Department History

Department History

Robert College Era of the Physics Department

The history of the Physics Department dates back to the founding of Robert College, the predecessor of Bogazici University. Cyrus Hamlin, who founded Robert College in 1863, with the financial backing of Christopher Robert, taught physics and other branches of science, for both he and Robert felt that RC should be as broadly based as any American college. As Robert wrote, prophetically, in a letter to Hamlin in 1863:

I note there was a tremendous pressure on you to make it a mere School of Languages’. This must be resisted at all hazards, for my design is to establish an institution in which a scientific education can be obtained to be as equal as soon as possible to that given at Yale or any other first class college in this country… it conforms to my idea that ultimately the college will grow into a university with departments for the study of Theology, Medicine, Law…

A decade later Albert Long was appointed as the first Professor of Natural Sciences, teaching physics as well as other scientific subjects. George Washburn, the second president of RC, in his annual report of 1875 describes the courses studied at that time, including those in science: ‘In science, they had Zoology, Physics, Physiology, Chemistry, Botany, Geology and Mineralogy, and Astronomy, in this order, an average of five hours a week.’

The commencement exercises in 1892 were held in the newly completed Science Hall, later to be called Albert Long Hall, described by Washburn in his annual report for that year:

The new college building, which was then called Science Hall, but which since Dr. Long’s death has been named for him, was completed in the spring of 1892… The
Chemistry Department was in the basement, the museum, library and Physics Department on the first floor. The whole of the upper floor was occupied by a hall, which was divided by a movable partition into a chapel and a lecture room…

After the Robert College Engineering School opened in 1912 the Physics Department began offering elementary and advanced physics courses to the engineering students under the tutelage of Professor Manning. Besides this, physics was also taught as part of the science requirement in the Arts and Sciences curriculum at Robert College.
The situation changed after 19 December 1957, when the Ministry of Education gave its final approval to a plan to convert Robert College into a Yuksek Okul, an institution of higher learning, which in effect gave it the status of a university. Physics became one of the departments in the School of Science and Languages, the others being Chemistry, Mathematics, Natural Science, and Languages. The chairman of the Physics Department in 1958 was Hans Weltin, who introduced a two-year elementary physics course for engineering students, modeled after the program at the University of California with which he was familiar. This program featured numerous demonstrations in all of the physics lectures and newly designed experiments in the weekly laboratory sessions. Mehmet Rona was the first engineering student to take upper-level courses in physics, studying on a tutorial basis with Hans Weltin, and after graduating from RC in 1961 he went on to do a PhD in EE at Princeton. Robert McMickle joined the department in 1959 and John Freely arrived in 1960. Weltin left RC in 1962 and was succeeded as department chairman by Robert McMickle.

Beginning in 1963 the department, which then comprised only Professors McMickle and Freely, offered a two-year course in physics required of all engineeing students, with a fully-equipped laboratory and numerous lecture demonstrations. The department in addition offered a two-semester non-calculus course for students in liberal arts, economics and business administration. Prof. Freely also lectured on the history of science in the two-year Bilingual, Bicultural Humanities program required of all RC students.

