The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Harrison M. Randall Laboratory of Physics

Among the buildings projected in the plan of construction inaugurated by President Burton in 1921 was a new building Page  1704for the Department of Physics. For many years this department, which was one of the oldest in the University, had carried on its program in very limited quarters. The need for a new building was therefore acknowledged as one of the paramount needs of the University, and the Committee of Five created by President Burton placed the building in the first group planned in the new program. In thus inaugurating a University building policy it was decided by the Regents and the Committee that the buildings for the use of the "humanities" would be erected whenever possible in the south and west sections of the campus, while those for the "sciences" would be grouped in the north and east (R.P., 1920-23, p. 278-79).

Professor John F. Shepard, of the Department of Psychology, who for many years was Supervisor of Plans for University buildings, Dean John R. Effinger, of the Literary College, and Professor Harrison M. Randall, of the Department of Physics, were chosen as members of the committee for the proposed Physics Building. The plans of Albert Kahn, of Detroit, the architect, were accepted in January, 1922.

It was decided to erect the building on East University Avenue between the West Engineering and West Medical buildings, on the site formerly occupied by the old Medical Building, which had been razed in 1914. It was estimated that the cost of construction and equipment would amount to $600,000; only a part of the building, however, was to be erected immediately. In the meantime the Regents provided, in October, 1922, for the manufacture in the University Shops and in the Physics Shop of certain equipment needed for advanced research in the new building at a cost of $25,000. It was recognized that a physics laboratory was rather like a new library, in that it would be quite useless until equipped with apparatus, the character and completeness of which measured the usefulness of the building.

President Burton asked the State Administrative Board in January, 1923, for an appropriation of $450,000, the estimated total cost of the first unit of the building, including equipment, and this was granted. It was also arranged that the construction should be done by the University's Department of Buildings and Grounds. The building, as carried on the University inventory in 1954, is valued at $463,774, and the equipment (including that in the West Physics Building) is valued at $343,820.

The building was ready for use in 1924. The President's Report for 1922-23 explained its function in the following words: "It will, as has been previously explained, be primarily a laboratory for advanced classes and for research for teachers and graduate students."

The building is simply constructed of reinforced concrete carried on regularly spaced piers and faced with brick. It has four stories as well as three basements, and is an example of an unusual method of construction for buildings of this type. It had been planned to erect a building of five stories in the restricted area assigned to it, but this did not conform to the campus plan, especially in view of the lower height of the neighboring buildings. The only solution seemed to be to go one story farther underground. As much of the work in a physics laboratory is carried on in darkened sound-proof rooms, this departure was not open to serious objection, especially since it offered the decided advantage of greater freedom from vibration and greater uniformity in temperature. A second and lower subbasement was later added to the plan, making three floors below the level of the ground. Fortunately, the location in the sand and gravel bed was ideal for such construction, offering advantageous draining facilities. Moreover, the value of the Page  1705sand and gravel removed compensated in good part for the unusual expense of the excavation. The building as constructed without the final unit is L-shaped, with a wing of 135 feet extending along East University Avenue. The main wing extends 146 feet from the east to the campus entrance. Both of these wings are 60 feet wide.

The greater part of the building is occupied by laboratories and research rooms for intermediate and advanced work, as well as offices for the staff. Considerable space is devoted to the practical applications of physics, the projects being supervised by staff members under the Engineering Research Institute. In all, there are 121 rooms, fifty-three of which are available for research purposes, while some of them are adapted for special problems. A part of the second floor of the campus wing houses the physics library.

There are two recitation rooms on the first floor and two on the second. One of these (Room 1041) seats seventy-two and serves as a small lecture room.

Inside the building, but on a separate foundation, with separate walls, is a small two-story brick building, completely enclosed, planned and used continuously from the beginning as a sound laboratory. The part on the second basement level is a reverberation room with smooth sound-reflecting walls, and the upper segment is sound proofed with highly absorbing walls. This unique facility has made possible a significant program of studies in noise reduction.

A large room two stories high was provided in the east wing, including part of the first and second basements. The original plan was to equip it for high voltage X rays, but this was never carried out. In recent times this room has proved extremely valuable as the location for a high energy synchrotron.