Faculty Spotlight: Nuclear Physicist Bret Crawford Awarded Smith Chair

Crawford assists a student in his lab assignment. (Photo by Gauri Mangala)

Crawford assists a student in his lab assignment. (Photo Gauri Mangala/The Gettysburgian)

By Gauri Mangala, Co-Features Editor

Bret Crawford, Professor of Physics at Gettysburg College, was awarded the Ronald J. Smith  Professor of Applied Physics Chair by the Board of Trustees early this month. This chair gives professors the opportunity to focus more on research, with extended sabbaticals and funding. Crawford is a nuclear physicist whose focus gravitates fundamental forces of nature using neutron beams.

Crawford earned his B.S. in electrical engineering at the University of South Carolina, an M.S. in physics from the University of Vermont, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in physics from Duke University. However, interestingly enough, he has found himself to have spent his entire professional career at liberal arts colleges, with one year spent teaching at Dickinson College and the rest of his time devoted to Gettysburg.

“I like the idea of a liberal arts school because of the focus on teaching. I wanted to do both research and teaching, but I wanted to probably focus more on teaching than on research,” remarked Crawford.

However, Crawford still has time to conduct research during his winter and summer breaks.

“I usually have a student or two work with me in the summers. Now through the X-SIG program [we have] a little more funding than we used to have,” explained Crawford.

The Gettysburg College website sates, “The Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute at Gettysburg College (X-SIG) was established to help our community of students be research ready, research active and research connected. The X-SIG oversees a set of initiatives designed to equip our students with the skills necessary for modern research, preparing them to integrate multiple disciplines in order to answer science’s most pressing questions.”

Crawford plans to put the extra funding that he will receive from the endowment towards funding another student researcher, going to conferences, and purchasing new equipment. He is also excited for his advanced sabbatical.

Outside of the classroom, Crawford’s research focuses on the neutron lifetime experience at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Along with this, Crawford is involved in neutron spin rotation measurements seeking exotic interactions beyond the standard model at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Crawford developed a 250-keV proton accelator lab at Gettysburg College alongside Professor Sharon Stephenson and many Gettysburg physics majors. He plans on continuing research that the new lab makes possible.

Crawford will be taking over from Stephenson as chair of the Physics department next fall.

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Author: Gauri Mangala

Gauri Mangala '21 currently serves as the News Editor for the Gettysburgian, a position she has held since May of 2018. Gauri is originally from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Aside from her work with the Gettysburgian, Gauri is the treasurer for the Owl and Nightingale Players. She hopes to study International Affairs and Anthropology during her time at Gettysburg.

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