Ben Whiteley, right, with Prof. Janet Tate and Elaine Whiteley at the COS awards earlier this year.

Ben Whiteley, who with his wife Elaine, had been long term supporter of Physics at Oregon State, passed away in Portland on May 4th. Ben was CEO of Standard Insurance from 1983-1994 and a leader in Oregon business and philanthropy. The Whiteley’s have sponsored the Whiteley Materials Research Fund, which supports research in Materials, and in memory of Elaine’s father – Edwin Yunker, long-serving chair of Physics – the Yunker Lecture series that brings famous scientists to our Department every year.  He was a long-serving OSU trustee. Ben and Elaine received the College of Science Distinguished Service Award in 2016.


Ben’s impact on Oregon and our Department cannot be overstated, we’ll miss him and send our deepest condolences to Elaine and his family.

Obituary from the Oregonian

Shane Larson, BS 91, has won the Vth Fermilab Physics Slam – a public contest in which scientists are given 10 minutes on stage to explain what the heck they do to over 1000 people in a sold out auditorium.  has a Chicago Tribune article about the contest.

Shane works  at the Adler Planetarium and teaches at Northwestern University.  He gave a talk here in 2016 on the LIGO gravitational wave discovery.


Steven Ellefson graduated from Oregon State University in 2014 with a B.S. in

Physics Alumnus Steven Ellefson with with the ViewRay (the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system) and the ArcCHECK-MR (a diode array used for radiation dosimetry measurements of complex therapy plans) that he worked on for his dissertation at UW Madison.
Physics Alumnus Steven Ellefson with with the ViewRay (the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system) and the ArcCHECK-MR (a diode array used for radiation dosimetry measurements of complex therapy plans) that he worked on for his dissertation at UW Madison.

Radiation Health Physics and a minor in Physics. While at OSU, Steven did computational radiation physics research with Dr. Todd Palmer in the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, completed a summer internship in medical physics at the Samaritan Regional Cancer Center, and was awarded the School’s Lower Division and Upper Division Student of the Year Awards in consecutive years.

After graduation, Steven went on to the Medical Physics graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he focused on the physics of radiation therapy. As a graduate student, Steven researched issues with using the ArcCHECK, a commercial silicon diode array widely used for radiation dosimetry of complex radiation therapy plans, for dosimetry on the ViewRay, the world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy system. His research on the anomalous behavior of the ArcCHECK device under the influence of the ViewRay’s large magnetic field was presented at the annual conference for the American Association of Physicists in Medicine in 2015 and is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Applied Clinical Medical Physics.

Steven graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016 with his M.S. in Medical Physics and, through a competitive application process, was chosen for the Medical Physics Residency Program at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, which he is currently attending.

Steven says the fundamental problem-solving skills and ability to think outside the box developed in the Physics program at OSU were essential to his success.

He points out some special courses here.

“K.C. Walsh and the general calculus-based physics sequence: Dr. Walsh made the fundamental concepts so easy to grasp and his enthusiasm is contagious. He was able to simultaneously encourage and challenge me to be a better physicist. He was also always willing to talk about interesting extracurricular physics problems and even try to work them out if a student requested (such as why a motorcyclist will turn into or away from a corner depending on the speed).

“Dr. Tevian Dray and Vector Calculus II: I feel that I did not truly understand calculus until I took Tevian’s class. Taking his class made a collection of seemingly unrelated facts about calculus learned in previous courses coalesce into a singular paradigm in my brain. I am very thankful for his dedication to helping physicists and engineers understand vector calculus and the integral (no pun intended) role it plays in describing the physical world.”

“Dr. Corinne Manogue: While Corinne is amazing at teaching, what I remember most is her encouragement of students. She truly tries to bring out the best in students and challenges them to be better than they think they can be. I will never forget her telling us all before a final that our performance on the test does not determine our value as human beings.”

“Last but not least, Dr. David Roundy’s computational physics course was a great preparation for graduate school. So many problems are approached with computers today that being able to translate theories/models into a computer program ended up being an essential skill for me.”



