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phonometer

Arthur Gordon Webster

Arthur Gordon Webster was the founder of the American Physical Society.

Webster had graduated from Harvard College in 1885 at the top of his class and had stayed for a year as instructor in mathematics and physics. At the end of that year he went to the University of Berlin where he studied for four years with Hermann von Helmholtz, receiving his PhD in 1890. Helmholtz is said to have considered Webster his favorite American student. During this period Webster also studied in Paris and Stockholm. He was unusually proficient in literature and was fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French, and Swedish, with a good knowledge of Italian and Spanish and competency in Russian and modern Greek.

In 1892, when Michelson left Clark for Chicago, President Hall appointed Webster assistant professor and head of the Physical Laboratories. At that time, only Johns Hopkins University and Clark University had doctoral programs in physics. Webster was promoted to full professor in 1900.

Webster was unusual for his time in that he was both a proficient mathematician as well as a competent experimentalist.

Webster's research was in the field of acoustics and mechanics. He is credited with developing an instrument to measure the absolute intensity of sound, the phonometer and for research on the gyroscope. He also gave graduate lectures in theoretical physics at Clark University, which have been published as three textbooks.

A group of twenty physicists, invited by Webster, founded the American Physical Society at a meeting at Fayerweather Hall in Columbia University on 20 May 1899. In 1903, Webster became president of the American Physical Society and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Webster committed suicide in 1923, following the closure of the mathematics department at Clark, after it was rumored that the physics department would be the next to be closed by the new president.

Books by Arthur Gordon Webster

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