News Archive 2009-2018

Remembering Professor of Physics Emeritus Roy LaCasce (1923-2015) Archives


Elroy Osborne LaCasce Jr. was born in Fryeburg, Maine, on January 17, 1923, the son of Elroy (Class of 1914) and Marion LaCasce. He graduated from Fryeburg Academy, where his father was headmaster, in 1940. At Bowdoin he was a member of Zeta Psi Fraternity. In September of 1943, he graduated cum laude with honors in physics.

While still a student, Roy was an instructor in the U.S. Navy’s meteorology program at Bowdoin. He then worked for a year at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. In 1945 he entered the U.S. Foreign Service and was vice consul in Beirut, Lebanon. Roy returned to Bowdoin as an instructor in physics from 1947-49, and he taught mathematics in the spring of 1951. He earned a master’s degree in physics at Harvard in 1951 and his doctorate at Brown University in 1955. He rejoined the Bowdoin faculty in 1954, was promoted to associate professor in 1963, and to full professor in 1969. In 1993, the year of his retirement, Roy was elected Professor of Physics Emeritus and was the recipient of the Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff.

An expert on underwater acoustics, Roy was the author of numerous publications on the physics of sound. He conducted research at Bowdoin, Yale, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and in the Atlantic Ocean south to Bermuda. He was a member of the Acoustical Society of America and the Sigma Xi Scientific Society, and he served as chair of the New England Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers. A figure skater for forty-three years, Roy was a test judge for the U.S. Figure Skating Association from 1961 to 1991. A 2001 newspaper article described Roy’s work to improve the skills of Bowdoin hockey players through the application of physics principles, such as rotational motion and the conservation of angular motion.

For generations of Bowdoin physics majors, Roy was more than a professor. Years ago, he began a tradition of sending news of the physics department in a holiday letter to alumni. So that others in the Bowdoin community could keep up with the lives of colleagues and classmates, he shared the news that came in response to his letter, whether it was about a new job, current research, a marriage, or children. For many years at reunions, Roy could be found recruiting a new generation of physicists through his popular “Fun with Physics” demonstrations.

In his retirement, Roy continued to be a living voice of Bowdoin history, and he shared that knowledge through his handwritten notes and his commentary on the pages of the alumni magazine. Several years ago he conducted an inventory of objects (furniture, etc.) in the College’s possession, documenting the stories that were associated with them.

Roy’s lifelong devotion to the College is evidence to us all that he was a teacher and a scholar who believed deeply in what we do here and in the power of education to shape and sustain society. Our community says farewell with sadness, but also with a deep sense of gratitude for Roy, for his high standards and many contributions, and for his dedication to Bowdoin.

(Excerpted from a letter to the Bowdoin community, September 9, 2015, President Clayton S. Rose)


Daniel Belknap
Professor LaCasce was my undergraduate advisor at Bowdoin on my arrival in 1969, and he helped shepherd me through to graduation in 1973, even as I drifted more from physics into geology (graduating with a joint major). I remember distinctly arriving at my first physics test in the fall of my freshman year, coming directly from my second varsity swim practice of the day. Having been a “big fish in a small pond” in high school, I was completely unprepared for my brain to completely go blank when confronted with these suddenly unrecognizable questions, searching for equations that had retreated into an alternate universe. Professor LaCase was extremely understanding, and very kind to this green kid, when I went to him later for advice. I finally redeemed myself in Intro Physics and numerous other of his classes, and those of the Physics faculty in general. I had a very warm reaction decades later when invited to the Alumni Science Symposium, when Professor LaCase recognized me, and spent some time chatting with his former student/advisee. In fact, I have tried to use his example when I do my academic teaching and advising today, trying for a mix of realistic advice tempered with compassion.

Thank you Roy – may you rest in peace after a job well done.
Dan Belknap

David Belknap
Did you know that Roy LaCasce was once an athletic coach at Bowdoin? I believe that it was the athletic director who thought that the sailing team should have a coach.

We on the team, directed by our commodore Charlie Leighton, thought that we knew everything already. So we asked Roy LaCasce, who we knew well because he was often at the Zete house for dinner. He was my advisor, my brother’s roommate in Washington during the war, and a nice guy!

One day he said that our “moment of inertia” would be best if we sat in the middle of the boat. Of course we said we already knew that.

Roll tacking had not been invented yet.

David Belknap ’58

Harold (E.B.) Brakewood
My remembrances of Roy LaCasce are not based solely on one or two undergraduate interactions but rather a collection of memories over a 30 year period.

As an 18 year freshman I had Professor LaCasce for Introductory Physics 17. A few days into the course he wrote Newton’s F=ma on the board and sarcastically said if we used yellow highlighters we might want to note this equation. He also said “if you don’t understand this then the Government Department is on the other side of campus and you might want to try courses there instead”. We all laughed at the time. That comment alone has provided our family with years of amusement – my wife and Bowdoin classmate, Kelly, of course was a Government major and it is she – not me – who is the electronics whiz of the family who programs the DVD/VCR and other devices with the co-axial cables I studied for years.

My classmate Phil Morin had visited Professor LaCasce in his office and suggested I do the same to discuss the Physics 17 problem sets. We were all somewhat intimidated by Roy and so I was hesitant to make a one-on-one office visit. Sure enough when I did muster the courage for an office visit and asked a question related to ocean-mediated climate effects, Roy said “you should know the answer to that question”. I nervously said “why?”, and he said, “you grew up next to the ocean”. I was pleasantly shocked that Roy not only knew my name but also knew that I hailed from a tiny town on Penobscot Bay in Maine.

During the fall of my sophomore year I took two courses taught by Professor LaCasce. I fell a bit behind in one of the courses and needed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to finish a lab assignment. Roy was headed to Ellsworth for Thanksgiving to visit family including niece Ann ’87 and nephew Joe ’86 and he gave me a ride home to Lincolnville. As we looked out on the steep up-and-down hills of Waldoboro on Route 1, he pronounced the area as the “Waldoboro Potential Well”. The moniker stuck with me and as a result my kids grew up referring to that stretch as the “Waldoboro Potential Well” – an early introduction to quantum mechanics!

Joe Killoran ’88 and I spent one summer as undergrads doing research with Professor Syphers. We saw Roy frequently during the summer around the department and he invited us for an afternoon at Sebago Lake. Roy was a constant perfectionist and teacher. Our casual swim in the lake turned into an instructional session on proper technique! I credit Professor LaCasce for teaching me not only Physics but also how to properly swim!

