First Graduating Class of Engineering Physics (3T8)

Engineering Science, or Engineering Physics as it was then called, was inaugurated in the 1934-35 academic year. But the road leading to what would become the Faculty’s flagship program was a tortuous one. Engineering Physics broke with the tradition laid by John Galbraith, Principal of the School of Practical Science and the first Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, which succeeded the School.

Galbraith’s vision of engineering education focused on the practicing engineer. Owing to a fear that instruction in the pure sciences would corrupt the engineering student, Galbraith in 1904 segregated the engineering program from the rest of the University’s science courses. The Department of Physics in particular lamented the decision and, toward the end of World War I, Professors J.C. McLennan and E.F. Burton proposed a new joint mathematics-physics-engineering program. The Faculty, however, was reluctant and eventually defeated the proposal. McLennan and Burton did not yield.

On 19 January 1921, a local newspaper reported that a new program in “Physics-Engineering” would be offered jointly by the Physics and the Chemical and Electrical Engineering departments. This came as quite a shock to the Faculty’s Dean, Charles Hamilton Mitchell, who was unaware of and certainly did not approve any such plan. The Faculty, still steeped in Galbraith’s philosophy, immediately put an end to matters.

In 1934, Burton made another overture to the Faculty and in April of that year met with his engineering counterparts to discuss the teaching of physics. At the meeting, Burton once again raised the notion of a joint program in engineering and physics but was disappointed. He reported to the University’s President, H.J. Cody, who supported Burton’s bid, “I conjecture pretty safely that all of our suggestions—even the one for a course [program] in Engineering Physics—will be stubbornly opposed and delayed, and finally, defeated just as our two former attempts. . .[were] thwarted.”

But the Faculty was independently coming to recognize the need for more rigorous instruction in physics and advanced mathematics. Not more than a month after Burton’s meeting with the Faculty, Professor C.R. Young, Chairman of the Civil Engineering department, together with Professors R.W. Angus and J.W. Bain, of Mechanical Engineering and Mining Engineering, requested to meet with Burton and Professor Lachlan Gilchrist, a geophysicist. Burton, who had never given up on the plan, proposed the creation of a new department for Engineering Physics, in which students would enroll but which would have no faculty members of its own. Engineering Physics would have to rely on the resources of other departments as it indeed does to this day. The engineers quickly agreed.

With an alacrity that would make today’s bureaucracy spin, the Engineering Physics program was approved in ten days and installed in the Fall of 1934 as “Department Five.” The first calendar entry, in 1935, described the “course” of Engineering Physics as follows:

The course is designed to offer a training in Mathematics and Physics beyond that which it is possible to give in the other undergraduate courses in Engineering. It is believed that a wider and more thorough acquaintance with the basic sciences will bring the student to a readier appreciation of the nature of the technical problems with which he will later be confronted and a greater facility in the solution of them. A course of the kind offered should consequently be of particular value to those who enter governmental or industrial research laboratories, or who wish to engage in any original work of investigation or development in the field of Applied Physics.

This goal is achieved in two ways, both by taking an engineering approach in the teaching of mathematics and the sciences and by teaching basic engineering skills.

Two years after its first students were admitted, the program offered six Options (a.k.a. Majors): Electricity and Communications, Elasticity of Materials and Structures, Geophysics, Applied Hydrodynamics, Illumination and Acoustics, and X-Rays and Spectroscopy. In 1938, the first class of Engineering Physics—six students—was graduated.

Over the years, Options have come and gone. In 1958, a Chemical Option was added. As a consequence, the name Engineering Physics no longer seemed appropriate and in 1964 it was changed to Engineering Science.

It is one of the strengths of the Engineering Science program that it is fluid, taking shape as required by the forces of industry. New Options are created as need warrants and some old ones, no longer as relevant or popular, are discontinued. A total of eight Options are now offered including Aerospace, Biomedical, Electrical & Computer, Energy Systems, Infrastructure, Mathematics, Statistics & Finance, Physics and Robotics. The basic philosophy of Engineering Science has remained true to its origins. As Professor K.B. Jackson, Chairman of Engineering Science from 1942 to 1963, liked to say, Engineering Science is for the “Yes, but why?” students.

Sources: Richard White, The Skule Story: The University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, 1873–2000, University of Toronto Press, 2000; Don Hall, “A Short History of Engineering Science at the University of Toronto,” November 1970.