John E. Smedley

Professor of Physics



Carnegie Science Hall, Room 332

Environmental Studies

Carnegie Science Hall, Room 332


In addition to introductory and advanced physics courses, I enjoy teaching musical acoustics and the physics of electronic sound for non science majors. I also teach in the Program in Environmental Studies at Bates, with particular interest in energy policy and atmospheric processes.

My primary research interests lie in atomic collisions. My students and I use lasers to excite atoms and detect time- and wavelength-resolved atomic emission to measure collision rates and radiative lifetimes. Most recently I’ve been working on projects involving collision-induced absorption in a barium metal/rare gas vapor, and collisions of rare gases with barium atoms in the 5d7p 3D1 fine-structure state.

Where teaching is concerned, a favorite course is Physics 103, Musical Acoustics. This is an introductory course with laboratory. We begin with waves and vibrations, and study the production, propagation and perception of sound. This provides a framework for understanding different classes of instruments, including strings, woodwinds, percussion, brass,the piano and pipe organ.

In alternate years I teach “Caring for Creation: Physics, Religion and the Environment,” with my colleague Thomas Tracy in the Department of Philosophy and Religion. This course investigates the nature of scientific and religious inquiry, and how humans’ perceptions of their origins influences how they respond to environmental issues.

Also in alternate years, I teach The Physics of Electronic Sound. Basic electronic circuits and the electricity and magnetism relevant to sound recording and reproduction are the focus of this course. We study audio components such as speakers, amplifiers, phonographs and compact disk players.

Every few years I teach Music s27, Exploring Jazz Guitar, an historical survey of the genre that features intensive listening, discussion of jazz theory, illustration of different players’ styles and techniques, and individual instruction on the guitar.

Ph.D. Chemical Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder 1987; B.A. Colby College 1979