A Legacy of Discovery: Celebrating 50 Years of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences
The origins of what we know today as the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (PAMS) can be traced back to the very beginnings of North Carolina State University. NC State's founders understood that strong programs in the physical and mathematical sciences were central to the institution's land-grant mission. In fact, two of the university's founding six faculty members represented disciplines that today reside in PAMS.
The College itself was established in 1960 as the School of Physical Sciences and Applied Mathematics, comprised of the departments of Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Experimental Statistics. The School was established primarily as a provider of core instruction for the rest of the university and in response to "...the need for an increasing supply of high caliber scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. The creation of this school reaffirmed the fact that strong educational and research opportunities in the basic sciences and mathematics are fundamentally necessary and are important adjuncts to successful programs in applied fields."
In the 50 years since its founding, PAMS has become a national leader in research, teaching and outreach. Today, our faculty are engaged in research that runs the gamut from curiosity-driven, pure science to applied research that addresses some of society’s greatest challenges. At the same time, we continue to explore new techniques and technologies to help educate the next generation of leaders for North Carolina, the nation and the world.
1961: Head of the Department of Chemistry, Ralph Clay Swann (center), and two others look at models of what are today Cox, Dabney and Harrelson Halls.
1950: Mathematics Professor John W. Cell and a giant slide rule. Cell served on the NC State faculty for 32 years. He served as department head from 1957 until his death in 1967.
While the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences initially was established as a teaching entity, there is also a long tradition of research excellence in many PAMS member departments. Much of this research has had a direct, positive impact on society as a whole, and has helped improve lives in North Carolina, across the United States, and beyond.
One major area of contribution throughout much of our history has been in energy research. In 1953, NC State was home to the world's first nuclear reactor on a university campus, and PAMS faculty and students continue to be active in nuclear energy research, both on campus and as partners in the renowned Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL). Over the last two decades, PAMS has also expanded their scope to include a wide variety of research projects related to the production, transmission, storage and consumption of energy.
Other areas of "applied" research that are central to the mission of PAMS are in the areas human health and climate and environment. Researchers in all five of PAMS' academic departments are studying a broad spectrum of issues related to improving human health — from mathematicians and statisticians working to improve treatment regimens for HIV/AIDS to chemists working to identify biomarkers that can help better detect and treat deadly forms of cancer.
Researchers within PAMS, specifically in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (MEAS), also are working in a wide variety of research areas related to earth, water, and air, and their interactions with one another and us &mdash from developing better models to predict hurricanes and other deadly storms to working with farmers and fishermen to restore North Carolina's blue crab population.
Research conducted here at NC State has the ability produce remarkable knowledge that improves all of our lives. Under the right circumstances, it can also produce remarkable companies that generate jobs and help grow our economy. There have been a few such examples over the history of PAMS, but none rival the success story known as SAS.
SAS was born out of a research project that began in the Department of Statistics in the early 1970s. Since then, the company has grown into one of the largest software providers in the world. Two of the company's founders and many of their employees remain close partners and staunch supporters of PAMS and NC State.
1954: NC State nuclear reactor control panel in use. From left to right: Joseph G. Lundholm, Jr.; Raymond L. Murray; Arthur C. Menius; unidentified; unidentified; Harold A. Lamonds.
While much research in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences seeks to solve specific challenges we face as a society, we also have faculty who are determined to figure out how the world, even the universe, works — because they just can't stand not to know. This type of research can lead to amazing new inventions and discoveries, and can even fundamentally change the way we see — and hear — everything around us.
The work of Willard Bennett provides one example. In a distinguished career that lasted from the 1920s to 1976 (including 15 years at NC State), Bennett received 67 patents. Bennett was elected posthumously in 1991 to the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the radio frequency mass spectrometer, the only NC State faculty member so recognized.
In the years since Willard Bennett, PAMS physicists continue to excel in "curiosity-driven" research, including the field of astrophysics. The NC State astrophysics team has been well decorated for their outstanding work. Some of their discoveries even make national and international headlines, such as in 2008 when they discovered the youngest supernova remnant in the Milky Way.
It's not just NC State faculty who feel the need to experiment and discover. It's the students, too. Engineering student Sidney Wilson took what he learned about sound in his physics classes and used that knowledge to build what is believed to be the world's first completely electric guitar.
Current PAMS students are always on the lookout for the next great invention or discovery that may change everything. Some of those students may be on a dig with PAMS paleontologist Mary Schweitzer. Schweitzer's name may be familiar even to those beyond her field, thanks to her discovery of soft tissue in a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex. The initial discovery in 2005 revolutionized the way we think about fossilized materials. Schweitzer made news again in 2009 when it was reported that she had found soft issue in an 80 million-year-old hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur.
Increasing the flow of high-quality students into academic and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has been an ongoing challenge for years in the United States. This is especially true among women and minorities, who are traditionally underrepresented in these fields. Improving the quality of and access to STEM education has long been a priority in PAMS.