In 1964 the department introduced a four-year program leading to an undergraduate physics major. This involved the creation of upper-level laboratories in atomic and nuclear physics, optics, and electromagnetism. During the next few years the department annually enrolled a few students in one or more upper-level physics courses, the number of students and courses gradually increasing as time went on. Some of the students were physics majors and others were engineering and math students taking advanced physics courses as electives, many of them the top students in their departments, such as Arif Dirlik, who graduated with an engineering degree in 1964. From 1966 onwards, the department graduated one or more students each year with a major in physics. Year by year, the physics majors who graduated were, 1965: Ayhan Sümer; 1966: Orhan Nalcıoğlu and Alpar Sevgen;1967: İzak Bars, Haluk Beker and Avadis Hacınliyan; 1968: Yaşar Eker and Murat Günaydın; 1969: Haluk Aytaç, Sadi Baydu, and Avram Sidi; 1970: Evren Günaydın and Graeme Robertson-Mair; 1971: Cengiz Erçil, Ali Evenay, Selim Sancaktar, Ayşe Soysal and Aslı Tolun; 1972: Metin Yersel; 1973: Egbert Ammicht, Ertuğrul Berkcan and Mahmut Ercan Özer; 1974: Sultan Sevinç Aktuğ, Zehra Gökhan, Zeynep Saraçoğlu, and Şadiye Oya Tümbek, who was the first to receive an MS in Physics; 1975: Arsin Aşık, İsmail German, Hasan Nüzhet Dalfes and Gülen Fındıklı (Aktaş); 1976: Simone Adato, Şule Kehnemi, Erol Eseneçay (MS) and Ali Orhan
Yener (MS); 1977: Daniel Alfandari, Kazım Ferit Ekmekeçioğlu, Fatma Olcay, Zehra Akdeniz (MS); 1978: Enise Nihal Ercan (MS), Oktay Özcan, Ömür Sezerman (DM), Tanaş Desis (MS), Enise Erem (MS) and Bekir Karaoğlu (MS); 1979: Petra Benz, Meral Koçbeker, Mehmet Pekindağ, Yakup Sarıaslan, R. Hasan Tulgar, Ahmet Sait Umar, and Melek Nilgün Tezey (MS); 1980: 8 BS and 6 MS; 1981: 2 BS and 2 MS; 1982: lOBS (including Erhan Gülmez and 2 MS (including Fahrünisa Neyzi). To summarize, during the years 1965-1971 18 students received BS degrees in physics from Robert College, and in the period 1971-1982 49 students received a BS and 17 an MS from BU. Fahrünisa Neyzi and Jan Kalaycı were the first students to receive a Ph.D. in physics from BU (1984).

The engineering and math students enrolled in upper-level physics courses during the years 1963-71 included Mahmut Hortaçsu, Mehmet Erbudak, Gülsen Ertüzün, Semih Koray, Yorgo İstefanopulos, Jakop Maya, Bülent Sankur, Haluk Sankur, and Yani Skarlatos.

To broaden student experience and development, the staff looked for opportunities to get its students involved with physics research in Europe. The first such opportunity came in the summer of 1963, when Prof. McMickle was accompanied by Demir Zoroğlu, an engineering student of the class of 1964, to attend a three week NATO-sponsored conference on solid state physics held at the University of Thessalonika, at which the featured speaker was Peter Debye.

The department considered laboratory work an essential part of the instruction in the two-year year course in elementary physics. Throughout the decade of the 1960s, a continual effort took place to build up the laboratory equipment so that the students could conduct experiments to verify physics phenomena and acquire the ability to make accurate measurements. To extend limited financial resources for laboratory instruction, the staff designed apparatus for student experiments that the department technician, Dimitri Isayeff, could construct in multiple se from material and parts purchased in Istanbul. In 1965, the department receivt a grant of $65,000 from the U. S. Agency for International Development (All designed to support laboratory instruction). This grant was used to purchase additional equipment for the laboratories of the two-year elementary course and acquire equipment for the upper-level laboratories in optics, atomic physics and nuclear physics.

Informal basketball game at Robert College; Robert McMickle on right, John Freely, fifth from right.

Informal basketball game at Robert College; Robert McMickle on right, John Freely, fifth from right.

Laboratory development in the 1960s also included the introduction of student teaching assistants, recruited from upper-level students, to help with instruction in the laboratories of the two-year course in elementary physics. The department was pleased with the cooperation shown by capable students in their willingness to serve as laboratory teaching assistants without substantial pay. This work helped these students gain maturity through teaching and enhanced their knowledge of physics by having to explain phenomena to the students. A department member was always present to take responsibility for the laboratory instruction.

