March 24, 2020
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Thomas Greenslade H’02 P’87,’89 may have retired from Kenyon’s physics department in 2005, but you wouldn’t know it by how much time he still spends affirming the joys of learning physics. When he’s not traveling around the country delivering lectures on oscillations, waves, and the history of physics, Greenslade keeps busy maintaining a nationally significant collection of historical physics teaching apparatus in his Gambier home.
Greenslade’s lifelong energy and enthusiasm for teaching physics was recognized this year by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), which awarded him the Robert A. Millikan Medal. The award honors people who have made notable and intellectually creative contributions to the teaching of physics. Greenslade is not the only Kenyon professor to have earned this honor; the late physics professor Franklin Miller H’81 won the medal in 1970. Recipients deliver an address at the AAPT summer meeting and receive a monetary award, in addition to a medal.
“Kenyon’s physics department has an international reputation for being a place where teaching — and exchanging ideas more broadly — is at the core of everything we do,” said Associate Professor of Physics Tom Giblin, who serves as chair of the department. “We owe much of this legacy to Tom’s prolific contributions to our field. Through his publications, lectures, demonstrations and workshops for educators, he brought the Kenyon physics brand out to the world, setting up a legacy that we all try to live up to today.”
Greenslade joined Kenyon’s faculty in 1964 already acquainted with the College; his father, also named Thomas Greenslade, graduated from Kenyon in 1931 as a chemistry major and received an honorary degree in 1976. Teaching didn’t come naturally to Greenslade. “I discovered it took some time to learn how to teach,” Greenslade remarked. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”
Evidently, Greenslade sharpened his pedagogical skills, as his teaching career not only spanned 41 years but also included hundreds of presentations at professional meetings and nearly 300 publications in various physics journals. In 2002, Greenslade was named one of the 75 most influential physics teachers and physicists in the U.S., and in 2015 he was named a fellow of the American Physical Society.
“They say that you do not truly understand a subject until you teach it, and when I was starting my career at Kenyon I had any number of questions,” Professor of Physics Tim Sullivan said. “When I went to Tom for answers, I often got the response, ‘Have you read my article on the subject?’ He was so prolific an author that many times he would hand me a copy of an article that he had written for the American Journal of Physics or The Physics Teacher that would directly address my question.”
"He has been such an important influence on our physics curriculum, particularly on our PHYS 245 ‘Oscillations and Waves’ course and on our PHYS 380, 381 and 382 electronics courses. Tom was also important to me as I learned to become an effective advisor. The way he brought first-year students into his home for the first meeting with advisees helped me to appreciate the importance of making each advisee feel individually welcomed and ‘at home’ at Kenyon,” Sullivan added.
Greenslade’s home, shared with his wife, Sonia, now serves as his de facto classroom. Visitors to the house can explore his collection of more than 700 historical physics demonstration apparatus and hear Greenslade’s stories of the fascinating physics and history behind each.