Professor Henry Gurr

Henry Gurr - Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Henry Gurr
Professor of Physics Emeritus

The University of South Carolina Aiken | Department of Mathematical Sciences

Box 29
471 University Parkway
Aiken, SC 29801


Office Phone : Please leave message with Department Secretary, Arlene DiPietro: (803) 641-3299

Home Land Line Phone: 706 925 6401

My Cell : 803 599-8111

Science Building FAX: 803 641-3251

Office: SB322 A (Old Electronic Ballance Room)

Please call (or email) for appointment

Please remember: You can always get my above Contact Information (+ My USCA HomePage) by Googling "Professor Henry Gurr"

Oak Ridge Chart of Nuclides - Uranium238

I am pointing at the Oak Ridge Chart of Nuclides. This chart shows all the different atom centers of every chemical element. Uranium(238) is just above my finger. Uranium(238), created in super-nova fires, has a half life that is a large fraction of the age of the Universe. Whereas other radioactive nuclides created in super-nova explosions are long since gone, Uranium(238) is still here to tell the story of its creation. U(238) has a daughter product Radium(226). I spent fifteen years of my life eliminating these (and other) radioactive particles (nuclei) from the University of California-Irvine Neutrino Detector. For information on my work with the UCI Neutrino Detector, read the background section of my home page.

My Story

I grew up on a farm in North Central Ohio and have always been interested in machinery, electronics, and building things. In such interests and abilities, my brother and I both followed in the foot steps of our Father. One of my earliest recollections is the idea of building, as an artistic sculpture, a model of the atom with the electrons whizzing in orbits around the central nucleus. I wanted this sculpture to be placed at the entrance to our farm. When it came time to go to college, a good friend of the family suggested I go to Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1959, I achieved a BS in Engineering concentrating in electronics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and instrumentation. During the last year of my engineering training, I did not desire to go out in the world to make money and had discovered that the material world, as we know it, is composed both of particles and waves! Since I wanted to learn more about this seeming contradiction, I entered graduate school in physics at Case. As a new graduate student, I had to choose a PhD advisor. The only professor who needed graduate students was the new chairman of the Physics Department, Dr. Frederick Reines. As part of my PhD This, it was my responsibility to assist in the setup of a 200 foot long neutrino detector, in a mine tunnel 2 miles below the surface in the East Rand Proprietary Gold Mine, Johannesburg, South Africa. My PhD dissertation used the data from this detector to establish that nuclear matter is highly resistant to disintegration with a half life exceeding the cube of the age of the universe. After I received my doctorate in 1966, I continued neutrino research at one of the Savannah River Plant's nuclear reactors, near Aiken SC. This research, sponsored by the University of California-Irvine, Physics Department, established that neutrinos coming from the reactor would collide with electrons in a multi-element scintillation detector at the rate predicted by Richard Feynman's V-A Theory. It took fifteen years to eliminate overwhelming problems with nuclear radiation background, especially stray neutrons from the reactor.

During the time I was working in nuclear physics research, I became aware that our country had something like 20,000 nuclear warheads that could be delivered at intended targets in less than 40 minutes and that the Russians had the similar capability. I began to see that humanity was facing a crisis. Although I understood that one person could not make much of a difference in reducing this threat to humanity, I switched into teaching in 1975 as my way of making a small contribution.

My career at the University of South Carolina Aiken has been devoted to finding better and more satisfying ways for students to learn physics. Please see my articles:

  1. Memory, Perception,& Problem Solving -- AHA!!! --
  2. Flash of Insight (AHA) In Teaching & Tutoring
  3. My Discoveries About Student Blockage to Learning Mathematical Proportion In University Physics., 
  4. Complete Table of Proportional Quantities Fall Semester Physics.
  5. How Professors Can Provide "High-Gain Feedback" To Promote Increased Student Performance.
  6. Student Writings Concerning the Book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and 
  7. How to Learn Most Easily In Any Course + What You May Expect in Physics. + The Objectives of Physics. + Why Learn Physics?.)

