August 4, 1889-February 9, 1976

Courtesy, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana


FRANCIS WHEELER LOOMIS—or Wheeler Loomis as he preferred to be known—was a distinguished prototypical physicist of his generation who also possessed exceptional qualities of leadership.

He was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, in 1889, just ten years before a small band of stalwarts created the American Physical Society in an attempt to foster physics on a national scale. For although physics in America had always been appreciated in a peripheral manner (one thinks of the remarkable work of Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Henry, Henry Rowland, Abraham Michelson and Willard Gibbs), it emerged relatively late here as a respected and respectable formal discipline. Striking exceptions to this rule were the Smithsonian Institution, the National Academy of Sciences, the Bureau of Standards, and a small number of universities (The Johns Hopkins University and, most notably, The University of Chicago, which established a research-oriented graduate Department of Physics in the last century). Nevertheless, the new Physical Society provided a forum throughout the country open to novice and skilled professional alike, and from its establishment onward, American physics was a cornerstone of science, a handmaiden to technology, and a key contributor to human enlightenment.

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