A Storyline of Service

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Special Feature

PhysCon 2016

A Storyline of Service


Rachel Kaufman, Contributing Writer

Neuenschwander (Center) with (L to R) AIP CEO Robert G.W. Brown, Sigma Pi Sigma President Willie S. Rockward, Society of Physics Students President DJ Wagner, and SPS & Sigma Pi Sigma Director Brad R. Conrad.

Dr. Dwight “Ed” Neuenschwander likes to say that physics, like literature, has storylines.  His physics storyline has just received another exciting twist, as he is the 2016 recipient of the Worth Seagondollar Award, awarded at PhysCon “in recognition of an exemplary level of commitment and service to the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma.”

Neuenschwander absolutely has made that commitment. He was nominated for the award for his 20 years of writing articles for The SPS Observer and Radiations (over 100 and counting!), two years as director of SPS, and decades of service to the next generation of physicists.  Physicist Don Nelson wrote to SPS leadership that Neuenschwander’s “Elegant Connections in Physics” articles are “superb” and that they “really captivate me.”

The Worth Seagondollar Award, named for the Manhattan Project scientist who helped create SPS, was presented to Neuenschwander by AIP CEO Robert G. W. Brown and SPS president DJ Wagner during the Saturday morning plenary at PhysCon 2016.

Neuenschwander originally thought he would become an engineer. “But the way I was taught it, they said, ‘Here’s the formulas you need to know to solve these problems.’” Physics, on the other hand, encouraged questioning, working from first principles, and had what Neuenschwander calls storylines. “One idea leads to another.  You can derive various things from a few fundamental principles.” It was completely different from engineering, and he quickly became a physics major.

After completing his schooling in Colorado, Kansas, and Arizona, he taught at various schools before ending up at Southern Nazarene University near Oklahoma, where he has remained for 30 years. “When I came there in the late 1980s, we were a two-person department. My colleague handed me a stack of unopened letters and said ‘You take care of this.’” They were letters from SPS, threatening to invalidate the school’s chapter because “they hadn’t heard anything from us in years.” Neuenschwander revived the moribund chapter and started going to zone meetings. At the end of 1994, he got a call from headquarters. They wanted him to lead SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma. “My upper plate fell out,” he jokes.

One of his first acts as director was to create the mission statement for Sigma Pi Sigma, which is:

Sigma Pi Sigma exists to honor outstanding scholarship in physics, to encourage interest in physics among students at all levels, to promote an attitude of service, and to provide a fellowship of persons who have excelled in physics.

After returning to teaching two years later, he stayed involved. “I’ve been at every congress since then.” He also started writing for the society’s publications.

“I wrote well over a hundred articles, and was able to get contributed articles from folks like Freeman Dyson, Eugen Merzbacher, Kenneth Ford, etc.,” Neuenschwander wrote in an e-mail. “I had fun doing it, too.  I look back on my time with the SPS Newsletter/The SPS Observer, Radiations, and JURP [Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics] with pride, satisfaction, and exhaustion.”

He also pushed to include SPS members as full-fledged members of the physics community. “Not some little student club. They should be seen and treated with the respect accorded to all physicists, because they are undergraduate physicists…. The community is starting to recognize SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, and if I had anything to do with that, I’m glad of that.”

On receiving an award named for a physicist he greatly admires, Neuenschwander adds: “The fact that I knew Worth personally and had a lot of respect for him…and then to have a letter here in my office that has his picture on it, that’s very moving.

“He’s looking at me right now, that medal on a shelf behind glass. If Worth were to compliment me for something it would be for spending some time in service to SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma and the people that they serve, which is what it’s all about. I will try to live up to the award,” he said.

But, of course, the award is not the end of Dr. Neuenschwander’s storyline. In contrast, his storyline is, as they say, to be continued…

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