Northwest NEWS

April 12, 1999

Features

Sherman Williamson

High school physics teacher lunches with Nobel laureates

by Deborah Stone, features writer

   Sherman Williamson, physics teacher and department chair at Bothell High School, recently attended a luncheon with fifty Nobel laureates.

   The event was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American Physical Society. Williamson was one of fifty-two teachers selected (one from each of the fifty states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to take part in the ceremonial luncheon in Atlanta, Georgia.

   One hundred high school students from Georgia also joined the teachers and laureates to honor a century of physics. It was a historic opportunity for both students and teachers to meet some of the people who have been responsible for the greatest scientific discoveries of the past one hundred years.

   Williamson was chosen as the representative from Washington State, and when he learned of the news, he was very surprised.

   "My initial reaction was disbelief," he said. "It came as quite a surprise to me because I didn't apply for this. I was extremely pleased, though, because it felt good to know the selection was made [based on] my reputation. It was nice to know that somewhere, there was someone who respected my work."

   Williamson has been a physics teacher for twenty-seven years, eighteen of those years at Bothell High School. For the past fifteen years, he has been chair of the physics department in addition to his teaching duties.

   In commenting about the luncheon, Williamson said, "It was an honor to be there and to get the chance to talk to other teachers, physicists, and the laureates. All the laureates were real people. They were easy to approach and communicate with, even though these are people whose minds and ideas are way up there."

   Williamson particularly enjoyed speaking with Nobel laureate Charlie Towns (of Cal Berkley) who developed the laser. "We had some great conversations about teaching because although he [Towns] does research, he still has to teach some of the introductory classes to students," Williams said.

   Since returning to Bothell, Williamson has had time to reflect on his trip. "I came away with a real respect for how much physics has changed the world in the past one hundred years. I also see that what we're doing at Bothell High and district-wide is right on target. Our program is student-centered, activity-centered, and very conceptual. It's challenging and exciting for the students and we are progressing in a forward direction."