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founding faculty

Pioneers, Innovators, Mavericks, Scholars

Founded in 1960 by Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences, the Division of Physical Sciences helped fuel the university’s rapid rise to national and international distinction and continues to set the pace for innovations that better the world.

Then and Now

Jim Arnold and Harold and Frieda Urey look at moon rocks

Jim Arnold, Harold & Frieda Urey look at moon rocks

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy

Fifty years ago, Harold Urey argued for including science in the missions to the moon. When the Apollo astronauts brought the first moon rocks back to Earth, Urey and founding chemistry chair Jim Arnold were in Houston to receive them. The Apollo legacy continues at UCSD today as Tom Murphy leads a team that sends laser pulses to reflectors astronauts left on the moon's surface. Read more about our Apollo legacy.

Jim Arnold and Harold and Frieda Urey look at moon rocks

Maria Goeppert Mayer

Vivek Sharma

Vivek Sharma tracks high-energy collisions of protons

In 1963, Maria Goeppert Mayer became the second woman in history to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. The award recognized her work on the fundamental properties of atoms, specifically her development of the shell model of the atomic nucleus. Work on the fundamental nature of matter continues at UCSD today as Vivek Sharma leads a search for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider. Read more about Sharma's hunt for the Higgs or watch his 50th anniversary lecture online.

George Feher

George Feher (photo by Roger Isaacson)


Clifford Kubiak

Founding physics professor George Feher discovered the fundamental mechanisms by which plants and bacteria convert light to chemical energy. Chemistry professor Clifford Kubiak is leading an effort to develop catalysts to convert solar energy into transportation fuel as part of the multi-institutional Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

Physical Sciences 50th Anniversary Lecture Series
now on


watch online:

CMS experiment

Hunt for the Higgs

Vivek Sharma, who leads a project at the Large Hadron Collider talks about his team's search for the Higgs boson.


Einstein, the Moon and the Long Lost Soviet Lunar Rover

Tom Murphy talks about how his team recently spotted the rover while using a laser beam to test Einstein's theory of general relativity.

UCSD 50th anniversary
50th anniversary

1959 Physics Department formed.

1960 First graduate students enroll, in physics.

1961 Herbert York named first chancellor.

1961 Chemistry Department established.

1963 Mathematics Department established.

1963 Maria Goeppert Mayer becomes second woman in history to win a Nobel Prize in physics.

1964 First undergraduates enroll.

1964 Harold Urey awarded National Medal of Science. 

1964 Chemistry moves in building later named Urey Hall.

1965 First College renamed to honor Roger Revelle.

1965 First watermelon splat measured.

1968 First four-year undergraduate degrees awarded.

1969 Jim Arnold brings moon rocks collected by Apollo astronauts to campus.

1983 E. Margaret Burbidge awarded National Medal of Science.

1984  Traditional race to celebrate the last organic chemistry exam ends.

1986 Michael Freedman receives the Fields Medal.

1994 Efim Zelmanov awarded the Fields Medal

1995 Mario Molina shares the Nobel  Prize in chemistry.

1997 Marshall Rosenbluth awarded the National Medal of Science.

2000 Shelly Schultz and David Smith produce a new class of materials.

2002 Center for Theoretical Biological Physics established.

2008 Roger Tsien shares the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

2009 Frank Shu wins Shaw Prize in Astronomy.

2010 Alumnus Donald Eigler shares Kavli Prize in Nanoscience.

2010 Chancellor Marye Anne Fox receives National Medal of Science.