Around 1966 the department made a significant change to enhance the effectiveness of laboratory instruction in the two-year elementary physics course. It doubled the number of laboratory sections, while reducing the time period each section from three to two hours. With this change, each student in a laboratory section was able to perform the laboratory experiments individually, rather than with one or two partners. This did much to increase the effectiveness of the laboratory sessions. The change became possible due to two factors, the cooperation of the staff in accepting an increased laboratory teaching load, and the
availability of willing and able upper-level students to serve as teaching assistants for the increased number of laboratory sections. Another supporting factor was that by this time, the department had acquired enough multiple sets of equipment to permit each student to have his/her own apparatus for a total of up to twelve laboratory sessions each semester.

Albert Long Hall, 1921

In a further effort to enhance laboratory instruction in 1972 the department added a staff member, Mr. Metin Yersel, whose sole responsibility was supervision of laboratory teaching for the two-year course. In 1975, Mrs. Işın Akyüz and later Mrs. Gülen Fındıklı, Daniel Alfandari and Arsin Aşık joined. The written instructions for the laboratory instructions composed by Professors Freely and McMickle were adapted by Mr. Metin Yersel and published as a laboratory manual, which continues in use today in the Bogazici University Physics Department.

The department made a continual effort to maintain effective teaching in the lecture sections of the two-year course in elementary physics and to make sure that it included modern developments in physics. In the fourth semester of the two-year course, the department included special relativity as well as atomic and nuclear physics, including Schroedinger’s wave mechanics. As these topics were not included in available student texts, the department prepared an appropriate textbook, “An Introduction to Modern Physics”, by John Freely and Robert McMickle. The introduction of these modern concepts was much appreciated by the students, greatly stimulating their interest in physics.

Beginning in about 1965, the department introduced a new two-semester physics course for students of humanities, economics, and business administration. This was a non-calculus course designed to meet the intellectual needs of the students enrolled.

During the academic year 1966-67 Professor Freely used a U. S. National Foundation fellowship to study the History of Science at Oxford University, the purpose of the grant being to prepare him to offer a course in that subject at RC. On his return to RC in September 1967 he began teaching a two-semester course in the History of Science, which he taught every year until his departure from RC in 76. When he rejoined the Physics Department at BU in 1993 he again began offering this course, which he continues to teach today, using as a text his book, “The Emergence of Modern Science, East and West”, published in 2005 by Bogaziçi University Press.

To encourage more enrollment in upper-level physics courses, the department, in 1969, began focusing on double-major programs. The following year the double-major concept was applied to physics and engineering, with the introduction of separate double-major programs between physics and each of the engineering disciplines as well as mathematics. During the 1970s most of the undergraduate physics majors were doing joint programs in engineering.

The greatly increased enrollment in the Physics Department led to an increase the staff, first with the appointment of physicists from the U. S. and then with Turkish citizens, many of whom were former physics students from RC who had gone on to obtain their doctorates from American universities. During the period 1966-79 the new American staff members included Charles Clark, Charles Christoe, Donald Bell, John Faust, Donald Frey, John Hofland, Kent Macomber, Harry Nickle, and Vincent Kisselbach. The new Turkish staff members included Ömür Akyüz, Ali Alpar, Ahmet Atakan, Haluk Beker (RC67), Duygu Demirlioglu, Altan Ferendeci (RC59), Avadis Hacınlıyan (RC67), Mahmut Hortaçsu (RC66), Erdal İnonü, Halis Odabaşı, Mehmet Rona (RC6l), Haluk Sankur (RC70), Cihan Saçlıoğlu, Meral Serdaroğlu, Alpar Sevgen (RC66), and Yani Skarlatos (RC70).

The establishment of Bogaziçi University in 1971 began a new era in the development of the department. The transition to being a national university of Turkey assured the development of graduate programs for the Master’s and Doctor’s degrees, including the concomitant introduction of graduate-level professional research. The Turkish government provided very liberal funding that became available to the Physics Department at various times in the 1970s. These funds were used primarily to provide the equipment needed to support experimental research at the graduate level. They were also used to further equip the instructional laboratories associated with the two-year course for engineering students.