Elaine and Ben Whiteley were honored with the College of Science Distinguished Service Award on Friday, November 18th, 2016 at a dinner and award ceremony in the Memorial Union.  Mr. and Mrs. Whiteley are pictured at the awards dinner with Prof. Janet Tate.  The Whiteleys are OSU alumni who graduated in 1951 and 1953 respectively, and are long-time friends of the Physics Department and the College of Science.  They contribute generously to the endowment for the Yunker Lecture series, in honor of Elaine Yunker Whiteley’s father, Prof. Edwin A. Yunker, who was on the physics faculty for 43 years and was department chair from 1949 to 1966.  They have also created a scholarship for students in Materials Science that bears their name.  Many of our students have received the Whiteley Materials Science Fellowship and we all continue to enjoy the intellectual vibrance that the annual Yunker Lecture brings.  Congratulations and thank you both for your support and friendship!


Congratulations to Dr. Scott Clark who is the 2016 recipient of the  College of Science’s Young Alumni Award.  Scott is co-founder and CEO of SigOpt in San Francisco, a startup company for tuning complex systems and machine learning models.  He’s a 4th-generation Beaver and earned 3 B.S. degrees (in Physics, Computational Physics and Mathematics,) from Oregon State University in 2008! He did research with Prof. Rubin Landau (Physics) and Prof. Malgo Peszynska (Math) while at OSU.  He earned his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics and his M.S. in Computer Science from Cornell University and then spent 2 years at Yelp developing black-box Bayesian global optimization techniques.  He subsequently founded SigOpt with his business partners and has raised millions of dollars in start-up funds.  (

We were delighted to host Scott in the department and the college, where he talked with current students and visited his old stomping grounds! On Friday evening, November 18th, Scott accepted his award at a banquet in the Memorial Union.  He was accompanied by family members, including his wife, Dr. June Andrews, who also has a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell and is a  data scientist at Pinterest.

Scott said that what he liked best about OSU was the encouragement to pursue whatever he wanted and the excellent problem-solving and analytical skills he developed in our physics program!  Thanks Scott, and congratulations!

Scott Clark, B.S. 2008, was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2016:

After graduating from OSU (where he earned 3 BS degrees in Physics, Math, and Computational Physics), Scott went on to a Ph.D. in Mathematics at Cornell, worked for Yelp, and then started his own company called SigOpt.
Thanks to Janet Tate for the news!

On April 12, Physics cohosted the Science Pub at the Old World Deli.

Crowd waiting for the talk to start.
Crowd waiting for the talk to start.

Shane Larson of Northwestern University/Adler planetarium ( BS Physics 1991)  presented the latest news on gravitational waves from the LIGO experiment to over 170 enthusiastic attendees after a pub quiz that no-one, including Shane and Physics Chair Heidi Schellman got 100%.  VP for Research Cindy Sagers won a prize for being one of 3 people to get 8/10!



Physics alum Shane Larson demonstrating gravitational interactions.
Physics alum Shane Larson demonstrating gravitational interactions.

Shane’s talk is posted at This location.


Prof. Shirley Dow Stekel, who graduated from our department in 1961 has sent us the following eye-witness history of the move to Weniger hall.  You can find more about Prof. Stekel at our blog post about her recent visit.

Weniger Hall, soon after its construction.
Weniger Hall, soon after its construction.


Shirley Dow Stekel

February 2016


When I arrived on the Oregon State College campus as a freshman in September 1954, the Physics Department was housed in a building attached to the old (1913) Mines Building (now ‘Batcheller Hall’). This addition, constructed in 1928 for the growing Physics Department, was referred to as the ‘Physics Building’. After the Physics Department moved to its current location, this building was named ‘Covell Hall’. My recollection of the Physics Building is that it seemed very old fashioned with an abundance of very dark woodwork. My brother1 has a similar recollection of this building.

In 1954, the Physics Department office was on the main floor with two lecture rooms at the end of the hall; a larger one and a smaller one. A few professors had offices on this floor, but office space was scarce and those who taught specialty labs had a desk in their lab instead of a proper office. The specialty labs were on the second floor. Some non-physics offices, such as the School of Science Office and the KOAC radio station studio and record library were on the third floor. By this time, the KOAC transmitter had been moved to an off campus site. The basement was also well used. The General Physics lab and Modern Physics lab were there and I think there was a small shop. One otherwise unused lab room with large wooden tables and wooden chairs served as a “home room” for all of the graduate students. (When I was a first year graduate student, I found the library a much quieter and more pleasant place to study.) At this time, there was no calculus-based Engineering Physics course so the first year ‘General Physics’ course was large. With only one room for the many lab sections, Saturday morning lab sessions were needed to accommodate all of the students. (Space was short all over campus and many multi-section, 3-credit courses had Tue-Thur-Sat AM sections. I remember having General Physics labs and Calculus classes on Saturday mornings.)