There are so many more remembrances. When I was a student at Harvard Business School and struggling with an Accounting course and spoke with Roy, he said encouragingly “it is just numbers and you know how to do that”. During a visit to campus Roy gingerly encouraged my young son to climb in the Bosun’s chair that had been set up in the lecture hall (he was less successful in convincing our daughter Eleanor, then 5, but now Bowdoin ‘19).

Roy was a constant presence for me and my family. He supported my career with recommendations and encouragement for which I will always be enormously grateful. We enjoyed visiting him at Bowdoin and Sebago over the years. Those visits helped me maintain contact with the College and always provided a sense of renewal and affirmation. We will miss him dearly and have a profound sense of appreciation for the opportunity to have had him in our lives for so many years.

Best Regards,
Harold (E.B.) Brakewood

Don Doele
It was my freshman year, in Physics 101 Lab, an experiment on the triple point of gases – Boyle’s Law?? We had to make a lot of temperature readings using some very large centigrade thermometers which were filled with mercury. Unfortunately, I dropped one, sending streams of “quicksilver”, mercury across the lab floor. Need to clean it up, get a waste basket and some “paper”, chase the beads of mercury across the floor, scooping them up and depositing them into the waste basket. Those big old thermometers held a lot of mercury.

Professor LaCasce was carefully supervising this tedious operation, as I crawled around the floor capturing the spilled mercury. After a spell, seemed like an eternity, all the mercury was secured and placed in the waste basket. Now to “dump” the waste basket. I picked up the waste basket, and guess what? To my surprise, there on the floor was the mercury – the waste basket had a big hole in the bottom! Professor LaCsce broke into laughter, real guffaws – he thought it was hilarious.
Actually after a moment, I thought it was pretty funny too.

Don’t know that we’d treat mercury so frivolously these days!

Don Doele ‘59

Joseph Donahue
As freshman from a small Maine town, I did not have much of a physics background when I took the introductory Physics as a freshman. Prof. LaCasce spotted the problem and quickly applied a weekly tutoring session as the remedy. After several sessions at his office blackboard with frequent, but kind, intonations of “No, no, Donahue”, I finally started to catch on. At the same time, I was in awe that a learned college professor would take so much personal time and effort with a frustrating novice freshman. But that was Bowdoin. I eventually graduated with honors in Physics, dualed with a major in Gov. I found my way to law school and a satisfying career in the science infused areas of energy and telecommunications law, much due to the gentle tutorial kick in the pants from Prof. Lacasce, 45 years ago. My fond memories of Bowdoin are intertwined with my memories of him.

Joe Donahue ‘74

Susanne Ellis
I am saddened to learn of Professor LaCasce’s passing.

I met Roy in 1969 when my late husband, R. Hobart Ellis, Jr. took me to Bowdoin for his 30th Reunion. Some years later when Roy became Chairman of the Physics Department and I was the Education Data Analyst at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) in New York I asked Roy to participate in our annual survey of all physics degree-granting departments in the US. The survey requested the names of the physics degree recipients each year so that I could ask the graduates for their post-baccalaureate plans and publish the results in PHYSICS TODAY. The list from Roy always arrived promptly!

Roy remained a friend and always saved me a seat at the Old Guard Lunch at Bowdoin.

Susanne Ellis

Guy Emery
In the spring of 1951, I was a sophomore at Bowdoin, taking Dan Christie’s course Intermediate Mechanics, and Roy LaCasce was taking time out from his graduate work at Brown to fill in for someone on leave in the mathematics department. He often came over from Adams Hall, where mathematics was then, to hang out with people in physics – he liked to talk with Noel (Nookie) Little, Myron Jeppesen, and Christie, and he liked to meet physics students and talk with them. Christie had assigned a major paper, on some subject in mechanics not covered in his book. I was at the time fascinated by Millikan’s oil drop experiment, and had decided to try to understand Stoke’s Law for the motion of a sphere under constant force through a viscous liquid, in Millikan’s case an oil drop under gravity moving through air. I was in the physics office consulting a book on famous experiments, but not finding the details I wanted, and Roy asked what I was doing. “Go read the original papers,” he said; “They’re in the Physical Review.” I did, and found them clear and understandable. I began reading more in the journals. While quite a few papers in the forties and fifties were beyond my abilities, many were accessible and fascinating, and I found I could handle most of those from early in the twentieth century. It was a fascinating new world to me, and later, during my thirty-some-odd years of teaching, I encouraged many undergraduates to do the same.

Guy Emery
Bowdoin, 1953
Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Bowdoin College

Matthew Engler
He was such a good professor and even better person. Taking Physics 300 with him was a watershed event for my physics studies at Bowdoin.

Matthew Engler

Paul Faulstich
I’m saddened to read about Proffessor Roy LaCasce’s passing. In addition to teaching me a lot of tough and interesting physics, he also taught me how to ice skate. I will always cherish his telling me to think about angular momentum as he taught me to lean way way in to do cross-overs. He was a charming, caring professor who encouraged seniors and young alumni in the transition of the relationship from professor to friend. He shared his summer place with the entire department; a rite of passage for physics majors was calculating the height of the various ledges at Frye’s leap by timing how long each of us were in the air as we jumped or dove into the refreshing waters of Lake Sebago. I was lucky to know him.

Paul Faulstich

David Gatchell
I attended Bowdoin from 1989 – ’93. During this time I had Roy for two classes, Waves and Quanta, and Mathematical Physics (notoriously known as Physics 300 at that time). In addition to these two classes, Roy served as co-adviser on my honors project (Professor Emery was my direct supervisor). I have countless memories of Roy (he left a lasting impression on everyone that he met) but I will share two distinct ones below.

1) Waves and Quanta

I vividly remember the labs for this course. My prior lab experiences in physics, chemistry, and biology had consisted of pre-labs, fairly detailed overviews of what the lab comprised, and clear instructions for what my responsibilities as a student were. Professor Lacasce’s labs were VERY different. We were given a one-page handout and put in front of a classic physics apparatus, e.g., a Michelson interferometer. Our goal (though we had to guess it) was to characterize how this piece of equipment worked and what its utility might be. I remember starting the lab at 1 PM and many students would leave by 1:45 – 2:00 PM, unsure as to what they needed to do so they chose to trivialize the lab and leave early. For some reason I chose to stay for the full three hours. It was uncomfortable to say the least, but it was in this class that began to think for myself; More importantly, it was in this class that I began to think inductively. I began to ask questions like, “How does this work?”, “What are its limitations?”, “What happens if I do this?”. Never had I been given permission to EXPLORE a piece of equipment, it’s use had always been well-defined and prescribed. Now that I am design professor at Northwestern University, I see first-hand the benefit of this experience. Students are often conditioned in K-12 to follow strict directions and guidelines. Opportunities to conduct creative, inductive thinking are very rare in STEM classes. Experiences like those I had in Roy’s Waves and Quanta course are a stark contrast to this approach.

