From Farmland Irrigation to Martian Exploration: 125 Years of Physics in Guelph - Guelph Civic Museum

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J.B. Reynolds
"I believe the scientific farmer is going to be the farmer of the future. […] If farming is to
be made a success in this country, it has to be done on a scientific basis."
— J.B. Reynolds (1867-1948)

With that pronouncement in 1895, the Department of Physics was born at the newly formed Ontario Agricultural College (est. 1874). Research started quickly as Reynolds began applying physics concepts to the modernization of farming. His studies included soil characterization, meteorology, hydraulics, surveying, irrigation, electricity, and electrical machinery. In the early days of the Department of Physics, scientists focused on how the understanding of our natural world could improve life on the farm. 

Mars Rover
Mars Rover Curiosity

Over 125 years later, researchers at the Department of Physics continue to expand our understanding of the natural world, ranging from the subatomic to the astronomical. One research group, led by Dr. Ralf Gellert, is using state-of-the-art technology to characterize soils and rocks and to analyze chemical elements on Mars. 

Since 1895, the Department of Physics has grown to become one of the most respected in Canada. With a rich history of research and a strong commitment to innovation in teaching, Guelph Physics has come a long way since its agrarian roots. 

With this display, Guelph Physics shares some of the artifacts from its early archives, including an assortment of the equipment used more than a century ago in the Department of Physics. A mock-up of the APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer) system from the Curiosity rover on Mars forms the backdrop for the early artifacts.  

Guelph Physics has grown from a small department in a rural Ontario college to become one of international renown in a university of high esteem. From these early days of using physics to study the local soil and environment, Guelph Physics now studies soils on distant planets, subatomic particles inside every atom, and physical processes of every scale in between. 

Physics Building, O.A.C., Guelph, circa 1920
Physics Building, O.A.C., Guelph, circa 1920
Guelph Museums 1992.32.2

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