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Princeton University Physics Department Princeton University

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History of Physics at Princeton

The long and distinguished history of physics at Princeton began with a watchmaker's apprentice who became a legendary teacher and one of the most acclaimed research pioneers of the 19th century. Joseph Henry arrived on campus in 1832, conducted courses in natural philosophy and engineering, and performed a series of experiments in electromagnetic induction that put him at the forefront of the first golden age of science in America.

The auspicious legacy was extended by President James McCosh, who in 1873 brought to campus the renowned Cyrus Fogg Brackett. Along with fellow physicist William Magie '1879, and mathematician Henry B. Fine '1980, Brackett laid a solid a cademic foundation from which would rise one of the world's great centers of theoretical physics. In the 20th century, Princeton's prominence in relativity theory influenced Albert Einstein's choice of refuge and residence and led to his long friendship with the University.

Over the last several decades, the Department of Physics has expanded into the fields of high energy; condensed matter; mathematical, biological and nuclear physics; and astrophysics. More than a dozen Nobel Prizes have been awarded to faculty and students of the Department, indicating the groundbreaking significance of their work. Like Henry and Brackett before them, physicists at Princeton today are as devoted to teaching as they are to exploring the farthest scientific frontiers.


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