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Celebrating half a century of excellence

Posted on 29 January 2016

The University of York’s Department of Physics is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend (30 January) with a day of special physics-themed events.

Credit: Dave CoulthardA cutting from Newton's apple tree being planted by Prof Oliver Heavens in 1977

More than 250 alumni are set to attend the event – including Sir Peter Knight CBE, the first student to graduate with First Class honours and business leader Victor Chavez, CBE.

The Department opened in 1965 with just 15 students but now has over 650 studying a diverse range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. 

Founded on research in condensed matter physics, atomic and laser physics, plasmas and theoretical astrophysics; the Department has expanded considerably over the past half century to cover areas such as nuclear physics, biophysics and the new quantum technologies.

Last year the Department’s research income was almost £5 million.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, the University of York’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts, will officially unveil the newly refurbished teaching labs and a sculpture created by Dave Coulthard MBE, the Department’s Head of Research Services. 

There will also be an opportunity to take part in experiments and hear a series of talks by distinguished speakers.

The Department has grown alongside a cutting taken from an ancient apple tree which is purported to be the tree from which Sir Isaac Newton saw an apple fall in the late summer of 1666, causing him to speculate on the nature of gravitation.

The cutting was given to the University by Kew Gardens in 1976.

Professor Sarah Thompson, Head of Department, said: “We have grown alongside Newton’s apple tree and the pioneering spirit is still alive as we continue to embark on new challenges with great relish.

“It is a testament to the energy, inspiration and talent of generations of students and staff that the Department has achieved so much in its first 50 years.  We are looking forward to our next 50 years.”


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