Steve Gustafson

Degree: Physics PhD

Last Job: Contract Researcher and Professor


Why Physics?

When Steve first started at the University of Minnesota in 1963, physics was extremely popular. There were several hundred first-year physics majors due to excitement about several new types of technologoes, such as satellites and transistors. Most of those first-year majors didn't stick with it; by the time he graduated in 1967, there were only about two dozen left. The small department meant that they got to know each other, and the professors, quite well. "I had a great experience at the U of M, and I resolved to 'stick with physics'," says Steve.

As an undergraduate, Steve was an undergrad research assistant, and  worked on equipment to detect low-energy cosmic rays that hit earth near the magnetic North Pole (because they follow the earth's magnetic field lines). To the right is a photograph of Steve working on this equipment. He joined a U of M professor and several other research assistants on a trip during the summers of 1964 and 1965 to near the magnetic North Pole. "We saw lots of polar bears!" he says.

A Research Career

In graduate school at Duke University, Steve's reaseach focused on microwave molecular spectroscopy. He found it to be interestesting work, and it resulted in several published papers by the time he earned his PhD in 1974.

Not all university physics careers are professors! After earning his PhD until about 1990, Steve worked as a Research Physicist at the University of Dayton, mostly doing contract research on various optical phenomena for aerospace companies and government agencies. Many research reports and published papers resulted, and he enjoyed every research project.

Steve was able to work on so many different kinds of research projects during his career because of the foundation his physics education gave him. "I found that my education in physics enable me to 'jump right in' on numerous opportunities and assignments," he says.

Starting in 1990, Steve started teaching graduate courses in electro-optics, in addition to his main focus of contract research. At the end of his career, from about 2000 to 2010, Steve joined the faculty at the Air Force Institute of Technology, where his primary focus was teaching graduate courses on artificial intelligence. "Teaching was very satisfying," says Steve.

Final Words from Retirement

Steve found that being a physicist was extremely versatile. "My career in physics was diverse and enjoyable," he says. "If I could start it over, I would be glad to repeat it!"

Steve Gustafson
Two men working on electronics

Steve (left) as an undergraduate, working on a low-energy cosmic ray detector (1964)