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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Michael Nauenberg, Professor of Physics: Recollections of UCSC, 1966-1996

  • Author(s): Nauenberg, Michael
  • Jarrell, Randall
  • Regional History Project, UCSC Library
  • et al.

Michael Nauenberg, Professor of Physics: Recollections of UCSC, 1966-1996, is the edited transcript of a single interview conducted by Randall Jarrell on July 12, 1994. Nauenberg received his B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955 and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1960. Prior to his appointment as a professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz in 1966, he was an assistant professor at Columbia University and a visiting associate professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Stanford University.

At UCSC, Nauenberg served as department chairman of physics from 1970 to 1972, and again from 1983 to 1985. He was instrumental in developing both Stevenson and Crown Colleges, but in 1973 shifted his focus to building a graduate program in physics. He also founded and served as the director of the Institute of Nonlinear Sciences at UC Santa Cruz.

Nauenberg's primary research interests are in particle physics, condensed matter physics, and nonlinear dynamics, and he is the author of numerous publications in these areas. His most recent work is on a new quantum mechanical treatment of neutrino and neutral meson oscillations and on the dynamics of wave packets in weak external fields. He has had a long standing interest in the history of physics and mathematics, particularly during the seventeenth century, and published about a dozen articles on the works of Hooke, Newton and Huygens, and several reviews of recent books on Newton's Principia. He has a particular interest in the history of physics and has helped to bring historians of science and physicists together.

In this oral history narration, Nauenberg shares his impressions and critical evaluation of UCSC as an experiment in public higher education, particularly the tensions between the college-based model and the pressures of the faculty tenure system within the large research University of California system. He points out that the founders of UCSC appear to have overlooked or underestimated the demands building graduate programs would make on faculty members' time. He discusses faculty appointments in the physics department, as well as other key faculty members on campus. He provides a sweeping and cogent assessment of the strengths and achievements of the physics department, and describes the struggle to establish the very successful Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, as well as his frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful political battle to attract the Institute for Theoretical Physics to UC Santa Cruz. This oral history is an invaluable and insightful historical contribution by a senior faculty member with an extensive and distinguished history on the Santa Cruz campus.

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