Physics and Astronomy

Department History

Brief Overview of the History of the Department of Physics and Astronomy

The first time any courses were offered at the physical address of the university was during the 1956-57 academic year. Los Angeles College of Applied Arts and Sciences had three campuses: Ramona, Vermont and San Fernando Valley. The 1956-57 catalog shows that the San Fernando Valley campus offered a minor in Physical and General Science. 

At that time, there was a Division of Natural Sciences headed by a Division Head similar to a College Dean today. The physics courses were offered by the Physical Science Department that was located at both the Ramona and Vermont campuses. 

The first time freshmen were admitted to the San Fernando Valley campus was during the 1957-58 academic year. It was anticipated that students entering that year could earn a B.S. in Physical and General Science granted by a future San Fernando Valley institution. The first faculty member that administered the Physical and General Science degree was Dr. Franklin C. Potter, a geologist. Only physics 100A and 100B, including the laboratory practices, were offered at this time. 

On July 1, 1958, the San Fernando Valley campus separated from its parent institution, the Los Angeles College of Applied Arts and Sciences, and became known as the San Fernando Valley State College. 

During the 1958-59 academic year, the Division of Science and Mathematics was created at San Fernando Valley. Dr. Potter headed the Division and served also as the acting chair of the newly created Physical Science Department. A minor in General Secondary Credential was added to the program that year. 

In 1959, Mr. John W. Nagle, joined the Physical Science Department. By any definition, he is considered to be the first physics faculty member of today's Department. Between the 1959 Fall semester and the summer of 1960, Mr. Nagle had a difficult and challenging job developing the undergraduate physics curriculum, organizing the laboratories and truly establishing the roots of the Department. 

Additional physics faculty members were added in 1960: Drs. Robert E. Behringer, David Hetrick and Robert J. Romagnoli. During the 1960-61 academic year new physics courses were introduced and taught, such as Phys 200A and 200B, including labs. The Science buildings I and II were among the first structures available for instruction at the institution. 

During the years 1961-1963 more physics faculty members were added: Mortimer N. Moore, Paul W. Nicholson, Roy E. Olson and Bela A. Lengyel. All the physics faculty members formed a core group that became known as the Physics Department. Thus, the 1963-64 academic year is considered as the official start of today's Department. Dr. Lengyel served as the first chair, a post he held until 1970. The School of Letters and Science was established at the same time, and was headed by Dean James L. Woochess. 

The Master of Science degree was first listed in the 1964-65 catalog. This was the first graduate degree offered in the Natural Sciences at this institution. The following year a minor in physics was also introduced. Mr. Nagle also introduced astronomy courses to the undergraduate curriculum. More faculty members were added and the Department continued to increase over the next few years. The name of the Department was changed to Physics and Astronomy to more completely reflect the interests of the faculty members. The 1970-71 catalog lists the new Department name that is still in use today. 

In 1972, the campus changed its name to California State University Northridge, CSUN, as it is known today. Options I, Physics, and II, Applied Physics, were listed for the first time in the 1972-73 catalog. Option III, Mathematical Physics, was introduced in 1974-75. This academic year, the School became known as the School of Science and Mathematics. Dean Donald E. Bianchi served as the first Dean of the School. Mr. Nagle died in 1974 and the Nagle Award was established in his memory and is presented each year to an outstanding graduating senior. 

The San Fernando Observatory, SFO, a state-of-the-art educational and solar research facility, belongs to CSUN and is operated by the Department. The SFO was originally built by The Aerospace Corporation site located at El Segundo, California, to serve as ground-based support for NASA's space program. The observatory was donated to CSUN in 1976 and continues to play an important role in solar astronomy. Dr. Paul Richter served as the first Director of the SFO until 1979 when Dr. Gary Chapman was hired and assumed the directorship to present. 

It was not until the 1985-86 catalog that Option IV, Astrophysics, was offered for the first time. Finally option V, Secondary Teaching, was added in the 1994-96 catalog. In 1998 the B.A. in Biomedical Physics was introduced as well as a B.A. in Physics. Today, only the physics and astrophysics options are offered with the B.S. degree. 