2) Senior-year honors research

During my senior year I set-up shop in the lab dedicated to Edwin Hall. I do not know if the lab still stands as I remember it, but at that time it comprised two rooms, a front room and back room. The front room was typically used for undergraduate labs while the back room was typically reserved for students conducting research projects. One afternoon I was working on my laptop in the back room when I noticed Professor Lacasce enter from the hallway into and start “mulling around.” For at least 15 minutes Roy quietly inspected the different lab projects in the front room and before he wandered into the back room to continue his silent investigation. Given that we were the only two people in the Hall lab I found his silence curious and continued to watch him as he moved from table to table, apparatus to apparatus. Finally, he came to my work which caused him to acknowledge my presence. He simply looked at me and stated in his thoughtful, somewhat grave tone, “David, people seem to think that we had to become physics majors. They fail to recognize that we chose to become physics majors.” He then smirked at me and left without saying another word. I obviously have never forgotten that quote or the intent of the message behind it.

David Gatchell

Mike Gearan
My name is Michael Gearan 91’. Through the help of the Physics Department, I took advantage of Bowdoin’s 3-2 Program with Columbia University. I graduated from Columbia/Bowdoin in June 1992.

I was fortunate enough to have Professor LaCasce – as I remember it – for several classes, but most importantly his Physics 300. By far and away, the most challenging and most rewarding class that I took in my academic career at both Bowdoin and Columbia.

My story is most likely similar to many of his students. I was a “plugger”. Someone that ran under the radar of the Physics department, but someone that Professor LaCase took head on, cared deeply about, and made sure to challenge. To me, Professor LaCase is that academic individual that had such a profound effect on who I was academically and whose teaching really solidified the foundation of many of my problem solving methodologies that one uses beyond the classroom.

As I am sure most people had reported to you, I still can laugh to myself in true respect…. as I can still hear his booming voice speaking out over our classroom, and then vividly seeing the convincing stare of his eyes peer over glasses and direct them straight at you with such demand…. Hold you to an expectation…. and then smirk with pride when you met his challenge. He got it. He understood that we were all individuals and he worked his hardest, regardless of who you were, to challenge you individually. He cared about the “plugger.” I appreciated that.

In retrospect, my time in front of Professor LaCase was short. Although, I never expressed it directly to him – I reflect often on my experiences with him with great pride and even more respect. He was a mentor – regardless if he directly knew it.

I thoroughly enjoyed his yearly letters. Although the newer versions are appreciated, there was just something special about the notes that were directly from him. You could hear his voice in every word. You knew that they were special to him – and that they were special to us.

I only hope that Professor LaCase is in a place where he can still lace up his skates.

Michael Gearan 91’

Chris Harris
I just wanted to express how sorry I was to hear about Professor LaCasce’s passing. I really enjoyed his sly humor. He was the one who advised me about the Combined Plan Program with Columbia School of Engineering, and, basically, that sent my whole life in the direction it went. Today I manage cyber security incident response for the Federal Reserve System — you know, just to relax.

I loved the little Physics cartoons he had on his problem sets. The one that I always mention to people is the one with all the wild formulas all over the board, and just before the QED in the lower right, it says, “…and then a miracle occurs.” 🙂

I remember struggling with one of his problem sets one afternoon, asking him questions, and he told me, “Why don’t you go for a damn run?” I laughed, and obeyed.

Chris Harris

Michael Hermans
I graduated from Bowdoin in 1974.

In the fall of 1971, I took physics 11. At this point, I was a somewhat lazy and wise-ass student.

Dr. LaCasce must have seen something in me. He took me aside and with some out of class tutoring helped me to become a much better student.

I enjoyed skating with him on the hockey rink.

I give him full credit for whatever academic accomplishments I earned. He helped me get into the University of Vermont Medical School; I graduated in 1978.

I am a urologist in central Texas but kept in touch with Dr. LaCasce till his death.

I visited Raymond on Sebago Lake many times and helped him stack firewood in e and pi.

I was welcomed into his family by his parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews.

I spent many lunches at his apartment in Brunswick having grilled cheese and tomato soup and talking wood working.

Dr. LaCasce also helped me propose to my Texas spouse, Kathryn Goodart, in Harpswell during Thanksgiving break in 1981.

He was my teacher but above all my lifelong friend.

When my son, Tucker Hermans, graduated from Bowdoin in 2009, Dr. LaCasce said: “You’ve done well, Michael.”

He was always Dr. LaCasce to me.

I will miss his wise council.

Michael Hermans

George Hildebrand
Although Elroy was an undergrad class ahead of me, we were both involved in Physics classes in 1942. It seems obvious that he understood physics a lot more than I did. Of course, one of the highlights of Alumni Weekend was always the demonstrations that Prof. LaCasce presented.

Another subject: I think I heard that the essence of the former 3 yr./2yr. program with MIT is being revived. I graduated from Bowdoin under that program, even though there was an interruption to help Uncle Sam. Being able to transfer fraternity affiliation to one at MIT was a big help in the social transfer adjustment.

George Hildebrand, “46

Masatoshi Hirono
Even now, when I calculate Fourier transform, which is quite often
in my job, it reminds me of his Physics 300. It was a great course
that prepared me for almost anything challenging that comes up
in my life.

Masatoshi Hirono ‘94

Carl D. Hopkins
Shortly after returning from the Bowdoin Homecoming and presidential inauguration, I received the sad news of the passing of Roy LaCasce. I am cheered by my remembrance of him.

As a physics major from 1962-1966 I knew Roy LaCasce in only one formal class – Thermodynamics, which I took in my junior year. This class was extraordinary, especially for the clarity and logic of the lectures, which were brilliant. Held in a small lecture room on the second floor of Searles, with only a half-dozen students, Professor LaCasce started each day by writing in the upper left corner of the blackboard, noting the important points on the board as he talked, and ended 50 minutes later when the Chapel Bell rang as his last topic miraculously fitted into the lower right corner of the board with no wasted space and no erasures. Each lecture was a work of art and mathematics laid out on the chalkboard.

