Yap: Harnessing the Divas of the Nanoworld

Boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) are the divas of the nanoworld. In possession of alluring properties, they are also notoriously temperamental compared to their carbon-based cousins.

On the plus side, they can withstand incredibly high heat, well over 1,100 degrees Celsius, says Yoke Khin Yap, an associate professor of physics at Michigan Technological University. “Carbon nanotubes would burn like charcoal in a barbecue at half of those temperatures,” he says. And the electrical properties of BNNTs are remarkably uniform. Perfect insulators, boron nitride nanotubes could be doped with other materials to form designer semiconductors that could be used in high-powered electronics.

View the Michigan Tech News article



In Memoriam: Sam Marshall

Sam Marshall
Sam Marshall
Dr. Marshall was a Professor of Physics at Michigan Tech from 1981 to 1995. He passed away in October 2008 in Arlington Heights, Illinois. Marshall had a long and distinguished career in experimental physics, resulting in a Michigan Tech Research Award and more than 60 publications. His research interests spanned many areas of solid state physics, including magnetic defects, electron spin resonance, nuclear magnetic resonance, crystal field theory, and hyperfine interaction.

Marshall came to Tech in 1981 as a full professor, after working at Argonne National Lab in suburban Chicago for about 18 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, a master’s from the University of Michigan, and a PhD from Catholic University in Washington, DC. He worked as a physicst for the National Bureau of Standards, the U. S. Naval Ordnance Lab, and the IIT Research Institute. Marshall was born in Chicago. He is listed in American Men and Women of Science and Who’s Who in Science. He retired in 1995 and was granted emeritus status in 1996.

Please feel free to leave comments on your experiences with Sam Marshall.

Memorials from our Alumni, Students & Friends


Sam served as a “seed” for the development of the Physics department’s experimental Ph.D. research program. He had a number of hurdles to overcome in getting his laboratory (the first one in the new program) up and functioning. He found ways—several of them humorous—around these hurdles. One episode involved having to tighten up the bolts on the cargo portion of the truck he had rented to transport some of his lab equipment from Chicago to MTU, during the trip. Fortunately, he was travelling with our machinist.

I remember his submitting a paper to a journal and getting it back to referee! He wrote the editor that it was an excellent paper, but that he was biased, as he was its author. Don Yerg, Jim Waber, he and I went to lunch together quite often. On occasion, a younger colleague attended—who named us the “Golden Girls”. I’m not admitting to any grey hair at that time, though!

Sam had good judgement and was good at spotting people who were “faking it”. He trained several Ph.D. students at MTU, whose theses are listed on our departmental site. He treated them fairly and thoughtfully.

I think he would be proud of what the MTU Physics Department has become.

Sincerely, Don Beck, Professor MTU Physics


The last time I visited him in Chicago (2007 or so) he wasn’t doing very well. This was after his second quadrupole bypass surgery. He refused to go for a walk and didn’t want to sit in the evening in his open garage, drink wine with me and look at beautiful Chicago women. This used to be his favorite evening activity each time I would show up.

However, he felt good enough to take me for a ride in his car to the nearest Dunkin-Donuts where I had coffee (black) and he had few of the greasiest donuts out there. On the way back he insisting on stopping at IHOP and eating a helping of fries. All of this was a great secret because Janet wouldn’t let him eat that stuff. He would just tell me that he wants to die happy.

Jacek Borysow, MTU Physics


Sam had a wonderfully strange sense of humor and an ability to tell you just about anything with a straight face, no matter how outrageous. One time I went to a dinner get-together and saw that Sam was there without his wife, Janet. This was unusual and so I asked him about it. He leaned toward me, looked me straight in the eyes and with a most serious tone said “Janet left me.” He continued to look at me with a most serious look for several seconds while I squirmed with discomfort at my faux pas. Then he broke a small smile, sat back, and completed his sentence “…to go to Chicago for the weekend.” He knew he had gotten me once again.

