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SU marks 60th anniversary of condensed matter physics program

April 14, 2010

Rob Enslin
(315) 443-3403

The Department of Physics in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences is marking the 60th anniversary of its pioneering condensed matter physics program with a daylong symposium. The invitation-only event, which also celebrates Arnold “Arny” Honig’s more than 50-year professorship in the department, is Saturday, April 24, in various locations in the Physics Building. The following day, guests are invited to Honig’s farm-home in Oran for further celebrations.

Eric Schiff, physics professor and former associate dean for sciences and mathematics, says the weekend will be entertaining and informative. “We will celebrate the accomplishments and careers of our condensed matter physics graduates, as well as honor Arny’s illustrious career,” he says. ”The Saturday program will include some cutting-edge science talks and ‘open-mic’ sessions for people to reminiscence about life and research at SU.”

Although guests will have plenty of opportunities to socialize, Schiff jokes that they probably won’t have time to sneak off to Danzer’s German and American Restaurant, recalled by students from the program’s entire span. “Everyone will be assured of scientific stimulation and great company,” he says.

As SU awarded its first doctorate in physics in 1951, the physics department was growing rapidly and tripled in size by the end of the decade. Professors Mel Lax, Henry Levinstein and Honig were part of the initial wave of physicists interested in “solid-state physics,” later renamed “condensed matter physics.” Since then, condensed matter and biological physics—broadly defined as the science of connecting atomic-scale physics to properties of everyday things—has served as one of three core research areas in the department. “Historically, condensed matter physics grew out of solid-state physics, which is now considered a subfield. Physicists developed interests in things like liquid crystals and cell membranes, which are hardly solids” Schiff explains. “The department now has strong research in areas of condensed matter physics–including active fluids, quantum computing and nanobiology–that didn’t exist back in the ’50s.”

Honig is one of eight experimentalists, along with five theorists, in condensed matter and biological physics at SU. Honig’s research spans semiconductor physics and “nuclear spin-polarized” fluids, such as hydrogen deuteride, that are used for particle physics experiments, fusion energy and magnetic resonance imagining (MRI). He earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University, working with physicist and educator Charles Townes. Schiff recalls that when Townes won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he sent Honig a check—Arny’s piece of the award—to thank him for his part. “Arny cashed it to support a growing family,” Schiff says.

For more information about the celebration, contact Penny Davis at davis@physics.syr.edu.

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