UCF Physics

Physics Timeline


Florida Technological University (the future UCF) opens its doors to students, only 5 years after its establishment by the Florida Legislature. Among its offerings were courses in physics for students pursuing a B.S. in Physics. (For nearly 2 decades, all courses in physics and mathematics required of majors in engineering would be taught by engineering faculty.)


The development of the Physics Department is somewhat put on hold by FTU’s priority in developing its programs in engineering.


FTU becomes UCF, reflecting the state’s recognition that the institution’s mission needed to expand beyond its strictly technological and scientific beginning. This diversification will importantly impact the Physics Department’s overall mission in the coming decades.

Early 1980s

The Department of Physics is home to 5 to 7 members. (In comparison: faculty members in Chemistry numbered around 12 to 14, as did those in Biology.)


Engineers Council for Professional Development [ECPD] (the predecessor of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology [ABET]) reviewed the College of Engineering and gave it a one-year provisional accreditation, full accreditation being contingent on ECPD’s principle that preparatory courses in physics, chemistry, statistics and mathematics for students in engineering be taught by faculty members in the respective disciplines.


The Department assumes responsibility for courses in physics required in programs of the College of Engineering, in accordance with principles set forth the previous year by ECPD


The Department receives authorization to grant a M.S. in Physics.


A crucial year for the Department

Department chair William Oelfke proposes the establishment of CREOL(the Center for Research in Electro-Optics and Lasers). Oelfke engages Ron Phillips from the Electrical Engineering department and, working with members of the State Legislature, skillfully champions the proposal within the UCF administration as a joint Physics/Engineering endeavor. These efforts lead to the Florida Legislature’s passage of permanent funding for an optics center approved the previous year by the University Board of Regents following a recommendation of the Florida High Technology and Industry Council (FHTIC), formed by Florida Governor Bob Graham to lead the definition of what industries should be emphasized to build the state’s high-tech economy. Upon CREOL’s establishment, UCF’s associate vice president for academic affairs, John Bolte, takes control of the project, although CREOL faculty remain under the jurisdiction of their respective departments (Physics and Electrical Engineering). To meet the new demands of CREOL, within a few years the faculty of the Department of Physics will double to around 14.


The department is commissioned to grant a Ph.D. in Physics – the second science Ph.D. program at UCF (Computer Science was the first). This milestone is a result of rapid growth in CREOL, the engineering program, and the University as a whole, and of a decade of planning on the part of the department.


Beginning in the mid-1990s, UCF experiences its most intense period of growth – some 40% over the next decade – bringing reforms in the general undergraduate curriculum that affect all departments, including the Physics Department.


CREOL faculty who belong either to the Departments of Physics or the Department of Electrical Engineering become the founding faculty of the new School of Optics which has its own degree program, research funding, and ability to hire new faculty and tenure them. This causes a decrease in the number of faculty in Physics and leads to a period of readjustment and rethinking of research directions. Around the same time, Brian Tonner (an accomplished surface physics experimentalist) joins the Physics department as chair.

Several changes in curriculum are introduced; a number of research tracks are proposed and several new faculty are hired over the next few years. The experimental Surface and Materials physics programs gain momentum in the department.


By now the faculty of the department numbers around 20, increasing to around 30 by the middle of the decade. Several departmental faculty continue to be engaged in Physics Education Research (PER). A junior faculty member is hired in theoretical Soft Condensed Matter Physics.


A new faculty member in PER is hired who soon establishes the SCALE-UP mode of teaching calculus based introductory Physics (PHY 2048 and 2049) The studio for the purpose is housed in a trailer and equipped accordingly (it still exists and may be revived).


The first faculty member is hired in the new initiative in Planetary Sciences. The experimental program in materials physics has a core group of 5-6 faculty. The overall effort in Condensed Matter Physics has significant strength. Efforts are also extended into the emerging area of nano/biophysics and biological physics, offering new opportunities for interdisciplinary research.

Brian Tonner resigns as chair and assumes the directorship Orlando Science Center. Ralph Llewellyn, who joined the department and UCF in 1980 (serving initially as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences) steps in as interim chair.


New hires are made in the areas of Nanoscale/Surface Physics, Atomic and Molecular Physics, Physics Education, Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics. Startup funds for experimentalist in nanoscience are provided by Florida legislature’s new initiative in the area.


CREOL becomes a college in its own right – The College of Optics and Photonics. Many members of its faculty occupy joint appointments with the Department of Physics. Physics department hires two more experimentalists in the area of nanomaterials and nanoscience. Nanoscience and Technology Center (NSTC) is established through the funds allocated for the initiative in Nanoscience and nanotechnology.

The development of the UCF’s General Education Program (GEP) leads the department to hire several faculty at the Instructor rank to address this expansion of its mission. The course in Introductory Astronomy will become one of the popular general education courses at UCF.


Two new faculty members are hired in Planetary Sciences.

Two hires are made in Nanoscience with joint appointments in NSTC.

It is to be noted that there is significant turnaround in faculty in the department. Although there is continued hiring of new faculty, a number of faculty also leave the department for a variety of reasons. During this decade the number of faculty in the department remains roughly constant.


Two new faculty are hired to strengthen Planetary Science. Several more lecturers are hired to keep up with the increasing student population and demand for physics service courses. After 3.5 years of service to the department, Ralph Llewellyn steps down as interim chair and Talat Rahman (accomplishments in theoretical surface physics and nanoscience) is hired as chair. Theoretical and computational nanophysics program is further strengthened as Rahman moves her entire research group to UCF.


Construction begins on the new Physical Sciences Building, a $53 million project for research facilities in physics and chemistry designed to keep UCF competitive in these disciplines in the 21st Century. Two faculty members are hired in theory and modeling of materials and one experimentalist in the area of functional nanomaterials (jointly with NSTC). Two senior faculty members retire and two leave the university.


One faculty member’s line is transferred from Biomolecular Sciences to Physics. This enhances the effort in Biological Physics. Search for an experimentalist in nano/biophysics is abandon at the last moment as a result of significant budget cuts. Positions of three visiting professors is converted to that of lecturers to ensure continuity in fulfilling teaching demands which keep growing with growing enrolment.


A senior faculty member is hired in the area of Attosecond Physics. This is a joint hire between Physics and the College of Optics and Photonics.