Bryan Suits, MTU Physics Dept


Sam gave me a chance as a grad student and started me on the path to becoming a true experimentalist. He provided me with the skills that enabled me to achieve what I have accomplished today. He also had a humor that was his own. I will never forget his pet squirrels. He was so proud of them, in a weird sort of way. If he had ever shown them to you, you would understand what I mean.

Mark Parent, Naval Research Laboratory, Wash D.C.


Sam had his office down the hall from mine. It was always fun to stop by and talk to him about everything, latest news, science, politics, culture. He was widely read and had a wicked sense of humor. Sam would take on everything, especially what he perceived as nonsense, trivialities, and stupidities emanating from administrative authorities. He made sure that later, when I became dean, I would not lose sight of what’s essential in a university.

Max Seel, MTU Physics, Prvost and VP for Academic Affairs (interim)


As a fresh MTU graduate student from China back in 80’s, I used to respectfully address him as “Professor Marshall”. Soon, I was fortunate to have him as my advisor and he insisted that I called him Sam. At first, he gave an impression of very serious and straight physics professor and did not smile much, but deep down, as I spent more and more time with him, he was a very kind and caring advisor and perfect gentlemen.

So many times when we had to stay late in the lab because of an unexpected glitch in an experiment, we would be pleasantly surprised by Uncle Sam’s personal delivery of wonderful, greasy supreme pan pizza from Pizza Hut. That’s why Pizza Hut is still my favorite pizza restaurant till today. Sam used to take us to Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago for some experiment. Almost every time, he would treat us at his favorite Chinese restaurant, “Red Cotton”, in the Old Chinatown. His favorite one was always “hot and sour soup” and we would share a big bowl of soup each time. He claimed that the soup at that Chinese restaurant was so unique that one could find nowhere else.

After graduating from Michigan Tech, I was fortunate to work with him again at Argonne National Laboratory as the postdoctoral fellow. He was spending his Sabbatical leave from MTU. He was very proud to see that my experimental physics training at his lab was making an important contribution to the success of our Photosynthesis projects at Argonne. During that time, my wife and I visited his Chicago home. Sam proudly demonstrated his puppy dog talent playing as “a peace maker” between Janet and him (by “faking an argument” with Janet in front of his dog). To this day, we still vividly remember that scene and all that seemed to be not very long ago.

Sam used to walk daily as part of Doctor’s exercise order. He had this special type of hat to wear because of cold Houghton weather and we called it KGB hat. He loved that name and every time he would tell his walking buddies that he had to get his KGB hat before going out with them. He said that made him feel like a KGB agent in the movies. He was always proud of his energy and keen sense of his surroundings. He always reminded me that one is really too old when he stops noticing beautiful women around him. Sam was always young at heart.

Above all, Sam was a true experimental physicist. As his graduate student, I spent long hours working with him in his EPR laboratory to assemble different waveguide configurations and to design various experiment. The experimental physics skills I learned through that hands-on experience working with him on various physics instruments benefit me throughout my career. Even today, I still see myself approaching the problem solving the way I was trained in his lab. Sam was a kind and intelligent teacher, a dear friend, and a humble human being. He will forever live in our hearts and truly be missed by many.

Yuenian Zhang, Clinical Radiation Oncology Physicist, Indianapolis, IN


I remember Sam not only as a terrific scientific mentor who really helped me develop professionally during the early stages of my career, but also as a warm father figure who made me feel welcome as a recently immigrant from China still adjusting to a new environment.

Sam’s compassion extended well beyond the way he treated his students. One morning in the late 1980’s, we were driving to the Argonne National Laboratory when a puppy jumped out into the road in front of us on the high way 141 near the Crystal Falls. Fortunately, when we hopped out and checked under the car, we found the puppy uninjured, but it was apparently quite traumatized from the near accident. Even though we were in a rush, Sam took the time to calm the puppy, caressing it tenderly in his arms, before we resumed our trip.

I am forever indebted to Sam for giving me the opportunity to work in his lab. I am a better person for having known him, and I am truly saddened to learn of his passing.