Additionally, I knew Roy from the sailing team where he was the coach. It seemed logical enough to have my physics professor be the coach since sailing was mostly a matter of hydrodynamics, friction, and vectors; and even though we four sailors never received much instruction on rules or strategy, he encouraged us to compete and arranged for us to participate in regattas in Casco Bay, on the Charles River, at New Haven, and at the Coast Guard Academy in New London where we learned much about rules and tactics. I also knew Roy from Brunswick Figure Skating Club, which met once a week or so in the Bowdoin hockey arena for an evening of free-style skating, dance, and practice. The skating club put on the musical Finnegans Wake on ice and we Brunswick skaters all played our parts. I also knew Roy from Physics Department seminars which were held in the evenings and covered topics not listed in the catalog. In one series, we learned Fortran programming so that we could analyze research data using Bowdoin’s first digital computer. In all of these things, Roy supported, encouraged, and inspired all of the students. He then followed us and our interests throughout our careers with annual letters about the college and about the Physics Department, always with a personal note that showed he remembered. These notes, letters, and news have been wonderful reminders of his mentoring, encouragement, teaching, and friendship. Roy LaCasce will be missed.

Carl D. Hopkins ‘66
Professor Emeritus of Neurobiology
Cornell University

Rob Hurd
Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on Prof. LaCasce’s influence on my career. When I arrived at Bowdoin, I was a government major with a plan to go to law school after graduation. Physics was a course that I took because I liked it and it was a way to get credit for the AP physics course I took in high school. EO made me believe that physics was something that I could do as well. Eventually, I became a Physics-Government double major, graduated and took a job teaching high school. Now in my 29th year of teaching high school physics, it was Prof. LaCasece’s guidance that helped make me the professional that I am today.

I had EO for quantum my junior fall. The course was tough and I struggled on the mid-term exam. I recall taking the final in December and finding it very challenging. Three days later, EO called. “Crap, I failed” was all that i coudl think of. Why else would a professor be calling me? “So I failed the exam?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “You actually did well. Surprisingly well,” he responded. “You write one of the best exams in the class.” That was the moment that I realized what I wanted to do after college.

While Prof. LaCasce and I did not keep in contact much after graduation, the highlight of each winter was the annual christmas letter from the department. It was a great way to stay current with the department and the college. And, while the players have all changed over time, my interest has not.

Prof. LaCasce’s influence on a department and on undergraduates will be sorely missed. Yet the fundamental building blocks that he lay have built a strong foundation for a great department.

Rob Hurd

Richard Jacobson
Roy was the best. A true gentleman. He lectured with clarity and humor. Taught me everything I needed to know about how to use vector calculus for just about everything.

I recall that he really did say that, on the first mechanics quiz, he would put all of the necessary equations up on the board for us to use. Then he wrote “F = m * a”.

He was very excited when I picked the Coriolis effect as my semester mini-project, because of his meteorologic background. I still think of him every time I watch a weather program that shows the swirling patterns of highs and lows moving across the planet. I always enjoyed his newsletters on the department and former majors, which reflected his deep and abiding love for teaching and the people he taught. RIP, Dr. LaCasce.

Richard Jacobson

G. E. Jellison
I remember Prof. LaCasce fondly as more than just a teacher of courses, but also a mentor. His office was usually open, and I often took the opportunity to sit down and chat with him. When I went to Bowdoin, the plan was for me to do the 3-2 program with Bowdoin and either MIT or Columbia. Near the end of my junior year, I decided that I would finish my senior year at Bowdoin and pursue a PhD in physics. As I told this to Prof. LaCasce in his office, he shouted for joy, and shook my hand.

Another time, after I had graduated (1970), I was about to get out of the Navy. This was during Christmas break and I had 17 days leave, so my new wife Mary and I were in Bucksport, Maine visiting family. I called Prof. LaCasce and asked if he would be willing to talk to Mary and I about graduate school. He was more than willing, so Mary and I drove down to Bowdoin and had a good talk. He suggested Brown University (his PhD school), where I applied, was accepted, and graduated in 1977. I was always grateful to him for his willingness to be available, even after graduation.

The last time I saw Prof. LaCasce was at my 40th reunion (2008). I was just walking the halls of the renovated Searles, when I spotted Prof. LaCasce, and he recognized me! He spent an hour giving me a tour, where we had a chance to chat about many things. I did have a chance to thank him for being one of my mentors during my time a Bowdoin, for which I am thankful today.

It is because of Prof. LaCasce and some of the other Physics faculty members at Bowdoin at that time (Turner, Walkling, Hughes) that I developed a real love of doing science that is with me today. Teachers really do make a difference.

G. E. Jellison (class of 1968)

Shion Kono
Like many physics majors at Bowdoin in my generation, I took Physics 300 from Prof. LaCasce, one of my favorite courses at Bowdoin, but Prof. LaCasce’s support of his students extended well beyond Physics classrooms. When I graduated from Bowdoin with a double major in Physics and Religion in 1995, I had been accepted at a graduate program in Comparative Literature at Princeton but I was unsure if I had enough funding. It was Prof. LaCasce who helped me find scholarships in and outside of Bowdoin to continue my studies.
In recent years I am teaching and researching on the issues of Japanese literature as world literature. Just months ago as I was looking for anthologies of world literature in my shelves, I found a book entitled *Western World Literature* published in 1938. I was reminded that I received the book as a gift from Prof. LaCasce, when I saw the following note inserted in the book:

“ April 12, 2001
Dear Shion,
When I was an undergraduate I took a semester of Comp lit and this was the text. Although your special area is different, a general breadth is needed. I hope that over the years this may prove useful.
Best wishes
E. O. LaCasce”

It seemed as if Prof. LaCasce’s book had been waiting for me on my intellectual trajectory for years. I am grateful for his wonderful guidance, generosity, and prescience.

Shion Kono ’95
Tokyo, Japan

Tom Kosakowski
While attending my Class ’73 40th Reunion, I was fortunate to cross paths with Prof. LaCasce. It was a delightful quick meeting.

I vividly remember my first lecture class with him. His first item of business was to announce that he wished to see me (and another Physics student) at the end of class. So I was quite shaken up during that first lecture, not knowing what was in store for me. It turned out that he wanted me to take Freshman/Sophomore attendance. So it was an interesting start to my Physics major experience.

He had a tradition for Freshmen whereby weekly he met with them one-on-one in his office. He would say something like “OK, let’s see what you can do at the board…” I kind of remember how he leaned back in his chair, watching me bumble along trying my best to solve Physics problems. It was not pleasant for the most part, but I definitely understood what he was trying to accomplish through that approach.

Actually, I had only one other Physics class with him: E & M. I actually ended up with a great grade. I guess that was a reflection on either how I had progressed from that first Physics lecture, or how I had learned successfully what to expect from this unique and remarkable professor.

Tom Kosakowski ‘73

Anne Kovach-Hebling
I graduated from Bowdoin College in 1985 as a physics major, completing my honors work under Prof. Corson.

