Arnold B. Arons
The bleat goes on Increase in cheating Celebrating coeducation A success-and then some Serendipity in Szentendre Verbatim
...Arnold B. AronsEarly in the Spring semester we received news of the death of Prof. Arnold B. Arons, the austere and exacting physicist who directed the college's introductory science course from 1952 to 1968.Arons
, who retired from teaching at the University of Washington
in 1982, died of a heart attack at his
home in Seattle on February 28.He
Thousands of Amherst freshmen weathered his
famous Physics 1-2 requirement (and scores-perhaps hundreds-of others did not).None ever forgot him.After graduating from the Stevens Institute of Technology with an M.E. degree in 1937 and an M.S. in 1940, Arons attended Harvard University, receiving a Ph.D. in 1943.
The degrees were all in physical chemistry.
entire career Arons was closely associated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.-both as a staff member and, later, trustee.In 1943 he
joined its Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory and conducted research for the U.S. war effort, making shock wave measurements of bomb explosions. In 1946 Arons joined the faculty at the Stevens Institute.He left Stevens six years later to come to Amherst.He joined the University of Washington faculty after leaving Amherst in 1968, just as Amherst's required core curriculum was being dismantled.
Long after his
Amherst experience with fondness."I look back on those days as the most exhilarating of my academic career," he
Many alumni of that era look back on Arons's
physics course with mixed feelings.Fondness may not always be one of them: Physics 1-2 was a grueling experience for the scientifically inept, and Arons
was famous for not suffering student deficiencies gladly (he is widely remembered for locking the lecture room door the exact minute his
early-morning class began, so that tardy students missed crucial lectures and assignments). Arons
was a strong believer in core requirements.Of Physics 1-2 he
once said, "Any measure of success the course attains is predicated upon the pragmatic fact that we are dealing with a captive audience.Within this context, we can bring sufficient pressure upon the students to have them exert the necessary effort and acquire some intellectual momentum."
intimidated many students, he
entertained them as well.He
brought a strong sense of theater to his
classroom demonstrations.To show how a neutron behaves in a nuclear bomb, for instance, he
would ask someone to drop a Ping-Pong ball into a large wire cage set with mousetraps.Controlled pandemonium followed as the ball ricocheted madly around the container.
Well beyond Amherst
was recognized for his
highly original teaching.He
once summarized his
approach in a letter to Amherst
."I knew how frequently freshmen tended to confuse technical jargon with knowledge and how frequently they failed to distinguish between the name and the idea (‘the map is not the territory')," he
wrote."We therefore operated under the precept ‘idea first and name afterwards' and explicitly emphasized operationalism.
"Freshmen took scientific terms, constructs, and theories so literally that it was essential to shift this orientation and lead them to perceive the role of metaphor.We found it necessary to give students the opportunity to discriminate between observation and inference since, initially, the capacity for such discrimination was quite weak."
In 1972 the American Association of Physics Teachers
its Oersted Medal in recognition of his
contributions to pedagogy.The citation said "The very careful attention of a logical sequencing of ideas, the deep concern for a careful development of concepts in the minds of students, and the steady attention to the cultural basis of Western science . . . have been his
Those, and the stringent demands he
placed on Amherst freshmen. He
is survived by his
wife, Jean M. (Rendall) Arons
, of Seattle; two daughters, Marion Grillon of North Adams, Mass., and Janet Haskell of Elmira, N.Y.; two sons, Kenneth Arons of Brighton, Colo., and Paul Arons of Bellevue, Wash.; and five grandchildren.
The bleat goes on