Cheng Yu, Prof. Radiation Oncology, Keck School of Medicine, USC


In Memoriam: Charles Mandeville

Charles Mandeville
Charles Mandeville

Charles Earle Mandeville III passed away on January 14, 2003. Mandeville was a nuclear physicist who became head of the Physics Department at Michigan Tech in the early seventies. He worked at such places as MIT, the Bartol Research Foundation, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Kansas State University, and Kaman Nuclear. His research interests involved gamma-ray spectroscopy, and he did early pioneering work on beta decay of nuclei. Mandeville was a musician and a collector of antiques and art objects. He settled in Socorro, New Mexico after retirement. He was a man of many accomplishments and will be missed by all who knew him.

Posted Fall 2003 in Physics News.

Please feel free to leave comments on your experiences with Charles Mandeville.



The Michigan College of Science and Technology

From 1927 until 1964 the institution was known as the Michigan College of Mining and Technology (MCMT).

A new State of Michigan Constitution was adopted by the MI Constitutional Convention on August 1, 1962. The vote to ratify the new constitution was certified on June 20, 1963 (with 50.2% in favor, 49.8% against). That constitution refers to the Michigan College of Science and Technology in Article VIII, Sec 4, and was to take effect January 1, 1964. The Tech Board of Control had discussed the name change issue prior to this but deferred any action until after the vote on the new constitution.

On October 11, 1963, the Tech Board of Control was given two resolutions, one to change the name to Michigan College of Science and Technology (MCST) and one to change to Michigan Technological University (MTU). The resolution to change to MCST passed and the one for MTU was not acted upon. The resolution called for the name change to take effect “on January 1, 1964” and to remain “the official name until such time as the Board of Control may select and adopt another name.” However it is not clear that the Tech Board of Control had the authority to change the name of the institution.

There was no mention of the Board’s action in the newspapers for some time. The first seems to have been almost a month later in the Student Newspaper, The Lode. Following that, a large number of articles, editorials, and letters to the editor appeared pushing for the “University” designation.

On December 3rd, 1963, Senate Bill 1016 and House Bill 56 were introduced to the second extra session of the Michigan Legislature. These were identical bills which renamed MCMT to MCST and increased the size of the Board of Control. House Bill 56 was later amended in committee to change the name to MTU rather than to MCST. As originally introduced, these bills were to take effect “on January 1, 1964.”

Also early in December Senate Bill 1008 was introduced which, after amendment, renamed MCMT to MTU.

House Bill 56 (as amended) and Senate Bill 1008 passed and ended up as public acts 21 and 49. Senate Bill 1016 was never passed, presumably because the identical House Bill had already passed. Public act 21 also changes the names of Ferris Institute to Ferris State College, and Grand Valley College to Grand Valley State College.

The wording regarding the name change is similar in public acts 21 and 49. Quoting from public act 49:
“The institution established in the Upper Peninsula known as the Michigan college of mining and technology, referred to in the constitution of 1963 as the Michigan college of science and technology, is continued after January 1, 1964, under the name of Michigan technological university, …”

The phrase “after January 1, 1964” was explicitly added by amendment. Possibly this was to avoid a constitutional crisis since the constitution was to take effect “on January 1, 1964,” with the MCST name. However, the wording in the constitution also included the phrase “… by whatever names (MCST) may be hereafter known.” How long “after” the name changes were to take effect is not specified in the legislation.

The bills were signed into law by governor George Romney on December 27, 1963 and were to take effect immediately. A picture of the bill signing can be found in the 1948 Keweenawan (the MTU yearbook), page 48, as well as in the local newspaper.

At their February 14, 1964, meeting the Tech Board of Control passed a resolution “ratifying and confirming” the name Michigan Technological University and ordering “that the name Michigan Technological University be used hereafter as the legal and official name of the institution.” Again, it may be the Board of Control overstepped its authority. At the same meeting they considered some new designs for official seals and insignia but postponed action until later. The minutes of that meeting indicate that President Van Pelt thanked the Board of Control members for their support for the MTU name which they had communicated to the state legislature the previous December, though no mention of the subject could be found in the minutes of the Board of Control’s meeting from December. Presumably the support was given as a private communication and not through official action of the Board.

