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Physics Department History

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 Prof. Tchernyiavsky

During the first 30 years of its existence, the Technion had no separate science departments. When the institution first opened its doors in 1924, the initial study programs were in Civil Engineering and Architecture. However, a basic education in physics was considered important and was included in the curriculum of the Technion right from the outset. Interestingly enough, the stormy debate whether the courses should be taught in Hebrew or German bypassed the basic sciences, and Mathematics and Physics courses were taught only in Hebrew. The serious looking man in the photograph, Prof. Aharon Tcherniavsky, was given the sole responsibility for teaching Physics to all Technion students. Tcherniavsky (1887-1966), was a lecturer in the University of Geneva before coming to Palestine. He divided his time between the Reali school and the Technion. Both schools were located close to each other in the Hadar Carmel quarter of Haifa.

In those days, the existence of the Technion was uncertain from one day to the next, teachers often went unpaid, and luxuries like laboratory equipment were procured only through donations. Max Hecker, the first director of the Technion convinced some friends connected with the Max Kohl factory of scientific equipment in Chemnitz, Germany, to help in this matter and a student laboratory was eventually established. The photograph of this laboratory dates back to 1938. The technical staff looked after the equipment with loving care, and some of this original items bearing the Max Kohl logo are still being used for classroom demonstrations. Apparently, they knew how to build good equipment in those days.

 labratory1938 Following the war of Independence in 1948, the Technion went through an expansion phase under the leadership of Gen.Yaakov Dori, who became the Technion President after retiring from his post as the first Chief of Staff of the IDF. As part of the expansion program, a Faculty of Science was established in 1952. A department of Physics was formed as a part of the Faculty. The first department chairman was Prof. Nathan Rosen, Einstein's last assistant. Among his other credentials, Rosen was one of the authors of the famous Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paper (see the "in Memoriam" section of this site), questioning the very basics of the Quantum Theory . Rosen was given a free hand in the recruitment of the faculty members. Some people like David Bohm came after leaving the US during the McCarthy era.

At the Technion, Bohm met a young graduate student , Yakir Aharonov. Together they were to predict what is now called the Bohm-Aharonov effect. Several young graduates of the Hebrew University joined as well. Asher Peres, who later became a Technion Research Professor, came from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering where he was a graduate student. The first class of 6 students graduated in 1956. The head of the department for that year was Prof. Kurt Sitte, a renowned scientist in the area of cosmic rays. In 1960, Sitte, a native of Chechoslovakia, was charged with security offenses and tried. Following his conviction, Sitte left Israel. The details of this affair are not entirely clear to this day. However, it had little or no effect on the development of the department.

 einstein institute of physics

In 1958, the Physics department moved from the "green shack" located next to the old Technion building in Hadar to the new campus in Naveh Shaanan. The Einstein Institute of Physics shown here was established, including a separate wing donated by Eric Lidow which was dedicated to experimental physics. Lidow also invited several young researchers to specialize in experimental physics of semiconductors, then an emerging field, in his company in California, "International Rectifier Corporation". Upon their return, these researchers established a research program in semiconductors which continues to this day. The department of Physics was upgraded to a Faculty status in 1962.

 rosen solid state institute

An important boost to experimental research in physics came through the establishment of the Rosen Solid State Institute in 1976. Members of the institute include researchers from the Faculties of Physics, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry and Materials Engineering. Collaborative research programs and state of the art laboratories were established in the areas of Semiconductors, Surface Science, Microelectronics etc. 30 years later, the institute continues to support high quality experimental research in those areas.

 lidow Complex

Towards the end of the 1990's, further development of the Faculty became a serious problem due to a shortage of lab and office space. Each new faculty member triggered a lengthy game of musical chairs. Fortunately, almost 50 years after donating the money for the first building, Eric Lidow led the effort to establish the new Lidow Complex, inaugurated in 2004. At the age of 92, Eric Lidow attented the inauguration ceremony with his family. The picture shows the family at the main entrance to The Lidow Complex, the current home of the Faculty of Physics.

The latest addition to the Faculty is the Lewiner Institute of Theoretical Physics, established in 2006. The Institute is our window to the world at large. The Institute sponsors Distinguished Lecture Series by leading scientists and supports workshops in all fields of Physics. It offers graduate students their first glimpse of the international scene, and introduces visiting scientists to research done at the Faculty. The activities of the Institute will no doubt continue to help the development of the Faculty as an internationally recognized research center.

The Faculty of Physics today maintains a vigorous research program in all the major fields of Physics, including Astrophysics, High Energy Physics, Condensed Matter Physics and Biophysics. As in the days of Tcherniavsky, the Faculty of Physics continues to be responsible for teaching physics to all Technion students.

While the 3 year BSc Physics program remains the cornerstone of the undergraduate studies in Physics, during the last decade the Faculty realized the growing importance of interdisciplinary studies. Taking advantage of being part of the top Engineering School in Israel, several joint programs with Engineering Faculties were initiated. Today, more that 50% of our undergraduates study for double degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering, Physics and Materials Engineering, Physics and Mathematics and Physics and Computer Science. These programs are among the most lucrative in Israel, attracting some of the best students in the country. All included, about 600 students are enrolled in the undergraduate program, and 150 more are in the M.Sc. and Ph.D. programs. Our graduates can be found throughout all the ranks of academia and industry in Israel.

Compiled by Emil Polturak ( 2007).
This compilation is based, among other sources, on the book "Technion" by Carl Alpert.

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