Toast Offered by Provost and Dean of Faculty Marilyn Schuster
Piotr Decowski came to the
Physics department at Smith as a full professor in 1990 from
the University of Utrecht where he had been a senior researcher.
He had also been a teacher and researcher at universities
as diverse as the Center of Nuclear Research, Juelich in
Germany, Michigan State University and the University of
Warsaw where he received his Master of Science and Ph.D.
degrees in experimental physics.
Nalini Easwar told me recently
that when Piotr came for his interview at Smith he asked
if the department could have a folding umbrella available
for his talk. It turned out that the umbrella served as an
effective visual for a difficult concept he wanted to explain.
His illustration sold the department immediately because
of his effective and inventive pedagogy.
Piotr’s colleagues say that he is a magician in the laboratory. He has the skill
to explain complex problems clearly. He taught the modern physics course for
many years and introduced the students to the strange world of quantum mechanics.
A poster the students made for him says “We would walk through walls for you!” referring
to the microworld of quantum physics where particles tunnel through energy barriers.
Piotr was an acclaimed researcher
with a large body of work prior to coming to Smith and he
continues to be involved with important large-scale collaborative
research efforts in the field of nuclear physics in the U.S
and in Europe. Since joining the faculty here he has continued
to receive major grants from the NSF and to publish in the
most important journals in his specialty. Scattered among
the many highly technical titles for his work on nuclear
physics, I found a single author publication in 2006 that
simply asks the question “How Strange is the
Even while maintaining his active
research agenda, Piotr has been fully integrated into Smith
life. He has chaired the Physics department and served as
president of the Smith Chapter of Sigma XI; he has also served
in multiple roles on the New England Section of the American
Physical Society. Piotr has also served the College on the
Administrative Board and has twice been elected to the Committee
on Tenure and Promotion. In his first term, I’m told, he introduced PowerPoint
to help present cases. He has been a very careful and compassionate reader of
tenure and promotion dossiers.
Those of you who have served
on T&P know that
some of the most pleasant moments are conversations over lunch between cases.
I have always been struck at the range of Piotr’s interests, from literature
to music to politics and more. My impression has been reinforced by Nalini Easwar’s
observation that Piotr is an endless reservoir of knowledge. She said that whenever
she has a question about anything, instead of going to Wikipedia, she just walks
over to his office.
I discovered that a student
has created a Facebook fan group called “Piotr Decowski Is My Hero, and When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Just Like
Him.” The creator of the group did add a note saying that she wanted to be just
like him, though she didn’t want to be male, a Smith professor or to dress like
him. The description says the group is for:
|Admirers of Piotr
Decowski, the man who knows damn near everything but
more specifically taught us about the twin paradox,
leptons, fermions, bosons, magic numbers, and quarkonia
and never seems to understand how we can forget things.
He's also the man who always has at least one question
at a lecture, will reply to an email within an hour
or two, and has the huge empty can of beer in his lab.
He made a turkey on Thanksgiving, too, and had the
Pfabes over. How much cooler can one person be?
posted: “The existence of this group, and my invitation to
join, made me absolutely yearn for my Smith Physics Family.” And
about the beer can, one post explains: “There
is or was this huge empty beer can in Piotr's lab. I was
told that it was for some experimental equipment. Regardless,
it's there and I think it's funny. If I have a lab, I want
to have empty cans of beer in it.”
There’s more, but I’ll leave it to you to check out Facebook
and add your own notes. For now (lacking a beer can) let
us all raise a glass to toast our colleague, Piotr Decowski,
who has his own fan club on Facebook.