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DR. ERNEST FOX NICHOLS
Technology's next president
ON March 30, 1921, Dr. Ernest Fox Nichols was elected President of Technology. Through his appointment, Technology is about to welcome the leadership of another great scientist and educator.
From his youth, Dr. Nichols has been interested in science and by his industrious and versatile researches, he has become one of the foremost investigators of his day. But not only in research has he been recognized as a power. His keen foresight and executive ability have placed him in many administrative positions of importance. This ability was markedly demonstrated when he undertook the re-organization of the Physics Department at Dartmouth during his professorship there. Under his efficient leadership the department became one of the strongest in the college. These abilities both as a research investigator and as an efficient administrator make Dr. Nichols doubly fitted to assume the leadership of Technology and to guide her on her new plans of service.
It is worthy of note that Dr. Rogers founded Technology with the belief that scientific and technical studies were a requisite for a thorough education. Dr. Nichols has proven the truth of Dr. Rogers' statements for, although he never received an arts degree, Dartmouth called him to be her president. This was a declaration of the fact that a great scientist could be as fit a man to govern an academic institution as a man of classical training.
A brief review of the many activities of Dr. Nichols will lead to a better realization of his great accomplishments.
He was born at Leavenworth, Kansas, June 1, 1869. In 1888 at the age of nineteen he received his B.S. from Kansas Agricultural College. The following year he spent in teaching in the West. Then for several years he took work in mathematics and physics at Cornell University. He was rewarded with the degree of Master of Science in 1893 and in 1897 the degree of Doctor of Science. While at Cornell he held the Erasmus Brooks Fellowship.
In 1892, Dr. Nichols was called to Colgate University where he occupied the chair of astronomy and physics for six years. While there he began his work on stellar and solar problems for which he later became famous. Two of these six years he spent in Germany, where he studied under Professors Planck and Rubens of the University of Berlin. While studying there, he improved the Crookes radiometer, developing it to the high state in which it occurs today. With this he was able to carry on experiments for the measurement of the speed of light and the planetary heats all of which is far beyond the average lay mind. His works while in Berlin were received and published by the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences.
In collaboration with Professor Rubens, he carried out a very difficult and laborious research which was published as "Certain Properties of Heat Waves of Great Wave-Length." This was a revolutionizing piece of work and was characterized by his balanced and analytical method of procedure. It was made possible only through the greatly improved instruments which he had invented and led physicists to an entirely new method of attack on the subject.
In 1896 and 1897, after his return to America, Dr. Nichols used his newly developed radiometer at the Yerkes and at the Mount Wilson Observatories in California. Here he successfully measured the quantity of heat reaching the earth from Acturus and Vega, and also from Jupiter and Saturn; i.e., from fixed stars and from planets. The radiometer which he used was so sensitive that it could easily have detected the heat from a candle at a distance of sixteen miles.
Dartmouth College appointed Dr. Nichols head of the Physics Department in 1898. His success as an organizer there has already been mentioned. In the realm of research, his successes were even greater. In the Wilder Laboratory he worked in conjunction with Associate Professor Hull on further measurement of heat values from planetary bodies.
After several attempts, he succeeded in 1901 in measuring the pressure of a beam of light. This had been detected by other physicists, but had never been measured. The research won him world-wide recognition. During this period he also made important contributions to the radio-active and the electro-magnetic theories.
Columbia University called Dr. Nichols from Dartmouth in 1903, but before leaving, he was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Dartmouth. In Columbia, and later as a lecturing professor he continued valuable research. For two years he was made Ernest Kempton Adams Research Fellow. He remained at Columbia until 1909.
In this year he was again called to Dartmouth, this time to become its president. During Dr. Nichols' inaugural exercises Dartmouth bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Science upon the late President Maclaurin. It was at this occasion that President Maclaurin said of Dr. Nichols:
"I am intimately acquainted with Professor Nichols, as I have been associated with him at Columbia during all my connection there. I could not imagine a better man for the place. He is dignified in bearing, but warm-hearted— the type of man to have keen personal interest in the students, yet without too great familiarity. He is a man of high scientific attainments, broad human sympathy and pleasing personality in every way. He is of the quiet type that knows his own mind and how to carry out his ideas in a quiet, forceful way. And not only does he possess a profound knowledge of science, but he also has a deep appreciation of literature and art.
After seven years of service at Dartmouth he went to Yale University as professor of physics where he remained until 1920. From
1917 to 1919 he served in the Bureau of Naval Ordnance, where he carried on important research work chiefly on optical instruments. During the last year he has been made director of physical science at the Nela Park Research Laboratory.
Among the honorary degrees which he holds are Doctor of Science from Dartmouth, University of Vermont, University of Pittsburgh, and Dennison; LL.D. from Colgate, Clark and Wesleyan.
He is the possessor of the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, of the American Philosophic Society, of the American Physical Society, the American Astronomical Society and the Washington Academy of Sciences. He is a collaborator of the Astrophysical Journal, and an associate editor of the Physical Review.
These facts prove better than words the great preparation of achievement Dr. Nichols brings with him.
