UT Dallas Magazine

Get to Know the First Nobel Laureate to Teach at UTD

Dr. Polykarp Kusch

Editor’s Note: This Hindsight article appeared in the spring 2012 issue of UT Dallas Magazine.

Outside the entrance to a lecture hall in Founders North hangs a picture of its namesake — Dr. Polykarp Kusch, who was the Eugene McDermott Professor of Physics. The Nobel laureate in physics spearheaded the conversion of a campus movie theater to a 2,535-square-foot, 185-seat lecture hall complete with laboratory bench and lectern. It provided the main stage from which Kusch made physics come alive for his students.

The late Margie Renfrow, whose 38-year career at UTD began when Kusch hired her as a temporary office worker in 1973, sat down with UT Dallas Magazine in 2012 to reminisce about working for the University’s first Nobel laureate.

“Kusch said he came down here [to Texas from Columbia University in New York] with the idea that he could help build a university that was perhaps different than the ones that were currently in existence.

“Here, he created a course for non-scientists called Phenomena of Nature. It was a showpiece.

“Kusch was better than Mr. Wizard. He would put ice bombs in the corner of the room so they’d go off about halfway through the lecture. He believed in things being dramatic. One time he said he needed some fur. And I had some sandals with a little bit of mink on them, so I took it off my sandals and brought it to him. He used it to show static electricity. We improvised a lot.

“He once said, ‘I describe myself as an adequate scientist, but I am a superb teacher.’”

Kusch shared the 1955 Nobel Prize in physics with Willis Lamb. At an address during the award ceremony, Kusch said, “Science is the greatest creative impulse of our time. It dominates the intellectual scene and forms our lives, not only in the material things which it has given us, but also in that it guides our spirit. Science shows us truth and beauty and fills each day with a fresh wonder of the exquisite order which governs our world.”