History of Our Programs

The physics programs offered at Dalhousie have undergone many changes since 1838, when Dalhousie was just a small college located in what is now the Grand Parade, downtown Halifax. We've added programs, increased our number of faculty, and expanded our research labs - all with the aim of ensuring that the level of instruction and our facilities are both first-rate.

Undergraduate and graduate program history

Graduate programs

The first recipient of a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Physics from Dalhousie University was, in 1914, J.H.L. Johnstone, later Head of the Physics department. The first woman to receive a MSc was Elizabeth Torrey in 1930; the second was some decades later: Charlotte Keen, in 1967.

The PhD program in Physics was initiated in 1961. The first recipient of a PhD in Physics was Dr. Peter Gacii of Kenya, in 1966. Among his many other accomplishments and governmental positions in Kenya, Dr. Gacii was the first Vice-Chancellor of Kenyatta University; at the time of his death in 1992, he was Managing Director of Synthetic Fibres Corporation, Kenya.


The first woman to receive a PhD in Physics was Dr. Nahomi Fujiki of Japan whose degree was awarded in 1989; she currrently teaches and carries out research at the Sendai National College of Technology in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan.


Undergraduate programs

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Department continued to offer a general BSc, a BSc with Honours in Physics, and a BSc in Engineering Physics. In the 1980s, Engineering Physics moved from Dalhousie (see Engineering Physics, below) and the Diploma in Meteorology (DMet) was added, together with a BSc with an Advanced Major in Physics. 

In the 1990s, the Honours Co-op program was instituted. The Department currently offers a 15-credit BSc and a 20-credit BSc, as well as Honours and Co-op degrees. The Diploma in Meteorology and the Diploma in Engineering can be combined with a BSc in Physics, and there are many other interdisciplinary opportunities.

The design, organization, and instruction of undergraduate teaching laboratories, as well as the Physics Resource Centre for first-year students, have been greatly enhanced by the work of senior instructors, including Mr. F.M. Fyfe (1974 to 2001) and Mr. W. P. Zukauskas (from 1982 until his retirement in 2008). Hands-on labs are conducted in all first-year classes, as well as in the second-, third- and fourth-year labs.

Program topic history


Geophysics began with the appointment of Dr. J. Ewart Blanchard in 1949. He brought an interest in the physics of the Earth's crust, particularly in its practical applications. For more than a decade, graduate students and senior undergraduates tramped the bush of Nova Scotia carrying out detailed micro-gravity surveys. These results provided interesting science - and formed the basis for commercial mineral exploitation, particulary of potash and limestone.

Blanchard left to become president of the Nova Scotia Research Foundation in 1966, but not before M.J. Keen had come from Cambridge to study continental drift via ocean floor spreading. This introduced a "marine" flavour to geophysics, which carried on with contributions from Bosco Loncarovic at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, and C.R. Mann in conjunction with the newly created Dalhousie Institute of Oceanography. R. Overstreet and R.D. Hyndman maintained the physics component, and P.H. Reynolds brought radio-dating to the department, before Geophysics was moved under the aegis of Geology (which, to reflect the inclusion of geophysics, is now called Earth Sciences).

Engineering Physics

The Engineering Physics program existed informally since the 1930s, to allow physics students to acquire some engineering background by taking additional classes through the Engineering School. A formal five-year program of Engineering Physics was established within the Physics Department at Dalhousie University in co-operation with the Nova Scotia Technical College (later Technical University of Nova Scotia, or TUNS) in 1949. After three years of Physics, Mathematics and pre-Engineering subjects, students took advanced classes within the Physics Department and at the Technical College. After five years the student was awarded, by Dalhousie, the degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics.

In the 1970s, total enrolment varied between about 20 and 50 students. In the late 1970s, it was decided that it would be desirable to seek accreditation of the Engineering Physics program from the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers in order to allow students to obtain registration as professional engineers. For the purpose of organizing these changes in the program, Professor H.W. Jones was appointed Director of Engineering Physics in 1980. As result of these changes, the Engineering Physics Department was set up at TUNS in 1983.  At that time, Engineering Physics faculty members and their research moved to TUNS. Dalhousie Physics faculty continued to teach in this program until the TUNS decided to put the program in abeyance in 1989.

Meteorology and Atmospheric Science

In 1984, the Dalhousie University Meteorology program was established. This program was administered by the Physics Department and had input from the Departments of Oceanography and Mathematics, as well as Atmospheric Environment Services (AES) Canada. The Meteorology program offered a Diploma in Meteorology (DMet) in conjunction with a BSc in Physics. In 1989, the Atmospheric Sciences program was established in conjunction with AES and NSERC. This program was run jointly between Dalhousie's Departments of Physics and Oceanography. Four faculty positions were associated with the program and the personnel holding these positions had appointments in Physics and/or Oceanography as was appropriate for their area of research.

In 2001, the Atmospheric Science program was transferred completely under Physics and the name of the Physics Department changed to the Department of Physics and Atmospheric Science. However, the Atmospheric Science Division maintained the options that master of science (MSc) and PhD degrees are awarded in Physics or Oceanography as appropriate with a specialization in Atmospheric Science. From its beginning until 2000, the program was directed by Professor P. Chylek; from April 2000 until 2004, the director was Professor U. Lohmann, with Professor I. Folkins as acting coordinator from 2003 to 2005.