Physics was one of the founding disciplines when Simon Fraser University began operations fifty years ago in 1965. In 1964, Dr. Rudi Haering was appointed as the founding Head of the Department of Physics; a position he held until 1968. In order to achieve the “critical mass” necessary for the young department to earn international recognition, Dr. Haering chose to hire in the area of condensed matter physics. By September 1965, he managed to have in place a group of nine faculty which included himself, John Cochran, Konrad Colbow, Richard Enns, Robert Frindt, David Huntley, Chuck Irwin, Klaus Rieckhoff and K.S. Viswanathan. The steady growth of the University permitted the Department to continue hiring through the 1970s and 1980s. To make itself attractive in a tight hiring market, the Department continued to concentrate on only one research area - condensed matter physics – and over the decades this research group grew into one of the largest and strongest groups of its kind in Canada.
During the period 1984 to 1996 the Energy Institute became a major focus within the Physics Department. Initiated by Professor Roy Morrison as Director and encouraged by available Government funding, several applied physics projects led to extensive interaction with industry in such areas as low E windows, gas sensors, batteries and catalysis and resulted in several patents. The Energy Institute was dissolved with the retirement and departure of its members.
The arrival of Professor Michael Wortis from the University of Illinois in 1988 initiated a new focus in soft matter and biological physics. This research area has grown substantially through new hires and the realignment of the research interests of continuing faculty. This strongly interdisciplinary group interacts with other departments such as Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry through joint and associate appointments, seminar series and special workshops.
The trajectory of faculty research interests is by its nature diffusive, and several charter faculty moved into other fields, such as archeometry, astronomy and particle physics. Recent hires in particle physics and cosmology have strengthened this diversity. As a result, the Department now views its four research strengths as condensed matter (liberally interpreted); soft matter/biophysics; cosmology/particle physics; and Atomic, Molecular, and Optical.