Sadly missing in contemporary instruction is direct, immediate experience with physical phenomena. For this reason, my students were supplied with a vastly increased "real world experiences in their physics labs and lecture. Also I helped design and bring into being the following physical learning "experiences" at USCA:

A) The USCA Science Building has solar energy and electrical power peak-load-shedding features. Visitors who enter our building always look up at the cathedral-like high spaces in the hallways filled with striking color-coded ventilation and service pipes. They are also are struck by natural illumination from high placed windows. These windows are actually passive solar collectors which augment the building's heating in winter.

Click here to see solar energy and other energy saving features of the USCA Science Building.

Click here to read about the planning of our USCA Science Building.

B) The USCA Ruth Patrick Science Education Center likewise features solar energy and color-coded ducts and pipes. Visitors entering the building discover they are in a large sunny solar collector atrium and greenhouse filled with plants, greenery, and a colorful light bending/refracting aquarium. The beams in this building are color-coded to show load bearing "capacity" and their function in the structure of the building. Parts of the building that are normally hidden behind locked doors are exposed for visitors to see, for example, exposed elevator shaft and components, exposed phone wiring and cross connect fields, and exposed data wiring and data network electronic components. The electrical power distribution and circuit breaker panels are on display as well as the main power step-down transformer for the building.

Click here to see MY photos of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center & Etherredge Center.

Click here to see RPSEC's OWN photos of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.

C) A special feature of the DuPont Planetarium at the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center is a giant "pinhole" camera. This device called the Camera Obscura at USCA, projects a 62 foot wide upside down color image of the scenery outside the planetarium onto the planetarium dome. An absolutely fascinating image is accomplished with nothing more than a 2 inch diameter hole in one of the planetarium's exterior walls. 

D) In the entrance plaza of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center there are two large swirl-polished aluminum sculptures. These two Sundial Gnomons at USCA, make time-indicating shadows on the entrance plaza walkway.  One Sundial Gnomon is a 1.6 meter (5 feet) high Roman Sundial Wedge. As is case for all such traditional sundials, the wedge slopes up at an angle (33.5 degrees) that it points to the North Star, at our location. The other Sundial gnomon is a 5.55 meter high (16 feet) modern adaptation of the Classical Egyptian Obelisk. The Gnomon of this sundial traces  twin mirror congruent hyperbolic loci of points, one for Winter Solstice and one for Summer Solstice. The alert astronomy observer will realize these "traced out" shadow "locus of points", are directly related to the apparent conical motion of the sun, as it moves through the daytime sky. Thus the Gnomon traces out, the projected intersection of these two sun locus cones with the flat the plaza walkwayOther features of the Ruth Patrick Education Center building may be viewed here. More Sun Dial info here. To learn more about this type of sundial search the internet for [polar sundial].

E) The creation of the above mentioned USCA Camera Obscura was inspired by the Owen Barfield, a British author, poet, philosopher, and linguist; in his Barfield's essay called "The Harp and the Camera". This essay, somewhat later, also inspired the USCA Aeolian Harp. (See link below.)  Whereas the Camera Obscura demonstrates fundamental principles of light and image formation, the Aeolian Harp demonstrates principles of wind instability and sound formation. Also demonstrated in the Aeolian Harp are principles of resonance, modes of vibration, and musical acoustics.

These two modern-day Physics demonstrations also are recreations of former "historical stages" in the literary and psyco-social development of our present day culture, with it's modern ways of thinking. Mr. Barfield, in this essay, is quite careful to help us understand how The Harp and Camera are really "historical stages" of the modern human consciousness!!  In fact, overall, Mr. Barfield showed me ample evidence that people of earlier times were conscious of innumerable living beings in their surroundings. This is considerably different from we who live in the "modern" 21st Century, where we see only inert physical processes and psychological processes as mechanism. My article explains Barfield's thesis: How our moderm mind differs from the mind of pre-historic people.

