block building with a sliding roof. It was located on the north side of King's Lane, the location selected by the Smithsonian Institute in 1965 and the current location of the Richard S. Perkin Observatory.

Leslie Hebb and the Cinder Block Observatory

Current astronomy professor Leslie Hebb in front of the cinder block observatory on King's Lane, 2014.

Russell taught Physics 112 until he retired in 1997.

He endowed the Albert Holland Prize for Public Presentations of Physics, which is the Physics Department’s main student prize.

He passed away in 2011.

Physics 112 continued, though the mention of space colonization was removed from the course description.

Alan Russell teaching

Prof. Russell teaching, circa 1980-1990.

Physics 112