The Department's Labs and Office
From 1838 to 1877, the teaching of physics was carried out in what was then Dalhousie College on the Grand Parade (where City Hall now stands, between Barrington and Argyle Streets). In 1887, the foundation stone was laid for the Forrest Building, now home to Dal’s School of Nursing.
J.G. MacGregor was the first physics professor to use quarters in the Forrest Building: one large room, the main laboratory where first- and second-year laboratory classes were conducted; a second smaller room for the advanced laboratory classes; a lecture room; a battery room; a small research room and an office for the professor. In 1916, the department moved to the new Science Building on Studley campus (now housing the Chemistry Department), and in 1960 to the Sir James Dunn Science Building.
In the early days of the Second World War, a great part of the experimental work was carried out in the Physics Department at Dalhousie. The small but excellent machine shop or instrument shop was greatly enlarged to cope with the School for the Training of Instrument Makers, initiated by Drs. Henderson and Johnstone. At that time, the department employed a highly skilled instrument maker, Mr. A.V. Brody. He trained many of the young instrument makers urgently needed by industry and laboratories carrying on war research, and also designed and made many of the devices required by the Naval Research Establishment in its early days.
One of Mr. Brody's trainees was Mr. Russell Heffler, who was hired by the Physics Department following the war and was head technician until his retirement in 1977. In the 1960s, Mr. Heffler had five technicians under his training and supervision in the various laboratories; in 2000, due to financial restraints, there were only two instrument makers. Mr. Alex Feargrieve started his position with the department in 1967; his expertise has been known throughout the scientific community in the Halifax region.
With the opening of the Sir James Dunn Building in 1960, new laboratories included a cryogenics facility with helium and air liquefiers to meet the requirements for developing research activities in low temperature physics; a specially designed positron annihilation lab accommodating the rather large angular correlation apparatus; and laboratories for geophysics research, including radio-carbon dating. Six of the basement laboratories have floor sections that are anchored to bedrock to provide isolation for vibration sensitive experiments.
The original design included an extensive power room that housed batteries and a motor-generator to provide laboratories with AC and DC power. These soon became obsolete and have subsequently been dismantled. Since the early 1960s, the Department has employed technical staff in the areas of electronics, including more recently computer programming and repair (currently, J. Chisholm), sample preparation (currently, A. George), as well as cryogenics (now K. Borgel) and instrument design and manufacture (A. Feargrieve, followed by and S. Trussler). Mr. Ralph Deveau, cryogenics technician from 1965 until his retirement in 1998, was instrumental in keeping the helium and nitrogen equipment running. With the influx of new faculty since 2000, several research laboratories have been renovated. The outdated liquefiers were dismantled and a new liquid nitrogen liquefier was bought in 2003.
Our office staff...
The office currently employs four staff members. The Administrator is Heather Ann Jennex. Providing administrative support are: Jenn Currie, who is the administrative assistant to the Undergraduate Program and secretary to the Chair; Mary Okwese, who is the administrative assistant to our Graduate Program; and Valerie O'Neill, who manages the reception area and provides administrative support to faculty, staff, and students.