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Picture of Melba Newell Phillips

Melba Newell Phillips


Additional Information

Some Important Contributions:

Theory of the Oppenheimer-Phillips effect - the process whereby a compound nucleus C* is formed by neutron capture in deuteron bombardment; viz., d + X(Z,A) = C*(Z,A+1) + p.

Two textbooks widely used for undergraduate and graduate physics teaching.

Developed and implemented training for physics teaching at all grade levels.

Some Important Publications:

"Transmutation Function for Deuterons," Phys. Rev. 48: 500 (1935), with J.R. Oppenheimer.


Principles of Physical Science. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Reading, MA 1955, with Francis T. Bonner.

Classical Electricity and Magnetism. Addison-Wesley Pub., Reading, MA 1955, with W. K. H. Panofsky.

Articles on history of physics:

History of Physics. eds. Melba Phillips and Spencer R. Weart, American Institute of Physics, New York, NY 1985.

"The American Physical Society: A Survey of Its First 50 Years," American Journal of Physics 3:219 (1990).


Honorary D. Sc., Oakland City College, Indiana, 1964

Oersted Medal, American Association of Physics Teachers, 1974

    In recognition of her notable contributions to the teaching of physics.
Karl Taylor Compton Award of American Institute of Physics, 1981
    For distinguished statesmanship in science.
In 1981 the American Association of Physics Teacher created an award, the Melba Newell Phillips Award, in honor of Phillips' career. It is given for exceptional contributions to physics education through leadership in the American Association of Physics Teachers. Phillips was the first recipient of this award.

Guy and Rebecca Forman Award for Outstanding Teaching in Undergraduate Physics, Vanderbilt University, 1988

Honorary Member, Sigma Pi Sigma

Fellow, American Physical Society


1934-35 Instructor, University of California, Berkeley
1935-36 Helen Huff Research Fellow, Bryn Mawr College
1936-37 Margaret Maltby Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
1937-38 Instructor, Connecticut College for Women
1938-41 Instructor, Brooklyn College
1941-44 Lecturer, University of Minnesota
1944 Staff, Harvard Radio Research Laboratory, Cambridge, MA
1944-52 Assistant Professor, Physics Department, Brooklyn College
1944-52 Part-time appointment, Columbia University Radiation Laboratory
1957-62 Associate Director, Academic Year Institute, Washington University, St. Louis
1962-72 Professor, University of Chicago
1972-present Emeritus Professor, University of Chicago
1972-75 Visiting Professor, SUNY, Stony Brook
1980 Visiting Professor, Graduate Scool of the University of Science and Technology, Chinese Academy of Science, Beijing


B.A. Oakland City College, Indiana 1926
M.A. Battle Creek College, Michigan 1928
Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley 1933

Sources and References consulted

Melba N. Phillips and [amw1992], [mnp1974kf], [33L LSG]

Additional Information/Comments

In 1952, during the infamous McCarthy era, Melba Phillips was dismissed from Brooklyn College and the Columbia Radiation Laboratory for refusing to cooperate with a Congressional committee investigation of friends and colleagues.

In 1987, Brooklyn College publicly apologized.

On May 17,1997, the Physics Department of Brookyn College of The City University of New York held a day-long symposium in her honor, and established a student scholarship in her name.

"Probably no person has contributed to physics education over a broader range than Melba Newell Phillips. She has co-authored two classic texts, one on electricity and magnetism at the graduate level with Panofsky, the other on physical science at the introductory level with Bonner (lately revised with Raymond). In many ways--through committees, panels, consultantships, and, above all, through her own courses designed for prospective teachers--she has profoundly influenced the teaching of science in the elementary and secondary grades. Students who know her only through her books can recognize her gift for clarity and her passion for precision. Students who have been priviledged to know her in the classroom have been touched by her qualities as a human being. Not only does she have that mark of every great teacher, deep concern for the progress of each student, she also sets standards of intellectual honesty, self-criticism, and style that have left their imprint on a legion who passed her way." -- Kenneth Ford [mnp1974kf]

Melba Phillips is "a role model for principle and perseverance." --Dwight E. Neuenschwander

Professional service:

AAPT Executive Board (1962-65)
President, AAPT (1966-67)
Acting Executive Officer, AAPT (1975-77)
AIP governing board (1965-68 and 1975-77)
Council of the AAAS (1976-83)
Commission on College Physics (1962-68)

Edited by:

Melba Phillips and Nina Byers

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To cite this citation:
" Phillips, Melba Newell." CWP < home >


latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb