A Centennial Celebration of Samuel Devons (1914 - 2006)

Barnard College

Columbia Department of Physics

Columbia University Seminar on the History of Columbia University

and the Devons Family

cordially invite you to

The Devons Centennial:

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Samuel Devons


Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Columbia University Faculty House

(Click on image to enlarge)

Sam Devons – physicist, teacher, science historian, and creative communicator – came to Columbia in 1959.  After a distinguished professional career at Cambridge and Imperial College and important work during WW II, he had been the Langworthy Professor and Director of Physics at the University of Manchester.  A highly regarded researcher, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1955, and later received the prestigious Rutherford Medal and Prize from Britain’s Institute of Physics.  At Columbia, besides continuing his prolific nuclear physics research, he served as chair of the Columbia Physics Department.  He established the unique History of Physics Laboratory program at Barnard College, continued his lectures and writings on famous historical science figures, and actively promoted scientific literacy at all levels especially the enrichment of science teaching in secondary schools.  He continued these activities after retirement in 1984, as well as renewed involvement in many Columbia University Seminars and in broadening activities at Faculty House. Devons demonstrated imagination, wit, and limitless energy all his life to broaden the intellectual world in which he, his colleagues, and the broader community lived.

For a Sam Devons timeline, click here

For a sample of Sam Devons publications, click here

  • David Hitlin, Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, worked with Devons as a graduate student in the 1960’s on muonic x-ray experiments at Nevis Labs.  He is an experimentalist known for his work on the properties of charm and bottom quarks particularly from the BABAR program.  Dave was the founding spokesman of this collaboration, which discovered violation of particle-antiparticle symmetry in decays of bottom quarks.
  • Lillian (Hartmann) Hoddeson, Siebel Professor of the History of Science (Emeritus), University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, worked with Devons as a Columbia physics graduate student and Barnard faculty member in developing the History of Physics Laboratory.  Her books about the history of science include Out of the Crystal Maze (solid state physics), Critical Assembly (WWII Los Alamos), Crystal Fire (transistors), True Genius (Bardeen), and Fermilab.
  • Eduardo Macagno, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California San Diego, moved from Columbia in 2001 as Founding Dean of UCSD Division of Biological Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in Physics at Columbia in 1968, was on the Columbia faculty from 1973 to 2000, chaired the Department of Biological Sciences 1990-93, and was Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Education and Dean of Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 2000. Sam Devons was one of his doctoral research mentors in the mid 1960's.
  • Chauncey Olinger was the editor for the Program for Studies of the Modern Corporation for the Columbia Business School and of the volume Columbia and the City.  He has been a member of several University Seminars, and founder and co-chair of the History of Columbia Seminar.  He conducted extensive oral histories with many famous Columbians, including I. I. Rabi.  Chauncey was an early member of the steering committee for the EPIC organization (see below) founded by Devons.
  • John Roeder is a long time teacher at The Calhoun School and Secretary-Treasurer of the Physics Club of New York.  He has received several American Association of Physics Teachers’ awards, including Excellence in Pre-College Teaching Award and the Distinguished Service Citation.  John worked closely with Devons in the Joseph Priestley Association and Columbia’s Scientific Literacy Seminar.
  • Sam’s immediate family and close friends.
  • Columbia and Barnard colleagues.

Discussing many of Sam's efforts in:

  • The early years;
  • His physics research;
  • Creation of the Barnard-Columbia History of Physics Laboratory;
  • Sam’s interest in the interface of Biology and the physical sciences;
  • His many initiatives, including EPIC (Emeriti Professors in Columbia), Columbia University Seminar on Scientific Literacy, the Joseph Priestley Association;
  • And much more.

(PDF version withspeaker bios)

Columbia University Faculty House

8:00 AM        Check-in:  pick up name badge

                    Coffee, tea, and pastries

9:00 AM        Welcomes by sponsors, organizers and physics department

                    Physics Department                                                     Frank Sciulli

                    Devons family                                                              Cathryn Devons

                    Barnard College                                                           Linda Bell

                    Columbia University Seminars                                       Robert Pollack

9:35 AM        Early Days                                                                  Sue Devons Gil

10:00 AM      Devons’ scientific research                                            David Hitlin

10:45 AM      Coffee break

11:00 AM      Founding of Emeriti Professors in Columbia (EPIC)          Chauncey G. Olinger, Jr.

11:30 AM      Personal reminiscences and professional influences         Judith Devons

11:45 AM      Devons and the Columbia Faculty House                         Paul D. Carter

12:00 PM     Lunch

1:30 PM       Sam Devons and the biological sciences                          Eduardo Macagno

2:15 PM       History of Physics Laboratory at Barnard College              Lillian Hoddeson

3:00 PM       Coffee break

3:15 PM      Reminiscences and visual recollections of Sam                  To participate go here to contact Frank Sciulli

4:00 PM       Joseph Priestley Association and scientific literacy            John Roeder

4:30 PM      Samuel Devons: his passions and values                           Amanda Devons

5:00 PM      Reception

Please note that at 6:00 PM Conference attendees are invited to stay for the meeting of Columbia University Seminar # 533, Seminar on the History and Philosophy of Science, presenting Donna Bilak on “Michael Maier’s 17th Century Alchemical Emblems and Fugues” (with music).  Go here for more information.

Video of the event can be found here.


If you intend to attend this day-long celebration, please click this email link: DevonsCentennial@phys.columbia.edu

To provide:

  • Name
  • Affiliation and/or connection with Sam Devons
  • Email address
  • Mailing address
  • Comments/suggestions relevant to the day.

Your email will be acknowledged.  A name badge will be available for all attendees.

If you are interested in giving a short (~ 5 minute) reminiscence, please indicate the subject in your response.

Feel free to circulate this webpage address to those you think might be interested. The page will be updated as the agenda becomes firm.



Frank Sciulli

Allan Blaer

Lalla Grimes