Some details on Prof. John Satterly

John Satterly (1879-1963) was an undergraduate at the Cavendish Lab during the days of J. J. Thomson. Satterly earned his D.Sc. (Doctor of Science) from the University of London. He joined the faculty of the University of Toronto in 1912, and continued there until his retirement in 1950. He was "was one of the best known and respected figures in Canadian Physics."1 His scholarly interests included the properties of solid and liquid helium, the history of physics, and the pedagogy of physics and math. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Here is a delightful story, taken from the Spring 2002 edition of the online version of the "University of Toronto Magazine". This is written by Frances Chambers, one of his students during his last years of teaching:

"DOC SATTERLY’S LIQUID AIR SHOW

First-year physics with Dr. John Satterly in 1949-50 was definitely the highlight of my studies at U of T. A little old man with failing eyesight, he had a fringe of fluffy white hair that was cut once a year, an occasion that his more than 200 students greeted with applause. Any paper not written with black ink (blue was too hard for him to see) had five marks deducted. At the beginning of the year, when he wrote an experiment on the board, he would add, 'We hope and pray' before the result. Later this was shortened to 'We h and p.' He wanted us to understand that nothing was infallible.

Doc Satterly was a great showman. Once a year he staged an hour of pure entertainment: Doc Satterly’s Liquid Air Lecture. You had to arrive at least an hour early to get in. The seats were filled, the steps were packed and every inch of standing room was used. Part of Satterly’s show was to drop a live goldfish into liquid air – which is so cold that the fish froze in a flash – then hit the fish with a hammer, shattering it like glass. It was such a great show (for all except the poor fish) that it was hard to remember it was a lecture and to take notes. The next day, the show was repeated, and many of the students returned to see it again. "

 

W.H. Watson writes [Nature, 200, 521 (1963)],
"He brought to the University of Toronto an enthusiasm for physics and the delights of experimental investigation which he retained even after he retired from active teaching in 1950....He loved England and was full of historical anecdotes of British science. He was a close personal friend of [George F. C.] Searle -- a link with [James] Clerk Maxwell. ...he was well known as a popular lecturer in Toronto, for he showed a fine spirit on fun on these occasions. His achievement is shown in the lives of those who were influenced by him."

References:
1- Biographical Note from "John Satterly fonds", University of Toronto Archives

 

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