A Tribute to a Key Figure in Sigma Pi Sigma History

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Dr. L. Worth Seagondollar

A Tribute to a Key Figure in Sigma Pi Sigma History

On September 20, 2013, Dr. L. Worth Seagondollar passed away at the age of 92. Sigma Pi Sigma joins the greater physics community in mourning Dr. Seagondollar, who spent much of his career championing the importance of undergraduate physics education.

Worth Seagondollar poses by a sculpture at the American Center for Physics, following a 2007 talk and  Q&A about his experiences working on the Manhattan Project. Photo by Tracy Nolis-Schwab.

A prolific teacher and scholar, his scientific roots go back to the Manhattan Project. He was one of the youngest scientists invited to work on the project and a witness to the first atomic test, at the Trinity Site. After World War II, he earned a PhD at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and then joined the faculty at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he helped build the first Van de Graaff accelerator. In 1965 he moved to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, where he was appointed chair of the physics department.

Dr. Seagondollar became associated with Sigma Pi Sigma in 1950 at the University of Kansas. He served as a student advisor for more than 40 years and as the president of the Sigma Pi Sigma national organization from 1962 to 1967. It was Worth Seagondollar who, in April of 1968, ironed out the details of the merger between the American Institute of Physics Student Sections and Sigma Pi Sigma that formed the Society of Physics Students (SPS). He ensured that this unique arrangement would not jeopardize the standing of Sigma Pi Sigma as a member of the Association of College Honor Societies—and helped to author the SPS National Constitution.

In 1996 the SPS National Council voted unanimously to institute the L. Worth Seagondollar Distinguished Service Award, awarded first to Dr. Seagondollar (much to his surprise!). The Seagondollar Award remains the most prestigious of all Sigma Pi Sigma or SPS service awards.

This issue of Radiations celebrates Dr. Seagondollar’s legacy with a collection of stories, told by those who knew him and by Dr. Seagondollar himself. 

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