Thomas B. Day Awards
for Excellence in Physics
President Day was a tremendously accomplished man, and in many ways, most well-known for his work as President of SDSU. Less known is that he was a widely published and successful physicist, passionate about teaching, and a tremendous help to U.S. science through his work at the National Science Board.
Thomas B. Day fell in love with science as a young man through science fiction stories and hearing about his older brother’s work on the railroads. He received a scholarship to go to Notre Dame to study physics, completed his degree in three years, and then went to Cornell, receiving his Ph.D. by the age of 25. His specialty was theoretical and experimental physics of sub-atomic particles. He developed theoretical (mathematical) explanations of experimental observations about atoms and atomic reactions that no one could explain, and these discoveries led to breakthroughs in the field.
He was named the Outstanding Young Scientist in the state of Maryland at the age of 30, shortly after he became a professor at the University of Maryland. He spent his sabbatical year at Berkeley experimentally validating his theoretical work. He advanced to the prestigious status of Fellow of the American Physical Society at the young age of 36. Professor Day explained quantum phenomena that are still being studied today.
After President Day switched to higher education administration, he was appointed to the prestigious National Science Board. He served on NSB for 12 years, was appointed by two U.S. Presidents, and drove the U.S. to move away from WWII-type science of atom smashers (his field) and into the 21st century of advanced astronomy, quantum, artificial intelligence, etc. An especially notable accomplishment was to help ensure the funding for an advanced astronomical observatory known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). In 2017, LIGO detected the first-ever gravity wave (from two black holes merging), and astronomy was forever changed. The Nobel Prize was awarded to the leading Professors who contributed to LIGO making this discovery.
At SDSU, President Day instituted the teacher-scholar model emphasizing that teaching would be the focus of SDSU and good teaching would lead to good research. He expanded the ability of the University to perform and win grants and contracts for advanced research. The research grants grew tremendously, and new doctoral programs were created, all while maintaining an emphasis on good teaching as the priority. SDSU is now world-renowned for conducting research and for excellence in teaching.
The Thomas B. Day Awards for Excellence in Physics endowment was created in memory of President Day to annually recognize and reward one outstanding teacher and one or more outstanding students in perpetuity. These prestigious awards will support faculty and students both financially and in the advancement of their careers.
Please consider contributing to the Thomas B. Day Awards for Excellence in Physics to honor President Day and support outstanding faculty and students in physics for generations to come.
To join the Department of Physics and the College of Sciences in honoring the 2022 award winners, please mark your calendars for May 4th, 2022 at 3 in the afternoon. We hope to see you in the Thomas B. and Anne K. Day Quad in the Engineering and Interdisciplinary Sciences Complex.
Contact Info: Stacy Carota, Executive Director of Development: (619) 594-2324 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about President Day (1932-2021), you can read about his life in Physics Today.