In the university’s early years, the teaching of physics was largely the responsibility of James Williamson, Chair of Mathematics and Natural History, and Nathan Dupuis, Professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy. Physics emerged as a separate discipline in 1882 when D.H. Marshall was appointed Queen's first Professor of Physics.
Under the headship of Arthur Clark, from 1906 to 1944, the Department of Physics established itself in Ontario Hall and grew considerably in size and reputation. The department moved into Stirling Hall in 1965 to accommodate further expansion in teaching and research.
The department has continued its tradition of strength in this field by taking a leading role in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) project.
The department is part of the Faculty of Arts and Science, but it also offers an undergraduate program in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science in Engineering Physics. This program is the oldest and one of the largest in Canada.
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