A Tribute: L. Worth Seagondollar

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

A Tribute: L. Worth Seagondollar

Friend and Supporter Was Vital to the Formation of SPS


SPS Staff

Worth Seagondollar poses by a sculpture at the American Center for Physics following a 2007 invited talk and Q&A about his experiences working on the Manhattan Project. Photo by Tracy Nolis-Schwab.The Society of Physics Students joins the greater physics community in mourning Dr. L. Worth Seagondollar, a key figure in the histories of SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society. Dr. Seagondollar passed away on September 20, 2013, at the age of 92. He spent much of his career championing the importance of undergraduate physics education.

A prolific teacher and scholar, his scientific roots go back to the Manhattan Project. He was one of the youngest scientists invited to work on the project and a witness to the first atomic test, at Trinity Site. After World War II, he earned a PhD at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and then joined the faculty at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he helped build the first Van de Graaff accelerator. In 1965 he moved to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he was appointed chair of the physics department.

Dr. Seagondollar became associated with Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, in 1950 at the University of Kansas. He served as a student advisor for more than 40 years and as the president of the Sigma Pi Sigma national organization from 1962 to 1967. It was largeWorth Seagondollar speaks at Trinity Site in New Mexico. Photo by Tracy Nolis-Schwab.ly Worth Seagondollar who, in April of 1968, ironed out the details of the merger between the American Institute of Physics Student Sections and Sigma Pi Sigma that formed the Society of Physics Students (SPS). He ensured that this unique arrangement would not jeopardize the standing of Sigma Pi Sigma as a member of the Association of College Honor Societies—and helped to author the SPS National Constitution.

In 1996 the SPS National Council voted unanimously to institute the L. Worth Seagondollar Distinguished Service Award, awarded first to Dr. Seagondollar (much to his surprise!). The Seagondollar Award remains the most prestigious of all Sigma Pi Sigma or SPS service awards. //

For an in-depth feature detailing the contributions of Dr. Seagondollar to SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, see the Fall 2013 issue of Radiations magazine, the official publication of Sigma Pi Sigma:

In 1995 the Society of Physics Students (SPS) Executive Committee and National Council discussed a new award that would honor an extraordinary level of commitment and service to SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma. In a secret mail ballot, the SPS Council unanimously voted to create this award and to name it in honor of Dr. Worth Seagondollar. It also unanimously voted that he should be the award’s first recipient. To learn more about the award and its recipients, visit www.sigmapisigma.org/awards/worth-seagondollar/.

Witness to History

A drive of 2.5 hours from Albuquerque, NM, sits the valley known for centuries as Jornada del Muerto, the Journey of Death. There, on Monday, July 16, 1945, the predawn desert was suddenly lit with incredible brilliance as the world’s first nuclear explosion took place at 5:29:45am. Since that moment the world has never been the same.

On October 14, 2004, Dr. Worth Seagondollar spoke to participants of the Trinity site visit during the 2004 Quadrennial Congress of Sigma Pi Sigma. His first-hand accounts of working at the Manhattan Project captivated the audience that day, and again that evening during a more detailed speech at the closing banquet of the Congress.

On July 24, 2007, Seagondollar attended the Society of Physics Students summer intern presentations at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD. He again spoke about his experiences at the Manhattan Project, and this time his talk was recorded and transcribed.

This talk describes one of the greatest war-time experiences possible for a young graduate student, including an eye-witness account of the 1945 plutonium fission device explosion in the New Mexico desert.

To read the full transcript of Dr. Seagondollar’s 2007 talk, visit www.sigmapisigma.org/seagondollar.pdf.

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