I first became acquainted with Prof. LaCasce in his Physics 17 class, where he loved to amuse his students by showing us old experimental apparatus: the classic was the perpetual motion machine. Although he appeared quite formidable at first, as I got to know him I found him to be a devoted physics teacher who truly was interested in the majors and their careers. He continued to write to the majors on an annual basis in the department’s Christmas letter, always adding a personal note at the end. This tradition is still carried on. One of the highlights each year was the annual picnic for Physics majors at LaCasce’s house on Sebago Lake. Here he delighted in sharing his expertise on wave motion, oceanography and love for the lake. At Bowdoin he will surely remain a legend in the Physics Department.

Anne Kovach-Hebling

Joe LaCasce
My experience with Roy was unusual among the majors as I knew him since I was a child. He visited us in Ellsworth for the holidays (his cranberry sauce was a staple at Thanksgiving), and we saw him every summer at Sebago Lake, at my grandparents’ summer house. We also visited him at Bowdoin in the fall. We’d walk around campus and sit on the lions outside the Walker Art building.

He was always a teacher and could be quite intimidating. There was the time when he was giving advice from the shore at Sebago while I was getting out of a row boat. He said something and then repeated it several times. I strained to hear and then fell straight in the water. He shook his head–“I told you, you can’t have one foot in the boat and one on shore!” I was convinced he thought me an utter dunce.

At Bowdoin though we had a very different relation; then he was “Professor LaCasce” instead of “Uncle Roy”. (Fran Turner—another physics department child, and also in my class–would get her father’s attention by saying “Dad!”, but I preferred to wait until Roy looked in my direction and then just raise my hand). Roy had advised me not to take physics during my first year, since I hadn’t had calculus, but he left for a sabbatical (at Woods Hole, where I later worked as an oceanographer) at the beginning of my freshman year and one of the majors talked me into it. As such I didn’t experience Roy’s famous introductory lectures or gravity-defying demonstrations. But I got the chance to get my footing before he got back.

He taught one of my favorite classes, which then was called Physics 30. The problem sets were legendary and would keep you busy all week (or up all night, if you left them to the day before). I remember many sessions in Roy’s office with other students, trying to get some help. He relished those sessions. He would sit back in his chair, grinning and giving us a hints. The experience was rich, and we students got to know each other, and him, quite well.

Of course I always participated in Roy’s fall outings at Sebago Lake for the physics majors. But a few would sometimes join me and Roy to check up on the house in the wintertime. We (students) would play golf on the ice, teeing off the dock and then playing to Frye’s Island (we once asked several fishermen, huddled over holes in the ice, if it was OK if we played through). Roy thought that was completely crazy but also amusing—he chose to stay at the house instead, to thaw out the kitchen with the old woodstove. We’d get back to tea and his beloved Pepperidge Farm cookies.

In recent years I would visit him at Sebago, at the house he bought after my grandparents’ place was sold. We talked mostly about science and the physics majors. He knew what each one was doing and was endlessly proud of their accomplishments. The majors were his family, and he was a beaming patriarch. I visited him last summer, about a month before he died. He was mostly tired, sleeping on the sofa in his living room. But he was still sharp and curious. One day he woke and sat up straight, saying “you know, there’s one thing I’m still curious about: internal waves”. A true physicist.

Joseph H. LaCasce
Bowdoin, 1986
Professor, Section for Meteorology and Oceanography
University of Oslo

John Leen
I was saddened to hear of Prof. LaCasce’s passing, but I’m happy to have known him and learned from him. Prof. LaCasce’s Methods of Theoretical Physics is one of my fondest memories of Bowdoin. My classmates and I spent countless late nights studying, arguing, calculating, and bonding over Prof. LaCasce’s problem sets. I came out of that class a better thinker, a better problem-solver, and a better person.

John Leen

Paul Locke
I first met Professor LaCasce about 40 years ago – in 1975 – when I was a student in his Physics 17 class, but got to know him well after I joined Bowdoin’s admissions office upon my graduation. He made sure that my transition from student to staff went smoothly, and we shared many meals over the course of the year I spent working in Brunswick. I had the opportunity to visit him at his house on Sebago Lake, and meet some of his family, including his brother and his mother, who (if I recall correctly) was a 1913 Colby College graduate.

I kept in touch with Roy through his majors letters and my visits to Bowdoin. I especially enjoyed the personal, handwritten notes that accompanied each letter. He would usually share a brief vignette about Bowdoin and his activities since the last major letter. When I attended my 10th and 30th reunions (1987 and 2007) and on several business trips to Maine, I also got to stop by and spend some time with him. He was always interested in my work and career, and we had plenty to talk about, especially after I returned to school to get a doctoral degree in environmental health sciences and later joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins.

One of the things I remember and appreciate most about Roy was his approach to teaching and thinking about science. In class he focused first on the underlying concepts of physics – he wanted to convey why the world was as it is and how physics could help explain things. After we mastered these concepts, he would demonstrate how they were captured and reflected in mathematics, which is often the chosen language of physics. He made the learning interesting and the concepts stuck long after the formulas faded. These are lessons that I try to apply to my own teaching.

I last spent time with Roy in 2010, when my daughter and I visited Bowdoin during her college tour. He was busy cataloguing Bowdoin’s extensive collection of old scientific equipment, and trying to find a home for some of it at the Smithsonian Institution. As always, he was courteous and welcoming, made time to have lunch with me, and introduced me to the physics faculty and staff.

Roy embodied the characteristics of the great sons and daughter of Maine and Bowdoin. He chose his words carefully and spoke with precision and insight. He was always gracious and thoughtful. It took some time to gain his trust and friendship, but once gained it was steadfast. He believed in leading through hard work and keeping at a task until it was mastered. He expected you to be prepared for class, but was there to help you if your preparation did not yield understanding.

Bowdoin was blessed to have had Roy as an alumnus and faculty member, and I was lucky to have had his friendship and guidance over the past four decades. He will be profoundly missed.

Paul Locke ‘77

Robert Longwell
I am stunned to learn of Professor LaCasce’s passing last Fall. He was instrumental in my decision to major in Physics and enter a 3-2 combined engineering course of study at Stanford University.

I will never forget his introduction to Physics class; he was a great teacher and inspired the best from me. While I ultimately ended up as an attorney and went into law enforcement, my years at Bowdoin and Professor LaCasce’s mentorship will always be remembered.

