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Teaching & Leadership

Keith Macadam (2nd row, 2nd from left) in graduate school at Harvard with the research group led by Professor Norman Ramsey (standing, 5th from right.

Keith B. MacAdam was born in Rochester, N.Y., attended Swarthmore College, earned a doctorate in Physics at Harvard in 1971, and came to UK as an assistant professor in 1977. He built a campus-based research program in experimental atomic-molecular-optical physics with students and post-docs supported by the National Science Foundation and the Research Corp. MacAdam’s research was widely recognized in the international physics community, focusing on crossed-beam collisions between charged particles and laser-excited atoms in highly excited “Rydberg” states. He was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1987. At UK, he taught students from first-year to graduate level, and he introduced and taught for many years a popular non-majors’ physics course, “How Things Work.”.

Keith served as Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy from 1997 to 2001. This was a period of considerable ferment in the University as, while departmental and college budgets otherwise remained extremely tight, the state government started investing in the Research Challenge Trust Fund (also known as “Bucks for Brains”). Keith was able to leverage this change into acquiring new research equipment for the Department and adding seven new faculty, including eventual Department Chair Sumit Das, whose continuing research is profiled in this issue.

Throughout his time at the University, Keith was a dedicated teacher in courses at all levels of instruction, from those for non-science majors through graduate courses. He was especially proud of a course that he developed for non-science students, “How Things Work,” which he continued to teach in retirement. In this course, he worked closely with students on projects in which they investigated the “physics” details of a piece of equipment, phenomenon, or measurement technique. He especially enjoyed projects involving his two long-time loves of the physics of music and light, developing several pieces of equipment for student use.

Keith chaired the College Executive Committee in 2007–08, among other committees. In 2014, he was inducted into the UK College of Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

“I think a liberal arts education is essential more now than ever, because we don’t know what the future brings, we don’t know the jobs that will develop, we don’t know the challenges and the technologies that will exist. Only through a liberal arts education will we be prepared for the future," he said at the time. 

Dr. MacAdam’s Hall of Fame induction video may be viewed below and at this link.