The USC Venture Grant provided the funding for sculptor Rodney Carroll, of Baltimore, Maryland, to build the 3.77 meter high (12 foot) USCA Wind Harp, called the Venture Grant Aeolian Harp The harp will be placed on campus for public viewing and educational purposes on special occasions. (A discussion of Owen Barfield's "Evolution of Consciousness" with several passages from "The Harp and the Camera" essay is here.

I first read the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) back in ~1984. Although I was intrigued at the time, many additional years of teaching (and intensive research on teaching, learning, and creativity) passed until I really began to see ZMM's full significance and deep and revolutionary truths! I found very important truths: Valid for myself as a science teacher, as well as my science students. (For exmple see in wikipedia article, link above, where it says "Pirsig shows us how we should pay attention and learn: ... ") ZMM was used as an auxiliary text for six years both of my physics classes.  Written in a manner that is accessible and maintains interest, ZMM covers science, philosophy, scientific trouble shooting, problem solving, the process of scientific discovery, building the structure of science, and more. For any alert literate adult (especially students), ZMM book forces the reader to think a great deal about themselves, their values, and their whole life: What are they doing in life. Why they are at an "institution of higher learning" or "on a job"? In general ZMM supports "The Student" whether he or she is in a "Formal University Education" or in   "The School of Hard Knocks"! ZMM shows "The Student", how it is necessary to thoughtfully combine science and humanities and personal values in any endeavor. In ZMM we are shown how best to work with (and within) our own God given psychological and material resources. For example, the role of the “flash of insight”, analogy, and metaphor are shown to be fundamental to human thinking and learning. Author Pirsig points out how proper learning is often prevented in our present day culture, and most especially in our schools and universities. Author Robert Pirsig patiently instructs us, how to learn and improve our lives despite the deficiencies of our upbringing and society around us. As shown by my students' own writing, the reading of this book was a demonstrably successful way to improve student attitude about learning, with corresponding improvements in actual student performance. Clearly significant university learning improvement was achieved by students' reading of ZMM. Samples of USCA student writings showing improved learning attitude as a result of reading the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" are here.

As I used book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance with my students, a repeated hankering would never go away: "I desired to retrace the route of the Father and Son from Minneapolis to San Francisco. So the summer of my retirement 2002,  I decided to do ZMM "literary research". I would seek (and photograph) the "Sights and Scenes" described in Robert Pirsig's book. The following WebPages report my discoveries:
   Teaching, Learning, and Exploration of the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,"
   Photo Albums Illustrating "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," and author Robert Pirsig.
   My older site describes my ZMM Research Plans and Shows Evidence That Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, now Rated as One of the Top 100 Books of the Century, Is Now Most Certainly a Classic!!


Many thanks to Mathematics professor Frederick ("Rick") Houston, who founded the Computer Science Department and Computer Science Teaching Department here at USC Aiken. Professor Houston also was instrumental in setting up the Mathematics Faculty home pages. I remember well Professor Houston inviting me to his office to prepare my USC professor's home page: I dictated the words and he quick as a wink typed them in and was done. Rick Houston is a marvel! I thank him for his wonderful assistance. 

Most Recent Teaching Assignments

Spring 1999 Semester

Fall 1998 Semester


Case Western Reserve University, BS in Engineering Science (Electronics, Electrical, Mechanical, Instrumentation) 1959.

Case Western Reserve University, MS in Physics (Bubble Chamber Motion Detector and Scattering of Light) 1961.

Case Western Reserve University, PhD in Physics (Neutrino Research, Gold Mine, Johannesburg, South Africa) 1966.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on the ZMM Quality Pages and Photographs, are entirely those of the author, Henry Gurr. The contents of the page have not been approved by the University of South Carolina Aiken.

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Last updated Tuesday, 26 March 2018.

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