Best regards,

Robert Longwell, ’82

G. H. McCabe
I spend most of my second half of Bowdoin experience in Searles Hall in the early 90s, where Physics Department resided on the first and second floors. Prof. LaCasce was a constant presence, with his bow tie and horn-rimmed classes. He was always encouraging and loved to crack jokes. Seeing him there when we entered the building was a very assuring promise that we were about to do something worthwhile. Years after graduation, I always looked forward to the annual letter Prof. LaCasce wrote with updates and news until this year. Although the typesetting has changed in recent years, the upbeat energy never evaporated. Whenever we came back to Bowdoin for homecoming or reunions, Prof. LaCasce would have some fun experiment set up at Searles Hall for the returning graduates and their families to explore. He was the constant link we have with the Physics Department and Bowdoin community.

G. H. McCabe

Bruce D. McCombe
Elroy LaCasce was a mentor to me. He also mentored two of my friends in the class of 1960, Bob Thomas and Steve Burns (the smartest one of us). I know he also served as a mentor to many others over the years, but we got him early in his career at Bowdoin, and I like to think that it was a special time. It certainly was for me.
I took the electronics course from Roy (tubes at the time). He was an excellent teacher, but I was initially a bit intimidated by him. He had a way of conveying an impression of mild disdain without actually saying a word when you asked a really silly question. The characteristic Maine sense of humor was also evident. As I came to know him better, I found him to be a very caring person, especially about students.

Bob Thomas and I had the privilege of doing an honors project under Roy’s guidance during our senior year. This experimental work resulted in a publication, “Measurements of Sound Reflection from a Rigid Corrugated Surface”, E. O. LaCasce, Jr., B. D. McCombe and R. L. Thomas, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 33, 1768 (1961) – Bob’s and my first publication. The experience of doing publishable experimental work was what led me into experimental physics as a PhD student at Brown University. Roy was also instrumental in my deciding to go to graduate school (about which I literally knew nothing) in the first place, and especially in my choice of the Physics Department at Brown University. Brown was an excellent fit for me, and I will always be enormously grateful for his guidance. I had a great advisor (a very young George Seidel), completed my dissertation in low temperature condensed matter physics, and subsequently took a postdoctoral research position at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in 1966. Again, a Bowdoin connection, which had led to my working two summers at NRL (1960 and 1961) was largely responsible for my choosing to go to NRL. I spent over 15 years there, and then rejoined the academic world at SUNY Buffalo in 1982, where I have remained.

Some years later my wife, Renee, asked me why I didn’t get in touch with this important person in my life, who she knew inserted a personal, handwritten note on the departmental News Letter each year. I followed her advice, and Roy graciously invited us to his summer home on Lake Sebago in Raymond. He prepared lunch for us, and we had a wonderful visit reminiscing about the late 50’s at Bowdoin, as well as touching on many other topics. Renee became instantly fond of him
In the spring of 2010 I was invited to present a lecture named for Roy in the Physics Department at Bowdoin. I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the department, spend some time with Roy, and also with Steve and Joann Burns at the dinner that evening. Roy, I was told, was still coming in to work regularly at that time.

Elroy was a wonderful person, and a fine teacher and mentor. He strongly influenced my life by encouraging me to go to graduate school. My career in physics and academic administration, which I have enjoyed enormously, was a direct consequence of that choice. I shall miss him.

Bruce D. McCombe (’60)

Herbert A. Melhorn
In the early 1940s, I was dimly aware of Roy LaCasce in that he had become close to the family of Noel C. Little, the head of the Physics Department. The three Little children were all within one class-year of me at Brunswick High School. I was frequently at their house. This of itself did not predict a life-long friendship with Roy, but in retrospect it was the beginning.

1. Ich bin ein cowboy!

For the last decade or so, Roy greeted me with, “Ich bin ein cowboy!” That developed from the fact that in 1997 a long-hidden document led to the discovery of my German-born forebears, one of whom was a Ferdinand Pfefferkorn, M.D. (1841-1916) of Lawrence, MA. My father was born in Lawrence, where Roy’s mother had lived before marriage. The stunner which brought Roy aboard was the discovery in 1998 that the large Pfefferkorn family in Germany had been intimates of German author Karl May (1842-1912), who notoriously wrote American wild west stories as personal adventures when he had not been to America. Most Americans have never heard of Karl May, but Roy had. He once sent me a clipping from The Economist about May. (Karl May eventually visited the Pfefferkorns in Lawrence, MA for three weeks in 1908, after he had become rich and famous in Europe.) (Europeans still read Karl May.)

2. Roy and Others, Brunswick, 1946-1949

The enduring friendship with Roy began in 1946, in Brunswick. I had returned from Naval service and began teaching math and physics at the annex campus at the University of Maine located from 1946-1949 on the grounds of the just-decommissioned Naval Air Station. (Bowdoin also housed students there but held no classes.) Roy had returned from State Department duties in Lebanon and began teaching physics for Noel Little. (His obituary says 1947, which I am quite sure is not correct.) He and I and two or three other academically-oriented young men spent a memorable amount of spare time exploring sherry and evaluating brandy with Benedictine. The Bowdoin faculty and administration were very welcoming to their University of Maine counterparts, which meant that we young men were invited to many rather genteel social events. These circumstances changed by the fall of 1949 when we left for graduate studies; Roy to Harvard and I to Brown.

3. The Volunteer Chef

Once Roy and I began graduate school work at our respective universities, starting in September of 1949, we corresponded now and then. It developed that he found lodging in Cambridge with easy access to Harvard Yard quite scarce and not much to his liking. At some time around the middle of the 1950-1951 academic year, he inquired of me about conditions at Brown in Providence. Appointments were made, interviews occurred, and he was admitted to Brown as a prospective Ph.D. candidate to enter in September of 1951. All that remained was to find lodging.

By the summer of 1951, I had an apartment, shared with another grad student. We offered Roy a couch on which to sleep while finding quarters for himself. That ended up taking all summer. He finally found splendid space in a fine old house near the Brown campus. It also turned out that Roy undertook most of the cooking for me and my sub-tenant. All in all it was a good summer.

P.S. With reference to Roy’s obituary as it appeared in the Portland Press Herald and historical accuracy at Bowdoin as I experienced it, I offer the following observations:

During my 1942-1943 freshman year, I taught military survival swimming to the men of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Meteorology School on campus. I think these are the people to whom Roy taught the application of basic physics to meteorology, not to naval personnel. The only U.S. Navy segment on campus was the Navy Radar School consisting of upwards of 100 junior naval officers at a time (with small supporting staff), commanded by LT (later LCDR) Noel C. Little, USNR, who remained chairman of the physics department throughout the war.

