Among the many festivities at the 2017 Reunion Weekend was a gathering of generations of Mawrters and their family members who came together at the home of Associate Professor of Physics May Cheng to bid well wishes to Professor of Physics Peter Beckmann.
Beckmann retired from Bryn Mawr this year after 40 years as a faculty member of the Department of Physics. Over the course of his tenure, Beckmann taught more than 200 classes, supervised nearly 60 undergraduate theses, six master theses, and three Ph.D. theses, and produced 78 peer-reviewed articles.
Among those gathered was Zoe Williams '92, who has allowed us to share the letter she wrote him upon learning of Beckmann's retirement.
My father was an Engineer and an M.D. He had a love and a passion for science that was contagious. He read Popular Science and Scientific American and about a year before he died he ordered a Physics 101 CD so he could remember those concepts “just for fun.”
He loved Richard Feynman and I did too. “Surely you’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” was one of our favorite books. Brilliant and quirky and funny, Dr. Feynman reminded me a lot of my Dad. When I applied to Bryn Mawr my essay was entitled “Thank you Mr. Feynman, for helping me to know my father."
When I was in high school, I was the only girl in AP Calculus and AP Physics my senior year. I was really struggling and when I looked around the room and saw only boys, most of whom were comprehending just fine, on some level I thought, “Well, one of these things is not like the others. I guess I just can’t do this.”
Then I got to Bryn Mawr and I took Intro Physics the first semester of my Sophomore year. (I thought I wanted to be a doctor like my dad and had to take it for pre-med.) I was terrified.
The first day of class there was this bearded bear of a man standing at the front of the room. I wish I could remember exactly what you said but this was this gist: “Why do we do physics? [Silence]. We do physics to explain our world. Just watch.” And you set about doing a simple experiment (again, I wish I could remember what it was) and explained it mathematically on the board. A light bulb went off in my head, a connection was made and I was like, “Now I get it! This is cool!” You were so excited and I was too.
When I did struggle, I looked around the room and saw only women. Many excelling, some struggling, but all of us surviving. If they could do it, I could do it too. Thank you so much for choosing to teach at a women’s college. Thank you so much for sharing your passion and energy freely and unselfishly.
And thank you, Mr. Beckmann, for helping me believe that I could actually major in Physics.
Me ke Aloha,
AB Physics, 1992
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