III Second Renewal Years: (1991-2000)
Mark Walton, a theoretician specializing in conformal field theory, joined early in 1991, followed by another theoretician Mark Shegelski in 1992, a specialist in condensed matter physics. Together with Keramat Ali, there were now three theoreticians and four experimentalists (Ahmadi, Naylor, Mohamed and Siminovitch).
From its lowest point in 1980, the department had now doubled in size, and was able to offer a full undergraduate curriculum, and to offer a full spectrum of research opportunities to undergraduate assistants. Moreover, all new faculty members hired between 1989 and 1991 were eventually awarded NSERC Operating and Equipment Grants, so that by 1995, every faculty member was active in peer-review funded research. This was a significant milestone in the department’s history, and a complete turn-around from the first decade.
A serious threat to the department’s survival was posed by Alberta’s financial woes in the early 90’s. Largely due to relatively low enrollments in physics, the department was ever under the microscope, and some openly called for the department’s demise. But Arts & Science Dean Bhagwan Dua stood his ground, reminding the Faculty that one could not have a university without a physics department. Séamus O’Shea, a long-standing ally of the department, and now Vice-President Academic, played a crucial role in ensuring the department’s survival.
The department survived, but not unscathed: ultimately two faculty, Shegelski and Mohamed, left in 1994 to take up physics positions at the University of Northern British Columbia. It took several years to recover from these losses: in 1996, Kenneth Vos, a theoretician specializing in condensed matter theory, joined, and in 1999, Behnam Seyed-Mahmoud, a University of Lethbridge alumnus (BSc 1991), joined as an Academic Assistant. In 1999, Nasser Ahmadi resigned to take up a position at the University of Calgary, and he was replaced by Steve Patitsas, an experimentialist specializing in the study of surfaces using scanning tunneling microscopy.
An important milestone from this period was the launch of a Special Case Masters program university-wide in 1993. This marked the beginning of graduate studies in the Faculty of Arts & Science – prior to 1993, the Faculty of Education was the only faculty granting Masters degrees.