Herbert A. Mehlhorn
Bowdoin, 1946; A.B. Harvard 1945 (as of class of 1946), Ph.D. Brown 1956

Lyman Page
Prof. LaCasce was one of the most influential teachers in my life. I started Bowdoin intending to major in Philosophy or English. I took LaCasce’s introductory physics class I believe in the second
semester of my freshman year (1974) after a rocky start at college. At the beginning I sat in the back of the class, watched the demonstrations, took poor notes, and had a hard time connecting what I had heard about Einstein and entropy to what was being taught. He seemed “old” to me at the time, but so did almost everyone over forty. He also seemed to be so much out of the 1950s and so straight laced. But there was something about the class and about Prof. LaCasce that really resonated with me.

I still remember his demonstration of the bosun’s chair. I remember our first exam which was on kinematics. He asked a question in which we were to find the trajectory of an electron shot from an electron gun. I got it and it made sense to me and I realized I could figure this stuff out. It was probably the first “HH” I received on a test at Bowdoin. (“High Honors” I’m not sure if the same grading scheme is still used but it roughly corresponds to an “A.”)

I studied more, did well, and pretty soon I was thinking about becoming a physics major. I remember going to him during his office hours and asking him what “mass” really was. Why was it that we said an object had mass? I think he was sort of amused but we talked about it and about forces and acceleration. He got me so interested in physics that I went to the library to look for more books about it. What I found there opened up new worlds for me. I was hooked on physics. At the end of the class, I was on the border line between an H and HH. He called me to his office and said something positive about my interest in physics and that he was going to give me a HH for the class.

When our oldest son, Bill Page, was looking at colleges, we visited Bowdoin. We swung by Searles Hall, found Prof. LaCasce, and had a nice time catching up. Bill was fortunate to be able to attend Bowdoin (’13) and majored in physics. All four years Bill was there, Prof. LaCasce would come in to attend the talks by the students doing honors theses. When Bill gave his honors talk in May ’13, some thirty five years after I did, Prof. LaCasce attended. After the talks he approached Bill, remembering the earlier visit. They were able to connect for a second time out in the third floor hallway. The connection is especially poignant as my parents were there to join in the conversation.

For years I enjoyed the annual department newsletter with his brief hand written notes on the bottom. He’d often ask if I had heard from other majors. He cared deeply about all of us. I probably didn’t reply as often as I should have especially given his outsized influence on my life. Prof. LaCasce started me down a path I have not strayed far from. Pursuing physics has given me great joy. I’m currently the chair of the Physics Department at Princeton University. I often teach introductory physics. I don’t know if I have opened up the world of physics to a naive first year student, but I keep trying.

Sandy Page (’78)

David Pauk
Champion of his students.

I hold a dear spot in my heart for Professor LaCasce. Thinking back to a difficult spot during my time at Bowdoin, while struggling through my classes as I grappled with finding direction in my life and education, Elroy was the lighthouse that reached out to me. It was his true nature, to reach out in a caring and thoughtful way, lifting his students up, no matter whether they were heading towards a PhD in Physics or any other direction. Though fearful of actually failing his challenging Waves and Quanta class, as the content seemed to drift in a cloud far over my head, Elroy’s concern and care for me as a person, helped guide me through that difficult semester and find the direction I was seeking. He showed me that there are truly more important things in life than simply getting a grade in a class. This lesson has persisted despite the fact that I am unable to recall the physics behind the Waves and Quanta I studied at Bowdoin. Many years later, his annual warm, personal, and thoughtful notes, written in cursive script at the bottom of the Physics Department newsletter, provided continued inspiration and direction. I am sure that there are so many of his students and colleagues that understand that Elroyoy was a special friend no matter how far away or how long it had been. Like no other teacher I have had, Elroy took the time to keep up with you. He was a lighthouse for many. It is with deep gratitude and affection that I celebrate Professor LaCasce’s life and express my sorrow over his departure. He will be missed but carried in our hearts.

David Pauk – Class of 1994

Dick Payne
I believe that my freshman year, 1953-1954, coincided with Roy’s first year of teaching at Bowdoin. Ten years after I graduated, our paths crossed again when he took a sabbatical at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) where I had been on the staff for several years. At the time I was also working toward a Ph.D. in physical oceanography at the University of Rhode Island under John Knauss. My qualifying exams were coming up in a few months and I was petrified of the orals since I had done poorly in the Public Speaking class and got very nervous in front of people of authority. Roy suggested that we work on this problem and we spent one evening a week for two months with me in front of a blackboard and Roy, the authority figure, firing questions and problems at me. My exams went fine and I am sure that this was the foundation of an ability to speak comfortably in public and think on my feet. Many thanks, Roy. My resulting 40 year career at WHOI was most satisfying and enjoyable.

Dick Payne ’58

Pam Perry
I have lots of wonderful memories of Roy Lacasce. When I even think “Bowdoin,” his face is one of the first that pops to mind. Here are two:

When I moved back to Maine and was a second year physics teacher in Freeport, I went back to visit him. He contacted me a few weeks later, saying that he was cleaning out one of the old labs on the second and a half floor, and would I like anything. I’d never been in there as an undergrad. It was fascinating as were his stories about the items there.

When I went back to my 25th Bowdoin Reunion, he said, with no prompting, “Pam Brown, Class of ’84.’ I am a teacher. I couldn’t do this 25 years later with my students! Both of these things show how much a part of his family we all were.

Pam Perry
Class of ’84

Jack Pines
I’m so happy I took the time to visit with Prof LaCasce this past summer. I will never forget his Physics course. Even though it was diluted by the physics requirement for med school, he took the time to talk to anybody who was actually interested in the subject. His course convinced me to major in physics and I have never regretted that.

Jack Pines, 1972

Sean Raymond
I took his Physics 300 class my sophomore year, in the spring of 1997. At that time he was already the oldest member of the department (to my knowledge), and taking his class felt like a throwback to a different time. It was extremely intimidating, and I took more detailed notes in that class than any other. It was a lesson in thinking about physics and, although I struggled throughout the semester, I think his class really helped me “get” a lot of what was going on in every physics class I took after that.

Once I graduated and went to grad school (in astronomy), I really enjoyed the alumni newletters that Prof LeCasce would send. I would occasionally write back with updates on what I was doing and several times I got a personal message back from Prof LeCasce (I can’t seem to call him Roy since I only really knew him as a student!). Those messages really were special and kept me feeling connected with Bowdoin.

Sean Raymond ‘99

Sande Smith
I am glad to have the opportunity to submit thoughts about Professor LaCasce. He treated all physics majors with great respect. He was one of my two favorite professors, along with Professor Christie. He took great interest and compassion in helping each of us understand some complex material. I always felt Professor LaCasce was the one to go to when my stress over tests and grades got the best of me. In hindsight, I thought of him as my Bowdoin “Grades Shrink”. He was a great part of Bowdoin and the Physics department, and my fond memories of him continue to this day.

