In memory of Wesley N. Mathews Jr. (1937 – 2022)
Wesley N. Mathews Jr. was a member of the Department of Physics for over 50 years. He passed away on August 22, 2022 at the age of 85. Wes was a remarkable person. He loved many things including physics, nature, and people. But above all, he loved to tell stories about the adventures in his life. And he had many. So very many.
Wes’s scientific career began after he graduated with honors from Miami University of Ohio and went to the University of Illinois to study under the guidance of John Bardeen. Wes would tell many stories about his classes, his TA assignments, and the times he found mistakes in the work of his professors. After graduating in 1966 with a Ph.D. on the theory of superconductivity, he did a postdoctoral fellowship at Case Western Reserve University. In his early years at Georgetown, Wes thrived working with fellow faculty member Bill Gregory, an experimentalist, and his first Ph.D. student Judy Bostock. His research was on superconductivity and its applications. Later in his career, Wes started to shift his research focus more towards physics pedagogy, publishing in the American Journal of Physics. After retiring in 2016, he joined forces with faculty members Jim Freericks and Mark Esrick to rethink how quantum mechanics is taught. Wes’ work on quantum mechanics during this period will lead to several additional publications. Over the course of his career, Wes supervised 5 Ph.D. students and numerous physics undergraduates.
Wes was also an avid amateur astronomer who kept up with latest developments in the field. He served as faculty advisor to the GU Astronomical Society and he enthusiastically co-mentored undergraduate research projects in astronomy and astrophysics.
One of the hallmarks of Wes’s career was that he was a calculator. Whether for a class, or for research, he never shied away from any calculation. Difficult or easy, long or short, he would see them through to the end, often checking them thrice.
Wes was devoted to his students, his family, his church, and his community. He loved talking with people and telling stories about his experiences, from escapades at Lady Gaga concerts to adventures with bow hunting. He remained in top physical shape all through his life and loved race walking and weight lifting. Wes will be sorely missed. His dynamic personality and boundless energy cannot be replaced.