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M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives


The Sciences at the University at Albany, 1845-2006


Atmospheric sciences researchers including some from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at Yellowstone National Park

Atmospheric sciences researchers including some from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at Yellowstone National circa 1960s

The Sciences at the University at Albany, 1845-2006 contains items drawn from the University Archives and is on exhibit in the lobby of the Science Library beginning in May 2006. A small number of items and information from the exhibit are made available here as an introduction to the physical exhibit. The exhibit examines the growth of and changes in science education and research at the University at Albany over its long history through publications, photographs, class notes, memorabilia, and other records documenting University students, faculty, departments, and research centers. It was curated by Geoffrey Williams, University Archivist, with research and design assistance by George Asante, History 499 Archival Intern.

Normal School to Normal College of Education at Albany, 1845-1905

The mission from 1845 through 1961 of what is now the University at Albany was to train teachers for the public schools of New York State, and the curriculum and faculty largely reflected that mission. Initially, the science curriculum of the State Normal School (1845-1890) mirrored the science curriculum taught in the Common Schools (grades 1-8). From the beginning, the science curriculum included the study of Natural Philosophy (later known as Physics), Human Physiology, and after 1846, Chemistry. After the mid-1850s, a serious effort was made to upgrade the qualifications of the faculty to train secondary school teachers (grades 9-12) and the school’s science curriculum for seniors was also strengthened by including secondary school courses such as Agricultural Chemistry and Geology (introduced in 1860), Natural History, Comparative Anatomy, and the practical uses of the microscope, all introduced in 1884.

The science taught at the State Normal School, according to one historian, was the same as that taught in the first two years in college. Here we have Laura Crum's, Class of 1858, notes on Principal David Cochran's lecture on meteorology. Laura Crum's, Class of 1858, notes on Principal David Cochran's lecture on meteorology

The Four Year Liberal Arts College for Teachers, 1906-1962

From 1906 through 1962 the school’s science curriculum mirrored that of other first-rate New York colleges. During the 1920s and 1930s, continual upgrades were made to the caliber of the faculty and the student body, so that by 1962, a study of the college and that of similar sized New York collegesfound that only Vassar College sent more students on to earn doctorates.

Since the faculty’s primary function from 1845 through 1962 was to train teachers, whether for the Common Schools or for Secondary Schools, there was little or no pressure to publish scholarly works. Such publishing as was done was primarily high school texts. Graduate degrees in the sciences were first offered in 1913 and awarded in 1914, but little serious research was carried out until the 1950s when the then New York State College for Teachers (1914-1959) began planning for its first doctoral program in education (approved in 1960). Faculty hired in the 1940s and 1950s, began to conduct serious research leading to articles in scholarly journals.

Jack Smith State College News newspaper clipping Jack Smith started with the Class of 1943, but never graduated from the New York State College for Teachers, instead transferring to Cornell University because he had taken every science and math course the College offered. From Cornell he went to work on the Manhattan Project and was a witness to the explosion of the first atomic bomb in 1945. A condensed version of the letter he wrote to Professors Andrews and Beaver describing the explosion and predicting that it would be impossible to keep the details of the bomb secret was published in the State College News, the student newspaper. Both the article and the original letter are included in the exhibit. Smith returned to the University in the 1960s from General Electric as a Professor of Physics. Click here for an administrative history of the Department of Physics.
Margaret Stewart was one of the new breed of faculty who joined the Department of Biology in the mid-1950s. She regularly published scholarly works. Her Amphibians of Malawi was a groundbreaking work. Stewart was, for many years, the head of the ecology program in the Department of Biology. Click here for an administrative history of the Department of Biological Sciences. Margaret Stewart

The Research University, 1961-present

The SUNY Master Plan for 1960 called for the college, at the time named the State University of New York College of Education at Albany (1959-1961), to become a University Center in the SUNY System. As a University Center, the University moved away from its mission of training high school teachers to a new mission of research. A few examples are shown here.

Computer Science students with trophy The first introductory computer science courses were taught in the fall of 1966. Edwin Reilly was hired in 1965 to run the new Computing Center and to develop entry level courses in computer programming. By the mid-1980s the Department of Computer Science was offering Ph.D.'s and its students were besting other students from MIT and Harvard in the North East Regional Program Contests run by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The students won programming trophies in 1984 and 1985. Click here for an administrative history of the Department of Computer Science.
One of the stars of the Department of Chemistry is Distinguished Research Professor Eric Block, an expert in the chemistry of sulfur and specifically of the compounds in garlic, onions, and other genus Allium plants. Professor Block was named to one of the first two endowed professorships at the University in April 2006 and will hold the Carla Rizzo Delray '42 Professorship. Professor Block's research group is pictured here with former president, Karen R. Hitchcock, also a scientist. Click here for an administrative history of the Department of Chemistry. Professor Eric Block's research group
Albany Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics The University at Albany's newly completed Gen*NY*Sis Center for Excellence in Cancer Genomics is located on the East Campus of the University in East Greenbush, NY. The long term goal of the center is to be a comprehensive cancer research and treatment center.

Exhibit curated by Geoffrey Williams, University Archivist
Research and design assistance by George Asante, History 499 Archival Intern


Last updated August 10, 2006