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More than three decades ago, Anthony Novaco, Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Physics, was conducting postdoctoral research at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., when he met a young physics professor from Lafayette who was conducting research of his own.

William Jeffers, who went on to head the College’s physics department in the 1990s, told Novaco about the small liberal arts and engineering college that encouraged both his teaching and research activities. Novaco, who had earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1969 and spent two years conducting research at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, soon began seeking a teaching position himself and learned of an opening at Lafayette.

“It was mostly the small classes and the instructional setting that attracted me,” he says. “In large part, it’s a better learning environment for students.”

In the years since he arrived at Lafayette, Novaco has combined his research on condensed matter theory and computer simulations of materials with teaching both advanced and introductory courses and, in the past few years, a First-Year Seminar (FYS) entitled “Simple Rules and Complex Behavior.”

Novaco says he enjoys the variety of teaching advanced students, beginners who are pursuing degrees in science or engineering, and students who haven’t had much exposure to advanced science.

“In the FYS, I’ve been able to bring in broader interests,” he says.

Novaco, who spent six years as head of the physics department, says that while he was glad to take on the duties, he was also happy to relinquish them in exchange for more time to teach and conduct research.

This year, he’s mentoring physics major Haotian Wu ’07 in EXCEL research.

“As a theorist, I’ve had fewer opportunities to work one-on-one with students than others have had,” he says, adding that the situation may change because the number of physics majors at Lafayette is growing, thanks in part Hugel Science Center and the College’s strong focus on attracting serious, highly qualified students.

“I found Tony to be a great teacher,” says Sanjeeva Balasuriya ’92, who conducted senior honors thesis research with Novaco. “His classes were intellectually engaging at all times, and he has a clear intuition which cuts through the complicated concepts.”

Balasuriya, who went on to earn Sc.M. degrees in applied mathematics and engineering and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics, all at Brown University, has held teaching and research positions at Brown, University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, and Oberlin College, and is now a lecturer—equivalent in Australia to assistant professor–in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at University of Sydney.

“I am very happy to have had Tony as a wonderful adviser, and also as a role model,” he says.


Publications: “Anharmonic Effects on Monolayer Phonons,” (with L.W. Bruch), Physical ReviewB 61, 5786(2000); “Phonon Spectrum and Density of States for Commensurate Monolayer Phases of H2 , HD, and D2 on Graphite,” Physical ReviewB, 46, 8178 (1992); “Rotational States of H2 , HD, and D2 on Graphite,” (with J.P. Wrobleski ’91), Physical ReviewB 39, 11364 (1989).

Honors: Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Award, 1986; Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture Award, 1982.

Achievements: Named Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Physics, 2000; head of physics department, 1997-2003.

Contact: (610) 330-5210;

Categorized in: Academic News