In Memoriam

John William Snider
Professor Emeritus of Physics
1924 – 2009

John W. Snider, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, passed away on February 19, 2009.

Born September 13, 1924 in Middleport, Ohio, to Charles William and Gail Naomi (Trichler) Snider, John graduated from Seaman High School in 1942 and entered Miami University as an undergraduate in 1942-1943. He served in World War II as a B-24 bombardier flying 20 combat missions out of England and attaining the rank of Captain. He completed his A.B. in physics at Miami in 1948, then taught high school mathematics and science 1948-1949. In 1949, John married Geneva “Genny” Palmer, his beloved companion for fifty-nine years. He is survived by his son Col. John A. Snider and wife Mary (Peck), grandson Wesley J. Snider and wife Melissa, and two brothers, a sister, and their families.

Returning to Miami, John earned his M.A. in 1951 and was promptly hired as an instructor, then in 1953 as assistant professor, as associate professor from 1961-1973, and professor until his retirement in 1992. During a three-year leave of absence from Miami, he earned his Ph.D. in Low Temperature Physics at The Ohio State University in 1957 studying paramagnetic susceptibility of synthetic ruby crystals below 1K with John Daunt.

Dave Griffing, who joined the Department faculty about the same time as John, was also a WWII veteran along with George Arfken and Phil Macklin. Dave recalls John as a “tool person”, with all manner of tools and apparatus stashed in his office, ready to pull out and make a clarifying demonstration when a student (or another faculty member!) showed up with a question. John was always interested in “old apparatus” from the 19th or early 20th Century, and – with permission – sent quite a few pieces to the Smithsonian.

John directed the master’s thesis research in low-temperature physics of a number of students, many of whom continued on to doctoral research at universities which grant the Ph.D. in physics. A consummate experimentalist, John had a special interest in instrumentation. When Culler Hall was built in the early 1960s, John ensured that high quality experimental infrastructure was available to all lecture rooms, teaching labs, and research spaces. He also designed the machine shop - so important to all innovation in physics teaching and research. John was always creating some new gadget to enhance his teaching and research, incorporating the latest in electromechanical technology. He was famous for enhancing his lectures with novel, illuminating demonstrations - among his favorites was the gyroscopically stabilized Norton bombsight used in World War II. At the request of the Chemistry Department, he developed and taught an advanced course in instrumentation which was required for chemistry majors; and at the request of the School of Applied Science, he developed and taught an introductory physics course for majors in technology.

John was among the first to develop and teach the interfacing of physics instrumentation to microcomputers such as the Apple IIe. In this, he collaborated with Joseph Priest. In summer 1986, John presented their results at the International Conference on Computers in Physics Education in Klagenfurt, Austria; this attracted much interest, and he reported that at that time nowhere in Europe was interfacing of transducers to computers being taught to undergraduates. In 1989, Priest and Snider published Electronics for Physics Experiments: Using the Apple IIe Computer, and in 1990 they received the Higher Education Software Award for Distinguished Curriculum Implementation from the National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning (NCRIPTAL).Mick Pechan, chair of the Physics Department, recalls how John served as a mentor soon after he joined the department in 1981. When John asked, “Are you willing to teach electronics?” Mick said he would be glad to learn the subject and then teach it. John offered guidance from experience, and soon afterward Mick received NSF funding to modernize the senior electronics course, including the introduction of the earliest Mac computers.

At Miami, John and his wife established the John W. and Geneva P. Snider scholarship, given annually since 2000. It is awarded to “an undergraduate student majoring in physics or engineering physics who demonstrates interest and promise in experimental physics”.

In addition to his career at Miami, John was a research physicist during summers from 1958-1969 at Mound Laboratory of Monsanto Research Corporation, where he performed research in superconductivity, thermal transpiration, and investigation of helium-3 as a vapor pressure standard. He was also consultant on vacuum equipment from 1962-1967 for the Ohio River Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the community, John was active in the Methodist Church for over 50 years and in Boy Scouts for over 40. His son, John Alan Snider, Eagle Scout and Colonel USAF (ret.), remarked, “He didn’t have to ‘talk the talk’, because he ‘walked the walk’.” John used his woodworking skills to craft for the chapel a miniature ox-yoke to evoke Matthew 11:30. John served for many years as Scoutmaster and Assistant District Commissioner of the Fort Hamilton District. His son reports that John was “an accomplished campfire cook. His pineapple upside down cake from a Dutch oven was unbeatable.” In 1970, John received the Silver Beaver Adult Leadership Award, the most distinguished volunteer award presented by the Boy Scouts of America.

John epitomized an era when the physics department faculty felt like a family. At the annual Physics Department Picnic, he and Genny were always present; and while John was self-described as “non-athletic”, he was the Physics Phaculty softball pitcher for more than two decades. For years the department faculty annually went camping together under his leadership. He always presided at the griddle on Saturday morning, serving up pancakes and sausage.Looking back, it is impossible to remember John as anything but unflappable, never rushed and always with an avuncular smile.

John described himself as a “teacher” rather than as a “professor”. Whether teaching or pitching softball, John’s choice was to “find a place where you’re useful and stick with it.” John epitomized the selfless attitude, “What can I do that would be best for the Department?”

He is greatly missed.

Respectfully submitted by the Memorial Committee: Glenn M. Julian, David F.Griffing, T. William Houk, Michael J. Pechan and Lyman Peck