Shortly after the beginning of BU, the department began to plan the introduction of programs for graduate degrees. The department’s proposal for a program leading to the Master’s degree in physics was approved in 1972. A few years later, students began to graduate from the Master’s program. A doctoral program was introduced about 1976, and by 1979 students had been admitted to the department for doctoral studies.

The introduction of the programs for graduate study in physics brought a greater emphasis on research. All of the department’s professors engaged in research activity, which for the most part, addressed topics in theoretical physics. Professor Freely published three papers on experimental physics in The Physical Review, based on research he had done before coming to RC. Experimental research in late 1970s centered on the work of Professor Skarlatos, who came to the department in 1974 after completing his doctorate at Yale University. He initiated an experimental research program on the electrical studies of thin films, continuing the work he had done for his dissertation at Yale. The department acquired the necessary equipment for his studies, including a high-vacuum system with thin-film forming capabilities and electronic and optical devices to determine the properties of the films produced. One of the first students to do research with Prof. Skarlatos was Gulen Aktaş, who received her BS degree from BU in 1975 and her MS degree from Istanbul University in 1980, working in the department as a student teaching assistant. After receiving her PhD from Istanbul University in 1983, she returned to the department as an Assistant Professor, supervising graduate students in thin-film research.

Throughout the 1970s the department continued to maintain awareness for opportunities that promoted contact with European and American physics research institutions. Professor Alpar Sevgen arranged for visits to the department by German nuclear physicists from the universities of Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Mainz. Professor Sevgen also visited and did research at MIT. Later Professor Alpar Sevgen and Robert McMickle made arrangements for students and faculty to do research at the Center for Theoretical Physics at Trieste.

In 1977, Professor McMickle stepped down as chairman of the Physics Department, to be replaced in turn by Altan Ferendeci, Halis Odabaşı and Erdal İnönü. Since Professor Erdal İnönü was the dean of the School of the Arts and Sciences, Alpar Sevgen was the acting chairman during intinil’s Chairmanship. Professor McMickle left BU in 1979, after having taught at RC-BU for twenty years, during which time the Physics Department grew from a staff of two PhD physicists to twelve, half of whom had gone through the PhD program that had been initiated during his chairmanship.

BU greatly expanded its enrollment during the 1970s, with the student body increasing from less than a thousand to, eventually, ten thousand. The Physics Department shared in this growth, with significant increases in the number of students taught, the number of courses and course sections oferred, and the size of the staff. All of this development created a need for more space for offices, classrooms, and instructional laboratories. The implementation of graduate Courses and research laboratories created an additional demand for space. All of this growth could hardly be contained in the cramped departmental space in Albert Long Hall, which had housed the Physics Department for nearly a century. Fortunately, overall planning for the expansion of BU provided a much larger space for the department in a new building to be constructed on the North Campus, a hilltop site that in years past had been the College Farm of RC. During the years 1978 and 1979 the department prepared detailed plans for its space on the third Door of the new building, Kare Blok. The plans indicated a room arrangement giving adequate space for classrooms, instructional laboratories, research laboratories, a seminar and meeting room, staff offices, and a departmental office.

The planning included a laboratory with a vibration-free floor to support an optical table for mounting lasers that would generate steady beams needed for thin-film studies and other research projects. Upon completion of the new building in the 1983 the department did not get the room arrangement it requested, and the Vibration-free Door had been forgotten. Nevertheless, the new building did relieve the growing pains of the department.

The years of transition for the Physics Department involved three phases, first the ending of Robert College and the beginning of Bogaziçi University, second the adjustment from being a private American college to being a public Turkish university, and third the move from the south campus to a new building on the north campus. Despite the changes involved in this transition the Physics Department upheld a philosophy in which its students were well educated in the humanities as weli as physics, continuing a tradition for which Robert College was renowned and which Bogaziçi University upholds.