Physics professor Herschel Snodgrass retires after 30 years

After teaching for nearly 30 years at Lewis & Clark, Herschel Snodgrass is retiring from his position in the physics department.

“I taught here for a long, long time and I loved it more and more. What I loved about it was … the students,” Snodgrass said. “I had a hard time being [college] aged. And it really touches me to watch people go through those times and find themselves.”

His excitement for physics and genuine concern for the development of his students as both scientists and humans is what has won Snodgrass campus-wide admiration.

“I would walk out of every lecture or impromptu office conversation with my eyes wide and a million new ideas and thoughts in my brain,” said Shelby Ziccardi ’18. “I think Herschel’s class was the first one that left me with more questions than I came in with.”

“I already miss Herschel,” said Eli Barnse, ‘18. “He just wants you to succeed and loves talking to you about anything, and he’s a big part of the reason I’m majoring in physics.”

Like physics, music has played a great role in Snodgrass’s life. He learned the clarinet at a young age, and later played with what was known as the Portland Symphony.

“Music is the thing that has really made my life what it is,” Snodgrass said. “I’m lucky to have come from a family very dedicated to not only the meaning of existence in terms of having a wonderful curiosity about things, but also not being too wrapped up in how much money you make and having a love of art and music and nature.”

Snodgrass’s undergraduate education began at Reed College.

“All I can say is I was a mediocre student grade-wise,” Snodgrass said. He went on to graduate school, first at the University of Maryland and then at UC Berkeley. Yet it wasn’t his science that got him a teaching position at Berkeley.

“I ended up being invited back to Berkeley to teach, not because I was a good scientist but because I was politically active and so was the department. I was one of the ‘student leaders’ of the free-speech movement,” Snodgrass said. He even spent some time in jail after occupying the administration building.

“I’m actually very proud of that,” Snodgrass said.

After Berkeley, Snodgrass received a research fellowship at the Mount Wilson Observatory.

“That was the best job I ever had because I was able to become acquainted with just wonderful people,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass moved back to Oregon in the late ’80s to teach at Reed. It wasn’t long before John Abley and Bob Martin, then faculty members in LC’s Physics department, offered Snodgrass a position.

His time since has been quite productive. Snodgrass has spent summers researching with students, publishing papers, and in 1987 Snodgrass was even named one of the 10 people named in Astrophysics News of the Year.

“It made me very proud of myself,” Snodgrass said. “It made my father proud of me too!”

Speaking of fatherhood, during his tenure Snodgrass even had the opportunity to teach his son, who was an undergraduate at LC.

“That was the best I’ve ever taught. It was wonderful. I only wish I could have done the same with my daughter,” Snodgrass said.

During his retirement, Snodgrass plans to keep busy travelling as well as working on his music and completing his book, “Beyond the Realm of the Senses.”

“I’ve gone from a place in my life where I was interested in research and my own personal development to a point where I began to enjoy sharing it with people,” Snodgrass said. “That was sort of my mission as a teacher, to help people find something that gives them joy and enhances their human attributes, their love for eachother, and their love for the world in which they live. And if physics is an agent for that, then terrific!”

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1 Comment

  1. Herschel- a lovely summary of your wonderful teaching career! It was so touching to read the wonderful encomiums to you from your students. Carter

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