It might prove of interest to learn the opinions of Dr. Nichols on matters of everyday college life and experience. In regard to the purpose and ideals of a college Dr. Nichols states:
ses all it should give sound training in those analytical powers of reason tipon which sane judgment must ever rely for its validity and it should offer that knowledge of economic, social and political problems essential to enlightened and effective citizenship. The college should aid its students to understand what man is today by filling in the background, physical, mental and spiritual, out of which he has come in obedience to law. The whole current of college life should be so directed as to foster the finer qualities of mind and spirit which give men dignity, poise and that deeper sense of honorable and unselfish devotion to the great and common good.
It would seem that Dr. Nichols favors the plan of prescribed subjects of study as followed here rather than the group or elective systems found in some colleges. On the elective system his views are:
"Under this unhappy system, or lack of system, for every student who gains a distinct advantage by its license several of his less purposeful companions seek and find a path of least resistance, enjoy comfort and ease in following it, and emerge at the other end, four years older, but no more capable of service than when they entered. Many another youth, neither lazy nor idle, but lacking both rudder and chart, angles diligently in shallow waters, goes no deeper than the introductory course in any department, comes out with many topics for conversation, but no real mental discipline and but little power to think."
Dr. Nichols' views on the reasons for the selection of a course would naturally fall upon a sound basis. He would have ability the basis of selection:-"Enthusiastic parents, heedless of taste and fitness, too often urge their sons into scientific pursuits, not realizing that lack of intellectual preference in a boy is inadequate proof that he possesses that balanced mind which scientific investigation requires, and unusual pleasure at riding in an electric car is insufficient evidence of a marked capacity for electrical engineering.”
He also believes in personal effort as the only logical means of procuring an education. His views on this matter are an indication of his characteritstic ability to appreciate human nature.
"Whatever knowledge and trained faculties a student may have acquired at graduation depend more upon the man and less upon the college. Colleges may provide the richest opportunities and the fullest incentive, but that which lies beyond is work the student must do himself. College, like life, is whatever the man has industry, ability and insight to make of it. "They also serve who only stand and wait' was written to console blindness and advancing years, not as an apology for strength and youth."
As a great investigator and teacher, his own views on what a teacher ought to be are well worth knowing. He says: "We need special knowledge in college teachers, but not specialized men."
There is probably no better example of the philosophy of this great scholar, and secret of his success than in the following statement:
"Science in the university may have misled the thoughtless to some extent by an emotionless discussion of facts, but facts should be discussed without emotion; it is the lifeless statement of pur planerom which we suffer. The driving power of intellect is enthusiasm, and there is no lack of it in that passionate devotion to research which so painstakingly and properly excludes all warmth from its calm statement of results. Yet there is nothing short of a divine zeal, an irresistible force, which urges the true investigator on to those great achievements, which are so profoundly changing the habits of our daily life and thought. For any mental indifference therefore, be it real or assumed, science is in no way responsible. Science takes herself seriously and is always in deadly
These selections illustrate Dr. Nichols' charming style and sound judgment on humanistic problems. His dignity and loyalty; his firmness tempered with a vein of sentiment; his appreciation of art, literature, and music; his ability to view a situation with cool and unprejudiced reason; and his great altruism which has kept him at serviceable tasks for which the world offers little material reward, are all qualities which do much to fit him as a leader for young men. He says: "The vast majority of college men are sound in mind and heart and purpose and no young men are ever worthier of admiration and respect than these." Tech Engineering News.
NEWSPAPER COMMENT ON DR. NICHOLS
What local papers say of the new president
THE election of Ernest Fox Nichols as the president of the Institute of Technology means primarily that there is to be no break in the
lines of progress which the late Dr. Maclaurin laid out for the future of the Institute. The past president and the new president of Technology were close personal friends. Each had a high regard for the intellectual and executive attainments of the other. But, more important still, their views on the subject of scientific education coincide, and Dr. Nichols is a full believer in the theory, first enunciated by President Maclaurin, that an engineering school is not doing its complete duty to itself unless it establishes the closest possible relations with the industry of the country.
So the Technology Plan, as the new arrangement between Institute and business has been called, will now be carried to still further efficiency and probably to more distant places. This welcome expectation is the better grounded because of the fact that for a year or so the new president of Technology has himself been associated with large industrial interests. He brings to Boston not only unusual ability as teacher and investigator but a first-hand acquaintance with the problems which are confronting the country in the development of its industrial resources.
Once again, then, our chief scientific school has an eminent scientist for its president. As a practical student of the questions which baffle men, as a research worker and discoverer in the realms of astronomy, mathematics and theoretical engineering, Dr. Nichols enjoys an international distinction. His name is almost as well known in the laboratories of Europe as it is in the classrooms of his own country. He has taught at Yale, at Columbia and at Cornell. He has once before been president of one of our leading colleges. He served America well in the Great War. His coming to Boston should react to the certain advantage of the city, the Institute of Technology and the cause of scientific education in general.
The president of Technology occupies one of the key positions of our New England life; in fact, one of the key positions of our whole modern life. He is an educator of technicians who shall manipulate the complicated machinery of our industrial civilization. These technicians and the man who trains them are as vital to all three classes of passengers, first cabin, second cabin and steerage, as navigators on the bridge and engineers at the levers.
To President Nichols' competency the impressive record of his labors and his achievements amply attest; a seasoned teacher, an experi