Texas Section History

How it got started:

During the early Fall of 1954, Dr. James Potter, Chairman of the Department of Physics at Texas A and M University, Dr. Newton Gaines, Chairman of the Department of Physics at Texas Christian University, and Dr. Herbert C. Schwetman, Chairman of the Department of Physics at Baylor University, met at the National Science Education Conference at Lake Texoma (at the suggestion of Dr. Potter) and discussed the possibility of starting the Texas Section of the A.A.P.T..

Dr. Potter volunteered to send out the initial letter which produced such excellent results that later Dr. Potter said: “I have done very few things in my life that have caught fire the way that did. You nominated me for the Chairmanship the first year, and with a minimum of nursing, it was picked up and carried by other officers in succeeding years. People seem generally to enjoy being involved with it.”

The first organizational meeting of the Texas Section of the A.A.P.T. was held on Saturday, December 11, 1954 at San Antonio College, San Antonio, Texas. The group of 25 physics teachers from high schools, junior colleges, and universities was called to order by Dr. Potter, who then presided over the election of a temporary chairman. Dr. Potter was selected by acclamation and appointed Dr. H. M. Moseley of Texas Christian University as temporary secretary.

Dr. Potter announced that the plan to organize a Texas Section of the A.A.P.T. to meet annually with the Texas Academy of Science had already received the endorsement of the Executive Councils of both the Texas Academy of Science and the American Association of Physics Teachers. A letter from the Executive Council of the A.A.P.T. endorsing the plan was read by the chairman.

It was then moved: That those present petition the appropriate officers of the A.A.P.T. for a charter for the Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. In the discussion which followed, two possibilities were examined: first, that the organization also include members from the states neighboring Texas and be known, perhaps, as the Southwestern Section of the A.A.P.T., and, second that, in accordance with the implication of the motion, the organization concentrate its recruiting of membership within the State of Texas, with individuals from neighboring states free, indeed, invited to visit our meetings and to contribute to the programs. The second possibility seemed to meet with greater favor; at least, no amendment to the motion was offered. The organizational motion then carried unanimously.

Petition sheets reading “We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the Council for the authority to organize a Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers” were then circulated for signatures; a total of 25 signatures were obtained.

It was then moved: That the next meeting of the Texas Section of the A.A.P.T. be on occasion of the 1955 meeting of the Texas Academy of Science, and that a program be presented at that time. The motion carried unanimously.

The motion was then introduced:

  • That the officers of the Texas Section of the A.A.P.T. consist of a Chairman, a Vice-Chairman, a Secretary-Treasurer, and two Council Members, these five officers constituting the Board of Directors;
  • That the Board of Directors for 1955 constitute a committee empowered to take, during the year 1955, all further steps necessary for the organization of the Texas Section of the A.A.P.T. and to carry on the business of the organization during the year; and
  • That the said committee report to the membership on the occasion of the 1955 meeting. This motion carried unanimously.

Officers for the year 1955 were then elected. Dr. Potter was elected as chairman, Dr. T. N. Hatfield (University of Houston) as vice-chairman, Dr, L. F. Connell, Jr. (North Texas State)as secretary-treasurer, and Dr. F. C. McDonald (SMU) and Dr. C. C. Schmidt (Texas Tech) as council members.

It was then moved: That Dr. Potter be empowered to act as the representative of the Texas Section at the national meeting of the American Association of Physics teachers to be held in New York, January 27 – 29, with Dr. Connell as alternate. The motion carried unanimously.

Subsequent History:

The charter petition to the national organization was approved at the 1955 annual meeting of the Council on January 27,1955. (AJP 23, 398) During the period between the 1954 and1955 meetings the Board of Directors of the Texas AAPT served as a committee to write a constitution, which was adopted at the business meeting held during the 1955 meeting. The new organization attained a membership of eighty-one during the first year, and the 1955meeting’s four invited and twenty-two contributed papers were heard by as many as 120 persons. The emergence of the Physical Sciences Section soon resulted in the necessity of holding simultaneous sessions. As the sessions increased in length, it became more difficult to find a suitable time for the business meeting, and it has moved from late Friday afternoon to various Saturday times to the current Friday luncheon meeting.

In 1965 the Board of Directors of the Texas Academy of Science voted to change the annual meeting from early December to March, with the result that no TAS meeting was held during the calendar year 1966. At the meeting in December 1965, Texas AAPT members voted to have a meeting in November of 1966 at Trinity University; the meeting was quite successful, with the result that since that date, the section has held two meetings each year. The fall meeting typically places emphasis on teaching while both teaching and research are featured at the spring meeting. It has become a tradition to have nationally known physics educators as invited speakers at both of these meetings.

The Texas Section has had a membership fee of one dollar per year during most of its history, but it recently became necessary to raise the fee to two dollars. Even at the increased rate, it is apparent that support of the meetings and other activities has come mainly through the generosity of the officers, their institutions, and the host institutions.

During the period since its founding in 1954, the Texas Section has served the physics community through a variety of activities, including:

  1. It has sponsored meetings in all parts of the state where ideas concerning physics and physics teaching have been shared and exchanged.
  2. It has provided an opportunity for faculty members and students of the colleges and universities to report on the physics research being carried on inTexas.
  3. It has afforded a common meeting ground for physics teachers from all levels–university, college, junior college, high school, and junior high school.
  4. It has exerted efforts to improve the average preparation of high school physics teachers and to improve the certification procedures for physics teachers. Specific recommendations have been made to the Texas Education Agency in this area.
  5. It has encouraged the coordination of curriculum between the junior colleges and the universities and colleges of the state.
  6. It has attempted to cooperate in the planning of engineering education.
  7. It has encouraged the improvement of the ninth-grade physical science course and the preparation of new materials for this course.
  8. It has identified and presented awards to outstanding high school physics teachers in the state.
  9. It has honored, through an emeritus membership program, the retired physics teachers of Texas.
  10. It has undertaken studies aimed at making more effective use of government surplus and excess property.
  11. It has published a list of speakers available from physics departments in the state.

