Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Barus, Carl

Carl Barus (1856-1935), professor of physics and dean of the Graduate Department, was born in Cincinnati on February 19, 1856, the son of German immigrant parents who had met and married after coming to the United States. His father was a musician. In 1874 Carl Barus graduated from Woodward High School in the same class as William Howard Taft. Young Barus had a telescope, a chemical laboratory in his home, and an herbarium of about a thousand plants which he shared with a friend. He spent two years at Columbia studying mining engineering, but was lured away by the attraction of pure science to Würzberg, where he studied under F. W. G. Kohlrausch and earned his Ph.D. degree, summa cum laude, in 1879 for his dissertation on the relations of hardness of steel to its electrical and thermoelectric properties and its magnetization. In 1880 he was engaged to take charge of the purely physical work of the newly organized United States Geological Survey, which was directed by Clarence King. After twelve years of important research in Nevada, New York, New Haven, Philadelphia, and Washington, Barus found his work with the Survey terminated by the withdrawal of government grants in 1892. During 1891-92 he was professor of meteorology at the United States Weather Bureau. From 1893 to 1895 he was a physicist at the Smithsonian Institution, where he assisted Samuel Langley in his experiments with flying machines.

In 1895 he accepted the Hazard professorship of physics at Brown and remained in that position for thirty-one years. His scientific research at Brown produced 350 articles and monographs from 1895 to 1929. He was appointed the first dean of the Graduate Department in 1903, which he ran out of his office in Wilson Hall. Barus’s reputation was recognized by the many worldwide honors that came to him – he was a corresponding member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, an honorary member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, of the First International Congress of Radiology and Electricity at Brussels in 1905, and of the Physikalisch-Medizinische Sozietät at Erlangen. In the United States he was a member of the American Philosophical Society, the youngest member ever of the National Academy of Sciences in 1892, the fourth president of the American Physical Society in 1905 and 1906, and a member of the advisory committee on physics in connection with the organization of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. In 1900 he was awarded the Rumford Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for his researches in heat.

Barus’s avocation was music, and he composed about fifty compositions “for home consumption,” among them a “March to Pembroke Hall,” and an “Ode to the Steam Shovel,” which was inspired by the daily noise outside his laboratory and was presented by him to President Faunce. Barus continued as dean of the Graduate Department until his retirement in 1926. He died in Providence on September 20, 1935 in Providence. The memorial minute in the Faculty Records, written by Professors Raymond C. Archibald and R. Bruce Lindsay and also published in Science magazine, concluded:

“At Brown University Carl Barus and Alpheus Packard are undoubtedly the most eminent scientists who ever occupied faculty chairs. Professor Barus was a hero-worshipper, and in his home was a genius corner from which pictured faces of great scientists looked down upon him. He rejoiced in contacts with youth and had the great gift, in association and writing, of capturing the love of children.

“The breadth of his interest and achievements was extraordinary – recall his reading of Greek tragedies in the original, his knowledge of French and Italian literatures, and the proficiency he attained in playing the violin, flute, clarinet, oboe, cornet, trumpet and trombone, in addition to the piano and organ. The brilliancy of his intellect, the modesty of his bearing, the beauty of his personality, and the kindliness of his spirit have left most precious and inspiring memories with students and colleagues of forty years.”