Mississippi College

Mississippi College Welcomes Vanderbilt University Physics Professor Joseph Hamilton

September 14, 2012

Vanderbilt University professor Joseph Hamilton taught NFL stars like Jay Cutler, now the Chicago Bears quarterback, to appreciate physics.

While the 1954 Mississippi College graduate is an internationally celebrated scientist, Hamilton loves teaching physics on the Nashville campus and making the subject relevant to his students.

Wearing No. 6 for the Vandy Commodores and tossing a school record 59 touchdowns between 2001 and 2004 before joining the NFL, Cutler was a “good  B student,” in his classroom, Hamilton says. A number of his former Vanderbilt students played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other NFL teams.

A Ferriday, Louisiana native who never took physics before enrolling at the Christian university in Clinton, Hamilton enjoys keeping up with his former students in the NFL.  But the Mississippi College alumnus is best known as the world-class researcher who co-discovered new elements 113, 115 and 117 in the Periodic Table of Chemistry Elements. His extraordinary research between 2010 and 2012 made him a luminary in scientific circles around the globe.

His September 13th lecture at Self Hall captivated an audience of Mississippi College faculty, staff, students and visitors. Besides covering the history of the discovery of the Periodic Table of Chemistry Elements, he offered sound advice to future scientists. “Be persistent in whatever science you go into,” he said.

For college students who are non-science majors, “it is important to know how physics works,’’ Hamilton said. It helps people learn to think critically, he noted.

The professor’s 45-minute talk followed by a question/answer session was well-received Thursday afternoon.

And the Louisiana native was delighted to be back at his alma mater.

“It is a great pleasure to return to Mississippi College where I received my start in physics and advanced mathematics,” Hamilton said. “I have a deep appreciation for all MC gave me.” Over the years, two of his Ph.D. students in Tennessee taught physics at Mississippi College. He’s had several MC graduates work for him at Vanderbilt.

There are other MC connections. Hamilton met his wife at a Baptist Student Union event at Mississippi College. While living in the Nashville area, Hamilton served as a Sunday School teacher for Mississippi College President Lee Royce, who’s a Vanderbilt graduate and a former administrator at Belmont University. Royce, and his wife, Rhoda, sat in the front row for his lecture.

Former Mississippi College classmates like Bradley Pope of Clinton welcomed Hamilton back to the university where his academic career began to take off.

A former center for the MC Choctaws football team, Hamilton was always regarded as a smart student, “but we never realized he would become a genius,” Pope said.

The Mississippi College Physics Department’s Alumnus of the Year in 2010, Hamilton received a doctorate from Indiana University and joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1958. He’s received seven honorary doctorates and published more than 1,000 articles in scientific journals and books on nuclear physics. Presently, the MC graduate is serving as chairman of an international nuclear conference that will invite 110 prominent speakers from all over the world.

MC junior Sarah Adams, a chemistry major from Athens, Alabama, met Hamilton after his talk and came away impressed. His lecture touched on the complexities of his scientific research, he also proved to be “good at explaining things,” she said.

Hamilton took time to reflect on the Mississippi College people he admired over the years, including retired administrator Doc Quick of Clinton. During his playing days on the football team, Quick, a 1955 MC graduate, served as the squad’s athletic trainer. “He used to tape ankles for us,” Hamilton said.

Dr. Hamilton is Vanderbilt’s Landon C. Garland Distinguished Professor of Physics and students named him the university’s Outstanding Professor of the Year in 1989.

Photo: Vanderbilt University physics professor Joseph Hamilton chats with MC President Lee Royce and School of Law Dean Jim Rosenblatt after his lecture on the Clinton campus.

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