Walter Smith

Associate Professor of Physics
Haverford College
Koshland Integrated Science Center,
room L110
Fax: 610-896-4904


I have taught and done research at Haverford since 1992. I received a B.A. (physics) from Wesleyan in 1981, and a Ph.D. (physics) from Harvard in 1989. From 1989 to 1992, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. My wife, Marian McKenzie, is an elementary school librarian. We have three children, ages 8 to 13.


In fall '08, I'm teaching Fundamental Physics I (Physics 105a), Electronic Instrumentation and Computers (Physics 316a), and Research in Nanoscale Physics (Physics 415a).

Physics Songs

Working in collaboration with my wife, Marian McKenzie, I write songs about physics for use in the classroom. These serve as powerful teaching tools. In just one or two minutes, a song can dramatically transform the classroom atmosphere, creating a learning environment in which even students who are unsure of themselves are willing to speak up and ask questions. They engage additional areas of the students' brains; when a song is performed in class, students' retention of material for the entire class session is improved. Songs enhance the approachability of the professor, so that students are more willing to ask for help outside of class time. Of course, songs can also serve as effective memory aids, though this is much less important than the effects on classroom atmosphere and the relationship between the students and the professor.

Songs have been sung at social gatherings of physicists for almost a century. I have brought this tradition to the March Meeting of the American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest annual gathering of physicists. For the last three years, I have hosted an evening sing-along during this conference, with sponsorship provided by the APS. The sing-alongs provide a great way for physicists to make new acquaintances.

I contributed significantly to the article in the July 2005 issue of "Physics Today" about physics songs. I suggested and provided the lyrics for eight of the eleven songs included in the article. One of these was co-written by my wife and me; the other seven were written by Tom Lehrer, Prof. Arthur Roberts, Prof. Gilbert Stead, and Dr. James Livingston.

I also run the world's premiere website devoted to collecting and organizing all songs about physics: This serves as a resource for students and teachers, and also functions as an archive for this important niche of physics history. The site includes many of the songs written by my wife and me, dozens of other songs submitted by other teachers and students, and significant historical collections, such as the recordings of Tom Lehrer's "Physical Revue", put on in 1951. (These are posted with the permission of Mr. Lehrer, Prof. Norman Ramsay who made the recordings, and all the surviving members of the cast.) The site also includes the complete songs of Prof. Arthur Roberts (posted with the permission of his family), which were written from 1946 to 1985.

Prof. Gilbert Stead, pioneer in medical physics and author of the song "h nu", written about 1920..

Tom Lehrer in 1951


Research Interests Summary

Nanoscale and molecular electronics

Porphyrin Nanorods

Porphyrin-peptide complexes


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Research Interests

Nanoscale and molecular electronics

There are two routes to the creation of nanoscale objects: top-down and bottom-up.  In top-down manufacture, techniques such as electron beam lithography are used to create desired patterns by carving them out of thin films of resist.  In the bottom-up approach, one instead chooses or designs molecules which spontaneously connect together to make nanostructures.  The top-down approach allows one to create very complex structures in well defined locations. For the bottom-up approach, there can be a great challenge in synthesizing the molecules, and in determining the conditions under which they assemble into the desired structures.  However, once these tasks have been accomplished, making additional samples requires only simple mixing of reagents and heating.  Further, the final nanostructures are energy-minimized and so are stable, unlike nanostructures made by top-down processing which can sometimes be destroyed by thermal diffusion. The goal of the larger field is to create electronic circuits that assemble themselves out of solution, and perhaps have capabilities not available from circuits made by traditional top-down approaches.  The field is still very new, at the stage where much of the basic physics is not yet understood.  The research in my group is meant to improve our understanding of the rules that govern self-assembly and of the basic physics that explains the photoelectronic properties of the resulting nanostructures.


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There are two projects underway in this area:


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last updated 10-30-08

Department of Physics
Haverford College
Haverford, PA 19041