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1. Expansion of the Department
& Raymond Thayer Birge

T

he opening of the 20th century introduced a period of sustained growth in the University, intellectual as well as physical, as is evident in photos here showing the expansion of the campus and the Department of Physics.


The Physics Department significantly increased the size of its faculty and student cohorts -- and the reputation of their work as well.


In 1912 the department occupied all of South Hall; little more than ten years later, the department moved into the newly completed LeConte Hall designed by John Galen Howard -- with almost five times the space of South Hall. The addition of the Radiation Laboratory in 1931 added still more footage, capping an era of extraordinary growth for the department.



View of the East Façade of LeConte Hall with Bacon Hall and the Campanile in Background, by McCurry, ca. 1926
View of the East Façade of LeConte Hall with Bacon Hall and the Campanile in Background
by McCurry, ca. 1926
[UARC PIC 11n:19]


Practice and Theory - Raymond Thayer Birge (1887-1980)

L

awrence may have established Berkeley as a preeminent research university for experimental physics, and Oppenheimer may have made it into a leading institution for theory, but it was a young Raymond Birge who introduced the department to the scientific possibilities of both.


Birge used Berkeley's emphasis on studying things seen or experienced in everyday life as a platform from which to think about the universe as an inter-related puzzle with electricity, magnetism, and the motion of light all working in tandem.


Birge was a member of the Physics Department for 37 years, chairing it from 1932 until his retirement in 1955.


Raymond T. Birge, ca. 1955
Raymond T. Birge, ca. 1955

[BANC PIC 1964.063 Birge, Raymond T. 001--POR]


Raymond T. Birge in his Office (South Hall?), ca. 1920
Raymond T. Birge in his Office (South Hall?), ca. 1920

[BANC MSS 2002/345 z, Ctn. 24]


A Leader in Research

B

irge’s work on the light emitted by atoms and molecules was at the forefront of the physics of his day. He quickly connected his findings to the new Bohr model of the atom, and his results fed into the breakthrough of quantum mechanics in 1925.


The Berkeley professor gained international admiration for his exact measurements, including the best values of crucial quantum constants. His work was so well respected that he authored the first article in the new Physical Review Supplement, the forerunner of Reviews in Modern Physics, the physicists’ review journal of record.


Along with cutting-edge research, Birge was passionate about teaching – again, a key feature of Berkeley physics – and would demonstrate his work in laboratory classes using simple tools that he often built himself. One extraordinary measure of Birge’s devotion to his students: 343 Ph. D. were completed under his direction.


"Probable Values of the General Physical Constants (as of January 1, 1929)," by Raymond T. Birge. The Physical Review Supplement, Vol 1, Number 1, July 1929
"Probable Values of the General Physical Constants (as of January 1, 1929)," by Raymond T. Birge. The Physical Review Supplement, Vol 1, Number 1, July 1929 [title, 59]
[Physics and Astronomy Library QCl R5 v.1-2 p.1, QCl R5 v.1-2 p.59]


"The Balmer Series of Hydrogen, and the Quantum Theory of Line Spectra," by Raymond T. Birge "The Balmer Series of Hydrogen, and the Quantum Theory of Line Spectra," by Raymond T. Birge

"The Balmer Series of Hydrogen, and the Quantum Theory of Line Spectra," by Raymond T. Birge. Reprinted from the Physical Review, Vol. XVII, No. 5, May 1921 [cover, 1]
[BANC MSS 73/79 c]