In none of these is there any mention of Tech having the MCST name for one hour, or for any length of time at all, as a matter of fact. On page 8 of the Daily Mining Gazetteof December 31, 1963, before any changes took effect, is a brief report about some students who had purchased rings and sweaters with the MCST name in anticipation of that new name which never happened, and how the students were pleased, rather than disappointed, to have a unique artifact of the process. It is clear that most, if not all, regarded the change in name as being directly from MCMT to MTU and that that was the intention behind the legislation.

Whether or not the Board of Control has any name changing authority is also somewhat vague in the legislation. Within public act 49 is a statement regarding the powers of the Board of Control. After a detailed list which makes no mention of authority regarding the institution’s name, is the statement “All powers customarily exercised by the governing board of a college or university are vested in the board. The enumeration of powers herein is not deemed to exclude any of such powers not expressly excluded by law.” Since many colleges and universities have changed their name due to action of their governing board — a recent local example being the change from Suomi College to Finlandia University — perhaps the board does have name changing power.

Hence, it would indeed seem possible that, by a quirk, “on January 1, 1964” our name was MCST (due to the Board action on October 11 and/or due to the new constitution) and then the MTU name took effect only “after January 1, 1964.”

(More will be added here if/when it is discovered. If you have an artifact from 1963 with the MCST name on it, the MTU Archives would like to hear from you.)

Back to MTU Physics Department History | 1935-1966


MTU Physics Department History | 1981-present

Group Photo 1978

Try, Try again

During the late 1970’s the University was determined to developed research and PhD graduate programs in the Engineering and Science disciplines. In fact, the lack of a strong graduate program in Physics, especially condensed matter physics, had been recently cited as a reason for the failure of a major proposal to the National Science Foundation for a Materials Research Laboratory. In 1980 University of Illinois Professor A. Barry Kunz was brought in as a consultant to help build such a program in the Physics Department. His involvement continued over the next few years as a visiting professor, and then as an adjunct faculty member. Kunz had previously been a candidate for the headship. Around the same time, a “Physics of Solids” option to the existing Metallurgy PhD program was started to help boot-strap the graduate program in physics.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1967-1980

Growing Pains

Van Pelt characterized the change in name, in particular the change from being a “College” to being a “University,” as a recognition of existing facts. Once the change was made, however, the message became ‘now that we are a university, we should look like one.’ Pressure increased for all faculty to have a PhD and for them to be actively engaged in research. One could no longer hire new tenure-track faculty who did not already have a PhD. Soon the University was divided into colleges and schools—Physics belonging to the College of Sciences and Arts.

By the late 1960’s Stebbins began a search for his replacement as Physics Department head and ultimately announced his decision to hire Charles Mandeville, then at Kansas State. Mandeville was hired because the combination of his very strong research background and his no-nonsense personality was expected to aid in a rapid transition of the department from a role of principally providing service teaching to a department with strong, externally funded research of its own. Since Mandeville’s research specialty was in nuclear physics, and there was very little nationally competitive research already in the department, the department research emphasis became nuclear physics. Several new hires were made in the late 1960’s, all in the area of nuclear physics, including two of his Kansas State collaborators, Drs. Potnis and Agin, as well as several new assistant professors.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1935-1966

Growing to become a University

During the 1950’s there was considerable growth on campus and an effort to formalize the graduate programs. Over a dozen new MS programs appeared across campus during this time including one in Engineering Physics and one in Physics. The latter was intended to rely heavily on a joint agreement with Argonne National Labs for research opportunities. The MS in Engineering Physics disappeared after 1960 and at the same time the Engineering Physics BS was renamed “Applied Physics.”1 A total of only about a half dozen students graduated with an Engineering Physics MS. The College’s graduate programs had been under a Director up until 1960 when the graduate school was formed and Physics Professor Don Yerg became the first Graduate School Dean.

At the Sault campus, Professor of Physics Harry Crawford was hired and named director in 1954. Shortly after that a number of the physics faculty from the Houghton campus moved to the Sault campus. Crawford was instrumental in building and developing the Sault campus until his retirement in 1965, preparing the Sault campus to formally break away to become Lake Superior State University.

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