Many Thanks, Dennis Eggleston

Photo by Marc Campos

"We’ll see what opportunities present themselves and what life allows."

Professor of Physics Dennis Eggleston is retiring after 35 years at Oxy.

What attracted you to Oxy? “I was looking for an academic position that emphasized both teaching and research. A friend told me that Oxy was searching for a physics professor who could setup a research program that would involve undergraduates. I interviewed and was impressed by the College and the quality of the students. It seemed like a good fit.”

What was your favorite class and why? “I’ve taught almost every course in the physics curriculum and enjoyed them all but I favored the ‘classical’ courses most: Mechanics, Electrodynamics, and Waves. These are the ones I use most in my plasma physics research. I also have a special place in my heart for Electronics, a subject I learned after coming to Oxy. I taught the course and its associated lab many times and eventually wrote a textbook for it.”

What are your plans for retirement? “We’ll see what opportunities present themselves and what life allows. I hope to: continue some scholarly and scientific work, maybe write a second edition of my textbook; enjoy some of the activities I put aside during my time as a professor; better understand my faith; try to finish well.”

Anything else about your time at Oxy you would like to add? “I'd like to thank the many students, faculty, staff, and administrators who have been so helpful over the years. I'm especially grateful to my departmental colleagues. We've been able to work well together and get a lot done. My best to all!”

Alumni Tributes

Kayla Currier ’17: When I first met Dennis in Introductory Electricity and Magnetism, I was thinking that physics might not be the right place for me, and to be honest, after that semester I still was unsure; E&M is hard. However, I decided to take one more physics course before giving up. That course was Modern Physics, which also happened to be with Dennis. Though the material was a lot more exciting than E&M, it was ultimately the patience and enthusiasm with which Dennis taught the course that helped to solidify my decision to stick with physics. 

Eggleston fabricates a flange for an experiment in an undated photo.
I remember a time I asked Dennis a question in class and he was unsure of the answer. Instead of trying to give a hand-wavy answer he simply stated that he did not know. However, later that evening I received an email from him explaining the answer. He had not only remembered my question and made sure to find an answer, but the way in which he did not try to hide that he was unsure made him much more approachable to a young physicist, which is rare in a field that has many big egos.

I worked in Dennis’ lab after my sophomore year. Coming from a non-academic family, I had no clue what performing scientific research was like. I remember reading the word “azimuthal” in one of the papers Dennis referred me to and thinking I was way in over my head. But Dennis served as an amazing mentor and I learned how to be a scientist that summer. He encouraged me to continue to pursue physics, and even nominated me for the Goldwater Scholarship, which I would have never received without his guidance. 

I am currently in a Ph.D. program at one of the top physics graduate programs in the world, and I can confidently say that I would not be here without Dennis. In a field as tough as physics, I was lucky to have a mentor that was patient, encouraging, and approachable. I will always be thankful to him for making me the scientist I am today. 

Currier is a doctoral student in the physics department at UC Berkeley.

Finn O. Rebassoo ’03: Dennis Eggleston had an integral role in helping guide and mentor me during my time at Oxy as well as after. He was my academic adviser, teacher for an electronics course, and mentor for summer research. My summer doing plasma physics research with him was my introduction to science research and really provided the spark that led me to want to pursue a Ph.D. in physics. In it I learned how to run experiments, analyze results, and most importantly, how to explore and persist on difficult research problems. It was amazing at a small liberal arts college to be able to run experiments with his Malmberg-Penning Trap in Fowler Hall. This was the perfect setup to introduce and excite students about physics research. As I was applying to graduate schools, Dennis gave me advice on different schools and research, and wrote me letters of recommendation. I do not know where I would be without my introduction from him to physics research (possibly doing something else besides physics).

In addition to my research experience, I have great memories of his enthusiasm for helping students, whether it was at office hours in Fowler or periodic meetings as my academic adviser. He taught me important lessons in problem solving that I carried on with me into my graduate and postgraduate career. And though we haven’t talked much lately, it turns out that a student who recently did research for him at Oxy, Quinn Taylor, is going to be doing research on a project of mine this summer. So, the family tree of those he has influenced has now been connected in other ways. Here’s to Dennis and hoping that retirement is halfway as fulfilling as teaching and doing plasma research.

Rebassoo is a staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at UC Santa Barbara.