In 1991, the Donald E. Bianchi Planetarium was completed together with Science buildings III and IV. The Planetarium was assigned to the Department and used primarily for instruction. The Department main facilities remained housed in Science buildings I and II with the exemption of the SFO. The School was renamed the College of Science and Mathematics in 1994. The university suffered a major catastrophe in 1994 when the Northridge earthquake hit the campus damaging every major structure. 

The years that followed were difficult ones but the university as a whole completed major renovation of almost every structure. Nevertheless, in the late 90's the research activities of the department increased substantially and two centers were established: the Computational Materials Theory Center, headed by Dr. Nicholas Kioussis, and the Supramolecular Studies Center, headed by Dr. Barney Bales. These centers sponsor visiting scholars and post doctoral fellows from around the world and attract external funds from national agencies such as the National Science Foundation, NSF, the National Aeronautical Society of America, NASA, National Institute of Health, NIH, and other agencies and foundations. 

In 2003 the department celebrates its 40th birthday. During these years approximately one thousand students have graduated with either an undergraduate or graduate degree. The Department is proud of its alumni and celebrates their achievements. We are committed to serve the needs of the San Fernando Valley community and adjacent regions. 

All the tenured faculty members that have served or are now serving in the Department are listed below according to the year in which they were appointed. 


John W. Nagle, 1959-1974 

Robert Romagnoli, 1960- 2001 

Mortimer N. Moore, 1961-1992 

Roy E. Olson, 1962-1992 

Bela A. Lengyel, 1963-1977 

Stephen Friedland, 1964-1970 

Ching Y. Liang, 1964-1987 

Harbhajan S. Sandhu, 1964-1992 

Victor A. Erma, 1965-1970 

Duane R. Doty, 1966 - Present 

Peter Collas, 1967-2003 

Paul C. Chow, 1968-1994 

Giovan G. Natale, 1968-1994 

Barney L. Bales, 1969 - Present 

Ryoichi Seki, 1969 - Present 

Paul H. Richter, 1970-1991 

Robert T. Park, 1971 - 2009 

John K. Lawrence, 1973-1991 

Paul L. Lee, 1975 - present 

Gary A. Chapman, 1977 - Present 

Adrian D. Herzog, 1981-2001 

Julio R. Blanco, 1987 - 2006 

Nicholas Kioussis, 1987 - Present 

Stephen Walton, 1987 - 2006 

Ana Cristina Cadavid, 1990 - Present 

Miroslav Peric, 1991 - Present 

Radha Ranganathan, 1991 - Present 

Say Peng Lim, 1994 - Present 

Ruqian Wu, 1994-2002 

Donald Jacobs, 1999 - 2006 

Donna Sheng, 2000 - Present 

Gang Lu, 2004 - Present 

Debi Prasad Choudhary, 2005- Present

Henrick W. Postma, 2006 - Present

Deqing Ren, 2006 - Present

Yohannes Shiferaw, 2006 - Present

Igor Beloborodov, 2008 - Present

Damian J. Christian, 2008 - Present


Over the years, numerous individuals have worked in the department office in clerical positions while others have served in technical jobs. Collectively, they are known as the members of the staff. 

Mrs. Louise Luman became a secretary in the Division of Science and Mathematics in 1961. Once the Department of Physics was formed, Mrs. Luman became its first secretary, a relationship that continued for another 32 years. She was known to all by her first name. In 34 years, Louise worked with six department chairs. Her honesty and integrity were of the highest quality. She was loyal to the institution and hard working. Her tact and good disposition contributed much to the smooth functioning of the department. She worked overtime and volunteered additional hours on weekends. The department majors considered her often as a second mother. The institution was fortunate in having such a dedicated person in its staff for 34 years. Hardly able to breathe due to complications of lung cancer, she was still determined to come to work on July 17 to do the reports for "payroll" prior to her admission to a hospital. She passed away in her sleep the morning of July 25 at the age of 74. Louise played an important role in the history of this department. 

Any omissions or errors are not intentional. If you have information that can help us make the Department history more accurate please contact the Department chair.