Dr. Duane Pontius, Man of the World

Physics Extraordinaire

Eva Thomas

Dr. Daune Pontius has been a professor of physics at Birmingham-Southern for almost twenty years. After getting his undergrad at BSC, Dr. Pontius obtained his PhD in Space Physics and Astronomy from the prestigious Rice University in Texas. Before BSC, he taught at the University of Delaware for two years. At Delaware, he found teaching in the large classrooms to be “personally unfulfilling.” Dr. Pontius hated walking into a room full of students and not being able to get to know them.

“I wanted a place where I could actively engage young people on a day-to-day basis, and where I could watch light bulbs go off,” says Dr. Pontius on why he came back to BSC. “It wasn’t until I got back [here] that I realized how remarkable BSC was.”

In addition to teaching, Dr. Pontius’ research focuses primarily on the magnetic fields of the outer planets, mainly Jupiter and Saturn. He believes physics “is the most powerful thing in terms of understanding” and that it “gives you insight into the world around you.”

As an example, Dr. Pontius pulls out a bowl full of polaroid lenses popped out from many sunglasses. He then looks though each lens to see the sunlight on the windowsill reflected differently depending on the angle of the lens. It’s simple but intriguing.

Every few semesters, Dr. Pontius teaches a class called “uncommon sense.” In this course, he teaches how to take the tools learned in physics and apply them to public policy issues.

“Is it a good idea to make a regulation that requires blank? So, let’s look at the cost of that in terms of so forth and so on. And through this you learn to do calculations coarsely and quickly,” explains Dr. Pontius.

In addition to physics, Dr. Pontius is a man of many passions. He is an experienced chef, an avid sailor, and has danced for a number of ballet companies.

A fun fact about Dr. Pontius is that he once hitched a ride with the late Stephen Hawking to a conference at Cambridge where Hawking was the guest speaker.

If you’ve been on a campus tour in the past eight years, you’ll most likely recognize Dr. Pontius. When he is able, Dr. Pontius “pops out” as a tour goes through Stephens Science Center. He asks prospective students about their academic plans and references his time at the University of Delaware, selling BSC’s small classes as compared to auditorium-sized rooms in big state schools. This encounter with Southern Ambassadors has become routine for tours. Through his involvement, it is evident Dr. Pontius cares for his students and loves his alma mater.

Images taken by Elizabeth Binning and Hannah Scofield, and submitted by Daune Pontius.

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