In Memoriam

James Edward Poth
Professor Emeritus of Physics

James E. Poth, professor emeritus of physics, passed away on 12 September 2011 after a long illness. Son of Laura and Ralph Poth, Jim was born 19 May 1933 in Galion, Ohio. He graduated from Norwalk High School in 1951. Jim received a NROTC scholarship to Miami University, where he graduated in 1955 with a B.S. degree in physics. Commissioned into the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Albany, he served as an instructor at the Naval Air Defense Training Center at Dam Neck, Virginia. At Virginia Beach, he met his love, Alice Faye Etheridge, from Engelhard, North Carolina. After three years in the Navy, Jim returned to Miami University and earned a M.A. in physics. He went on to Yale University, where he earned a M.S. and, in 1966, the Ph.D. in nuclear physics. His research in Boron Induced Transfer Reactions was one of the first dissertations supervised at Yale by D. Allan Bromley, later the top science adviser to President George H.W. Bush. As a research staff physicist at Yale, Jim continued to study transfer reactions. In 1966 Jim returned to the Miami Physics Department as assistant professor, and he became full professor in 1976.

At NASA-Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Jim continued nuclear physics research and directed graduate student thesis projects. Some of this research at NASA was done in collaboration with Joe Priest, professor emeritus of physics. One outgrowth of their collaboration was the much anticipated annual “Ace Nuclear Awards.” Jim and Joe would appear, in lab coats and hard hats, at a physics department seminar and, with deadpan humor, present some outlandish token in commemoration of a colleague’s foible. Also due to their research trips to NASA was meeting a newly minted physics Ph.D. serving Army Reserve duty which led to an invitation to give a seminar at Miami and the subsequent hiring of one of the contributors to this memorial (GMJ).

Jim developed an interest in environmental physics, and he was appointed affiliate professor of Miami’s newly created Institute of Environmental Sciences (now Institute for the Environment and Sustainability). Jim was an early and active supporter of the IES. He was a member of the first IES Advisory Committee; he served on the Executive Committee; and he was almost single-handedly responsible for the awards program of the Institute. Along with Joe Priest, for many years he taught the Environmental Measurements course, one of the IES core courses, which emphasized the quantitative nature of environmental science. He was major professor for four IES students and a research committee member for seven other students. He was consistently among those senior faculty members who came to the defense of IES at critical points in its history.

A devoted teacher, Jim had special fondness for his regularly packed classes in Physics of Sports. Jim with Joe Priest collaborated on a long series of conference presentations and publications about the art of teaching physics, as well as video in which Jim demonstrated how, in one quick motion, to remove a tablecloth from under a table setting without disturbing glasses or dishes. Another of us (TWH) remembers Jim as the one who taught him how to teach.

In the 1980s Jim was co-director of a curriculum development and in-service program, “Teaching Science with TOYS” (both literally toys and also the acronym for “Terrific Opportunities for Youth Science”). Designed for professional development of elementary and middle-school teachers of the physical sciences, this program received generous NSF funding for a decade. One of these NSF grants was the first grant to individual investigators at Miami funded at more than a million dollars. Jim spent many hours scouring toy stores and developing experiments which could be performed by middle school students. During this time he co-authored the book Teaching Physics with Toys which became very popular with teachers. One of us (BAPT) fondly remembers the way in which Jim was a bulldog once he started concentrating on a problem - even tuning out the rest of the staff meeting. In the 1990s Jim initiated the use at Miami of the University of Washington (UW) Tutorials in Introductory Physics, and he taught UW’s “Physics by Inquiry” course serving future science teachers majoring in elementary or secondary education. He was appointed affiliate professor in Miami’s Department of Teacher Education. Jim took important roles in Project Discovery, an NSF-funded Statewide Systematic Initiative project for secondary and middle-school teachers. Led by Nobel Laureate Ken Wilson and Miami’s Jane Butler Kahle, and strongly supported by Ohio Board of Regents and Ohio Department of Education funding, the project guided and supported in-service teachers in implementing inquiry-based instruction in their physical science classes. Jim enjoyed contributing to science education in many ways, including at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and in the Cincinnati Public Schools.

In 1999 Jim was invited as visiting professor at Curtin University of Technology, Perth Australia. It is the largest university in Western Australia, with an enrollment of 24,000 students and 200 doctoral students in science education. In collaboration with the director of the Science and Mathematics Education Centre, Jim investigated how middle-school students’ perception of the classroom environment impacts upon their learning.

During his 38 years of teaching at Miami, Jim served for many years as chief adviser for the physics department, and premedical adviser for the College. Jim was an avid runner, enjoyed travel and sports, and judged the Cincinnati International Wine Festival for 16 years. He cherished the many longtime friendships he developed while living in Oxford. He was a member of Faith Lutheran Church of Oxford and the Miami Men’s Club. Special to Jim were his friendships fostered at Miami as a member of Delta Upsilon, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and NROTC.

What Jim loved most was spending time with his family, especially on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He was forever devoted to his family, showing unconditional love and leading by example. He will be missed by his wife, Alice, with whom he shared his life and loved for 51 years, as well as three children: Michael (Karen) Poth, Betsy (Sam) Stewart, Amy Poth, and seven grandchildren, who were adored by their Pap.

We all miss him.

Respectfully submitted by Glenn M. Julian, T. William Houk, Jane Butler Kahle, Beverley A. P. Taylor, Gene E. Willeke.