It would be inappropriate in this brief history to describe each of these activities in detail. However, concerning item#2, it is believed that the importance of the Texas Section in providing regional forum for research in physics merits further comment. The only other organization which has sponsored broad-spectrum meetings has been the American Physical Society, but it has not provided meetings of reasonable proximity on an annual basis, and in recent years meetings in Texas or in any of the adjoining states have become quite rare. Records indicate that in the fifteen years 1956-70 inclusive, eleven national APS meetings were held in Texas or in adjoining states (Houston-3, Austin-3, Norman-2,Dallas 1, Los Alamos-1, and New Orleans-1), or an average of 0.73 per year. During the six years 1971-76, however, the only meeting in the five-state area was in Albuquerque in June 1972, giving an average for the six years of 0.17 meeting per year. With institutional travel funds limited, the professional meetings sponsored by Texas Section AAPT have become increasingly important.

Although year-by-year membership records in the Texas Section are apparently not available, the process of sound and steady growth has been apparent to all who have participated actively in the Section. The current membership (March 6, 1975) is reported as one hundred and thirty-five, including eleven emeritus members.

A tabulation listing the meeting places and dates, the names of section officers, and American Journal of Physics references to reports of meetings is attached as Appendix I. (It should be noted that reports of section meetings are no longer published in AJP, having been shunted to the AAPT ANNOUNCER in 1973.)Not included in the tabulation are the names of the separate program chairmen and local committees who made such important contributions to the success of the meetings. An approximate count of the number of papers presented at each meeting (not including post-deadline papers)is given in Appendix IIA; papers clearly identifiable as chemistry have not been included in the tabulation. Appendix IIB provides references to the Texas Journal of Science (the official publication of the Texas Academy of Science), where programs for most of the joint meetings may be found. Since reports of many of the section’s meetings have not appeared in the American Journal of Physics, the Texas Journal may represent the only permanent reference for those meetings not included in AJP.

Geographical Jurisdiction:

The charter of the Texas Section, as described above, provided for the boundaries of the Section to be those of the state. The only modification that has taken place occurred in January, 1963, when the AAPT Council approved a charter petition from the organizational group for the Southwestern Section. (AJP31, 561) Approval of the petition has been delayed pending agreement by the Texas Section to release the Texas Panhandle area for reassignment to the new section; the release was voted at the Texas Section business meeting in Austin in December 1962. The area released consisted of the Texas Panhandle, interpreted to include, as southern and eastern boundaries, the counties of Bailey, Lamb, Hale, Floyd, Motley, Cottle, and Childress.


The constitution and by-laws of the Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers have been amended several times since the original adoption in 1955, with the most recent changes occurring in 1972. A copy of the present articles is attached as Appendix III.

Concerning the Texas Academy of Science:

Prior to the formation of the Texas AAPT, the membership and the meetings of the Texas Academy of Science were strongly oriented toward the biological and earth sciences. Participation in Academy affairs, including meetings, by chemists, mathematicians, and physicists was meager, with the result that all three areas shared one Section of the Academy and held joint sessions at the meetings, a fact which obviously had an adverse effect on any attempts to increase interest in the meetings. The success of the Texas AAPT in stimulating interest and activity in physics in the years following 1954 appears to have motivated some members of the Texas Section of the Mathematical Association of American to follow a similar approach to increased activity in mathematics in the Academy meetings, and by 1961 the activity in both fields was sufficient to cause the Academy to create separate sections, with Section I designated for mathematics and Section II for physical sciences. Participation by chemists in the activities of Section II remained rather small, probably because of the strength of the Southwestern Section of the American Chemical Society. As the result of the leadership of some interested chemists, however, the reorganization of the Academy in 1969 separated chemistry and physics, with Section II designated “Physical Sciences and Space Sciences” and Section VII “Chemical Sciences.”

The creation in the 1969 reorganization of the Science Education Section (Section VIII) has resulted in some additional dilemmas for many Texas AAPT members as they attempt to decide which session they shall attend, and has also produced a few conflicts for those who are scheduled for nearly simultaneous paper presentations in the two sections. Because of the overlapping interests, it would appear desirable for the vice-presidents of Section II and VIII to coordinate their efforts when arranging the programs for the annual spring meeting. A recent, and related, development which appears to increase the importance of coordination is the 1973 affiliation of the Science Teachers Association of Texas with the Texas Academy of Science, with the result that the Section VIII (Science Education) program for the joint spring meeting has become a dual responsibility of STAT and TAS Section VIII. The membership of STAT, about 1100, consists almost entirely of public school teachers and their science supervisors and includes some persons, both public school and college, who are members of Texas Section AAPT. An important point is that STAT also holds a fall meeting each year. In view of the continuing efforts of TSAAPT to promote closer relations between public schools and college faculty personnel, it would appear that some cooperation, perhaps including occasional joint fall meetings, might be mutually advantageous and hence, worthy of consideration.

A Special Note:

Although many persons have made outstanding contributions to the organization and growth of the Texas Section AAPT, it is the belief of the committee that two persons whose names are to be found among the officers listed in Appendix I are due special recognition. Mary Gourley and Garnett Gray served the Section with unusual devotion and ability and continued to do so, almost literally, to the moments of their untimely deaths. Many members of the Section have participated in memorial funds established in honor of these two beloved former members at their home institutions of Austin College and TrinityUniversity.
Respectfully submitted, this date, March 21, 1975.

Roy Biser
Herbert Schwetman
Fred Connelly, Chairman.