Art’s Retirement

Professor Art Hobson retired in May after 35 years in the physics department. Among the reasons he came here in 1964 were his friendly but professional job interview with Chairman Paul Sharrah, his talks with faculty members Glen Clayton, Steve Day, Ray Hughes, Charles Jones, George Lingelbach, Herman Schwartz, and Otto “Bud” Zinke, the camaraderie within the department, and the gorgeous Ozark environment. Among his early memorable experiences, he recalls his first day in town, when he moved furniture into his rental house in Farmington until 1 a.m. and only then found time to begin preparing for his first class lecture in physical science the following morning. The course had already been meeting for a week, and was in the middle of the astronomy segment–a topic in which he had never taken a college course! The class meeting time: that morning at 07:00!!

Art’s earliest interest was music. He received a music degree from North Texas State University in Denton in 1955, was drafted into an Army band in Europe for two years, tried to make the big-time in New York City in 1957, realized that he possessed more desire then he did talent for jazz, and returned to college in 1958 where he tried something more likely to lead to actual employment, namely physics.

He finished his PhD, doing his dissertation in theoretical statistical mechanics, in 1964, and came directly to the University of Arkansas. During the next ten years, he taught the complete spectrum of graduate and undergraduate physics courses, researched the application of information theory to statistical mechanics, received two National Science Foundation grants, and published 14 research papers and a book, Concepts in Statistical Mechanics (Gordon and Breach, 1971).

Art was heavily involved in the campus protests against the Vietnam War during 1967-1972, and traces his continuing societal concerns partly to this involvement. Out of such concerns, he developed a new socially relevant introductory physics course for nonscientists to replace the older physical science course. According to Hobson, every campus needs such science courses “because industrialized democracies cannot survive unless their citizens are scientifically literate.” After two years of working through the campus bureaucracy, the new course “Physics and Human Affairs” was approved in 1976. By Spring 1999 it had grown to 480 students per semester, and over ten thousand students had passed through it. In 1989, Hobson received the Fulbright College of Arts and Science’s Master Teacher Award for developing and teaching this course.

Hobson soon realized that no existing textbook fit the range of topics needed in a “relevant” physics course. These included philosophical topics such as scientific methodology, the interpretation of quantum physics, and pseudoscience; societal topics such as global warming and energy resources; and a heavy emphasis on modern physics. So he began writing class notes for the course, which by 1982 developed into a published textbook, Physics and Human Affairs (Wiley, 1982). During 1991-1995, Hobson wrote an entirely new textbook, Physics: Concepts and Connections (Prentice Hall, 1st edition 1995, 2nd edition 1999), based on the course as it had developed by that time. It is now used on some 85 college campuses, and was recently chosen by the Library of Science as its “Main Selection” for May, 1999.

During 1980-1984 Hobson teamed up with his friend James R. “Dick” Bennett, Professor of English, to develop and teach a new course called “The Arms Race and World War III.” The course continues today under the title “Peace and War” (Humanities 4313).

While on Off Campus Duty Assignment in Stockholm, Sweden in 1985, Hobson studied physics-related arms control issues. This led to his participation in an American Physical Society (APS) arms control study group, and to his co-editing and co-authoring The Future of Land-Based Strategic Missiles (American Institute of Physics, 1989). This work also led to his appointment as editor of Physics and Society, a quarterly publication of the APS Forum on Physics and Society. He developed this quarterly into a vehicle for the publication of serious articles, commentary, and reviews at the interface of physics and society. In recognition of this work and for other contributions, Hobson was in 1992 elected a Fellow of the APS.

During 1995-1996, Hobson helped revise and revitalize the Department’s Bachelor of Arts degree program (see Reflections Spring 1996 pages 1-3, and Spring 1998 pages 1-2). He has been program’s mentor and advisor since 1995.

Art says that he’s not really retiring, he’s just exchanging some of his professional activities. His calender is already full through mid-November. Included in his “do” list are meetings of international physics educators this summer in Szeged, Hungary and in Guilin, China, and a two-month course for future physics teachers on “Teaching Relevant Physics” scheduled for this Fall at Eotvoes University in Budapest, Hungary. His textbook is being translated into Chinese and will be published by the Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers–an exciting prospect that he hopes will lead to interesting collaborations with physics educators in China. His list also includes writing articles, a book on physics and the environment, a high school physics textbook, working on science-related social issues, learning German so well that Germans won’t reply in English, not to mention skiing, the beach, and Dickson Street.*