An essay in the Physics Department section of the OSU archives contains the following description: “During the last decade of occupancy of the Physics Building, the department was in serious need for space. Office space was so short that two full professors occupied a 10 foot by 10 foot room and many of the faculty had their offices in teaching laboratories. There was not even a laboratory for staff research and only four for graduate student research. Furthermore, there were no recitation rooms in the Physics Department, although the three lecture rooms served as recitation rooms at times.”2

A new building for the Physics Department was a wonderful idea! We watched the new building slowly rise via ‘lift-slab’ construction. First the support pillars were installed, then concrete was poured to form a floor and then that floor was slowly raised by electric motors placed atop each pillar. And then the process was repeated. Something malfunctioned when one of the floors had been lifted about two feet and the floor broke into two parts. This floor was repaired and was successfully lifted on the second attempt. In March of 1959, the Physics Department began to move into the new ‘Physics – Chemistry’ building although painters were still working inside. Graduate students were expected to stay on campus during Spring Break to help with the moving. I was a first year graduate student at this time. Much of the small equipment was loaded onto lab carts and pushed up to the new building. The large freight elevator in the new building was much appreciated when a load needed to be taken to one of the upper floors.

The new building was a delight with lots of windows, good lighting, bright new labs with storage closets, many comfortable offices and a library/meeting room. Each professor had his own office and other offices were shared by two graduate students. My own desk and a blackboard on the wall provided a fine place to study and grade papers. It was a great morale booster to have office space.

In 1961, the second half of the building was completed to form the building now called ‘Weniger Hall’. Other departments shared the space in the new building. These included the School of Science, Science Education, General Science and Agricultural Chemistry. “Built at a cost of five million dollars, this unit gives Oregon State University one of the largest and best equipped science teaching and research centers in the United States.” “Part of the construction and equipment cost was paid by generous grants from the U.S. Public Health Service and by the National Science foundation.”3

The dedication for the Physics – Chemistry Building was held on October 26 and 27, 1962. The distinguished guests included two representatives from the Oregon State System of Higher Education and the previous Dean of the Oregon State University School of Science. The three invited speakers for this event were well known scientists: Dr. Edwin M. McMillan, Director of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory and Nobel Prize winner; Dr. Willard F. Libby, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Nobel Prize winner; and Dr. Homer Newell Director of Space Sciences for the National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration.3

‘Weniger Hall’ became the official name of the Physics – Chemistry Building in 1966. This name change honored Dr. Willibald Weniger who spent most of his career at Oregon State College. Dr. Weniger was born in Milwaukee, WI and received his PhD in 1908 from the University of Wisconsin. “The Department of Physics at Oregon Agricultural College was started in 1908 with the appointment of Dr. Willibald Weniger as Assistant Professor of Physics by President William Jasper Kerr. Dr. Weniger was at that time, the only PhD on the staff of the College.” 4 After an absence during World War I, he returned to Oregon State College in 1920 as head of the Physics department. Dr. Weniger was Dean of the Graduate Division at the time he reached mandatory retirement age in 1949.5 After retiring from Oregon State College, he spent four years at the University of Alaska. He passed away in Corvallis on March 14, 1959.5


  1. Wayne Dow: BS engineering 1963; MBA 1970
  2. The Second New Physics Building. An essay written by a Physics faculty member in 1966. In the ‘History of the Physics Department’ section of the OSU digital archives.
  3. Dedication of Physics – Chemistry Building. An essay written by a Physics faculty member. (Probably Dr. James J. Brady) In the ‘History of the Physics Department’ section of the OSU digital archives.
  4. Introduction to the ‘History of the Physics Department’. OSU digital archives.
  5. Biographical Note, ‘Willibald Weniger Papers’. OSU digital archives.