Sande Smith ‘65

Kevin Slep
I had taken a number of physics courses with professors other than Prof. LaCasce including Modern Physics and Astrophysics and had placed out of 223. I had not taken 227, Prof. LaCasce’s gateway to 300, but according to the prerequisites, I could take 227 after taking 300, so I signed up for 300. The first day of class, we were all seated in the corner room on the second floor of Searles and in walked Prof. LaCasce. He looked at each of us, apparently recognizing everyone but me, and the first thing he said was said directly to me, “This is Physics 300, are you in the right class?” I turned red and responded that yes, I was in the right class. By the time I returned for my next class, Prof. LaCasce had done his homework and knew nearly everything about me. It was clear that physics was a small cohort and he was not accustomed to meeting a student in 300 that he hadn’t tested yet in 227. Over the next few years, Prof. LaCasce served as an excellent guide and mentor to me. He gave each of the physics majors a key to Searles so that we could get together in the evenings to work on problem sets. This was a unique gift that came with trust. The students would meet for hours, late into the night. It didn’t matter who you were outside of that building, once we were together in that room, everyone was equal, everyone was working hard, and everyone would laugh at each others’ jokes. These meetings enabled us to develop our foundation by identifying our individual weaknesses and utilizing the diverse strengths of the group. This collaborative work made us build connections with each other, and many of these connections have continued in force to this day. As an Associate Professor at UNC Chapel Hill, I am pleasantly reminded of the distance Prof. LaCasce went to test, develop, and mentor Bowdoin students. I try to do the same now.

Kevin Slep (Physics and Biochemistry ’93)

Robert Thomas
Roy LaCasce not only was my mentor, but my friend. He was an encourager and an enabler, connecting me with physicist Bob Morse (Bowdoin ’43) under whose direction I earned my Ph.D. at Brown, just as Bob became Asst. Secretary of the Navy for R&D. Two other physics majors from our small class in 1960, Steve Burns and Bruce McCombe, both went on to academic careers, as did I. My first joint publication was as a collaborator of Roy and Bruce on a senior project. I retired in 2012, following 48 years on the faculty at Wayne State University, concluding with 12 years as dean. My recollection is that I received a personal greeting from Roy at least once every year since leaving Brunswick. Long after he (supposedly) retired, he kept me up to date on the many successes in physics at Bowdoin. I will miss him.

Robert L. Thomas, Class of 1960

Paul Todd
Here is a brief remembrance involving the class of 1958. As sophomores and beyond, most of us physics majors studied every night in Searles hall. I recall a group of us preparing for an exam in sophomore mechanics. It was probably around 9:30 PM, and we were trying to understand how some procedure worked – probably a Navier-Stokes problem. This was very early in Roy LaCasce’s career at Bowdoin. He appeared in our study space, so we asked him for an explanation. With nothing but chalk and blackboard he started from readily-understood first principles and derived a relationship that we could understand with utmost clarity. Then, in his unforgettable tone of voice, he left us with one of his memorable pieces of advice: “Remember, in an exam a rested mind is of greater use than a prepared mind.”

Paul Todd

David Utzschneider
My condolences for your loss. Professor LaCasce was such a wonderful man, albeit decidedly in his own fashion. He was an erudite Yankee gentleman professor and I wish there were more like him in the world. He clearly made an impression on me, I have a ‘physical memory’ of his face, manner, and way of speech firmly imprinted in my hippocampal memory banks.


David Utzschneider MD PhD
Physics 1985

Jay Van Tassell
When I took Prof. Elroy LaCasce’s Introductory Physics class in Fall 1970, I quickly discovered how organized his lectures were. I found that if I took notes exactly the way he put them on the blackboard they would fit on the page, but if I didn’t, they wouldn’t fit. I’ll never forget when we walked into class and there was a plastic tarp on the floor with a hole in it, but he wouldn’t tell us what it was for. Just as he put down the chalk after finishing his calculations showing how a geyser works, a jet of hot water shot out of the hole. He had obviously worked hard to time his lecture to match the time when the boiler below the classroom flashed into steam. I still remember the grin on Prof. LaCasce’s face as he watched the students in the first few rows of the classroom scrambling to avoid getting soaked.

One day in lab I was busily doing calculations by hand and I looked up to see Prof. LaCasce staring down at me with a puzzled look. He asked me what I was doing. When I told him I didn’t have a slide rule, he loaned me his personal slide rule to use. I went out after class and bought a slide rule. Another time my lab partners and I were making measurements around a circular loop of wire charged with electricity and discovered that, contrary to what was supposed to happen, we detected a field inside of the loop. We double-checked our measurements and got the same results, so we called Prof. LaCasce over to ask him how that was possible. He explained that there was a generator in the room below that was responsible and told us that we were the first students who hadn’t just written down what was supposed to happen instead of what they had measured. It was an important lesson.

One of my favorite classes with Dr. LaCasce involved a section in his specialty, sound transmission in water. He gave us sound velocity and other data from a cruise in the Gulf Stream near Bermuda and had us analyze it and present our results to a group that included most of the Bowdoin physics faculty. It was my first time talking in front of a group and my hands shook so hard that I had difficulty superimposing two transparencies that showed that there were small gyres being generated by main flow of the Gulf Stream. Finally, I bumped the overhead projector by accident and the transparencies fell into place. Although it was obvious that I had struggled giving my talk, he never mentioned it. I am indebted to Prof. LaCasce for sharing his research with us and for giving me my first experience of presenting scientific results in front of a group of professionals. It was a great warm-up for my career teaching geology and oceanography.

When I taught geological oceanography, I used a cruise planning exercise that Prof. La Casce gave us. It involves finding the best way to conduct a cruise to collect sound velocity measurements along three sampling lines radiating from Argos Island, a “Texas Tower” near Bermuda. Like I did when I was a student, my students struggled finding the most efficient and flexible cruise path. When I showed them the mathematical solution that Prof. LaCasce calculated out ahead of time before the actual cruise and they saw how simple the solution to the problem is once they viewed it in an organized and logical framework, they learned an important lesson. Many of my students told me that it was the most difficult part of the class, but I think it was one of the most valuable lessons they learned.

Prof. LaCasce inspired me to take more physics. He taught me to organize my thoughts and look at problems in a larger context. I learned from him to look for the simplicity beyond the complexity you see when first contemplating how to find a solution to a question. He (and the other physics profs at Bowdoin) helped give me a solid background in Physics that helped me through graduate school, with my research, and throughout my teaching career. I am very lucky to have had him as a professor.


Jay Van Tassell, Class of 1974
(retired Professor of Geology)