The most widely known woman associated with PAMS is Gertrude Cox, the "First Lady of Statistics." Cox came to NC State in 1940 to establish the Department of Experimental Statistics, becoming the first woman in university history to hold the rank of professor or department head. Over her long and storied career, Cox also established the UNC system's Institute of Statistics, was instrumental in establishing the Research Triangle Institute, served as president of the American Statistical Association and the International Biometric Society, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Cox also served as founding editor of Biometrics, the flagship journal of the International Biometric Society. This position is now held by another NC State statistics professor, Marie Davidian.
PAMS remains committed to improving the quality and diversity of the STEM pipeline. Some signature programs in this area, including The Science House and the NC State University Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, have made PAMS a recognized leader in providing encouragement and opportunities for students and faculty alike. Also promoting success among students across the College is the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Student Services. Established in 1984, the office's mission is to enhance the recruitment, retention and graduation of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and other minority students who are traditionally underrepresented in the physical and mathematical sciences.
Through these initiatives and others across the College, NC State consistently ranks among the top universities in the country for graduating underrepresented students at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the physical and mathematical sciences.
1960: Gertrude Cox standing in front of the building that bears her name. Cox Hall has been the primary home of PAMS since the college's founding.
The student experience at NC State University is ever evolving. While students today will remember their campus experience as fondly as those who came before them, many aspects of that experience vary greatly over the years.
First, there are the differences inside the classroom. The "formal" learning experience has changed over the years as teaching techniques and technologies are improved and refined. This is especially true in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, as the College has a cadre of faculty who actually conduct research on improving science teaching and learning. The result has been the development of projects, such as SCALE-UP (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs) and WebAssign, that have dramatically changed the learning experience here and elsewhere. PAMS students also do a great deal of their learning in non-traditional settings, such as archaeological digs, research cruises, and national laboratories.
Second, there is the more "informal" learning experience, known generally a student life. Like all NC State students, PAMS students traditionally have gotten the most out of their college years by participating in extracurricular programs like student government, Greek life and intercollegiate or intramural athletics.
The uniting factor among our students from across generations is that they are part of the PAMS family.
1940s: Chemistry Professor George Howard Satterfield. Satterfield's son and grandson are both PAMS alumni.
The College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences and its academic departments have a proud tradition of producing top-performing students, many of whom go on to great success in industry, academics or government. Just as our students do not stop learning just because they leave campus, neither does the College stop recognizing the accomplishments of our former students. Wherever they go and whatever they do, our students will always be the greatest legacy of PAMS.
In order to properly acknowledge our alumni, NC State University in 1990 created the Distinguished Alumni Award. This award honors a graduate of each college who has brought honor to NC State with his or her accomplishments in research, business, education or public service. Here is a list of the recipients of the PAMS Distinguished Alumni Award from 1990 through 2009. (Citations refer to positions held at the time of award.)
James H. Goodnight, BS '65, MS '68, PhD '72 — Statistics
Founder and CEO of SAS
Charles D. Case, BS '72 — Physics
Environmental attorney and active community citizen
John E. Bercaw, BS '72 — Chemistry
Professor, California Institute of Technology
Member, National Academy of Sciences
Jacob C. Belin, Jr, BS '70 - Applied Mathematics
President, Kern Oil & Refining Company in California
William Mendenhall III, PhD '75 — Experimental Statistics
Started the University of Florida's Department of Statistics in 1963
Prolific textbook writer
Anthony J. Barr, BS '62, MS '68 — Physics
Founder and major developer in early years of SAS
Founded Barr Systems in 1978
Michael Peirson, PhD '83 — Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Established Cherrystone AquaFarms in eastern Virginia
James W. York, Jr., BS '62 — Physics
Agnew H. Bahnson Jr. Professor of Physics at UNC-Chapel Hill
David F. Bocian, BS '72 — Chemistry
Distinguished researcher in biophysical, physical-organic and materials chemistry
Professor at the University of California at Riverside
Suzanne Gordon, BS '75 — Mathematics, Computer Science; MS 'XX — Statistics
Director of Management Information Systems at SAS
Member of NC State Board of Trustees
Robert M. Steinberg, BS '64 - Applied Mathematics
Vice Chairman of Reliance Group Holdings, Inc.
Eric Bigham, BS '69 — Chemistry
Research Investigator, GlaxoSmithKline
Eric Doggett, BS '89 — Physics
Serves on the board of directors for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association and on the board of advisors for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
Christine Hemrick, BS '74 — Mathematics
Vice President for technology policy and consulting engineering for Cisco Systems, Inc.
J. Stuart "Stu" Hunter, PhD '54 — Experimental Statistics
Professor Emeritus, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Princeton University
Robert L. Bryant, BS '74 — Mathematics
J.M. Kreps Professor of Mathematics at Duke University
W. Donald "Don" Johnson, BS '69 — Applied Mathematics (also MS and PhD from College of Engineering)
Chairman and Representative Director, DuPont – Japan
Jun Zhu, PhD '89 — Statistics
Vice President, Zhejiang University
LeRoy Martin, MS '52 — Mathematics
Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics, NC State University
Cathy Sigal, BS '76 — Chemistry
Vice-chair of PAMS Foundation Board and member of investment committee
Endowed Thomas S. Teague Scholarship