2. Borelius and Engineering Physics

Gudmund Borelius, visionary, researcher, teacher

Engineering Physics 1932

The chair in physics was opened in 1919 following the death of Per af Bjerkén. Among the four applicants was Gudmund Borelius (1889-1985) from Lund where he had been an assistant to Manne Siegbahn and taken his PhD in 1915. Two of the three members of the expert committee, appointed by the faculty, placed Borelius first and one placed him second. The committee members assumed in their assessment that requirements for a physics chair at KTH should be the same as at a university. However, the faculty as well as the KTH board did not propose Borelius for the chair but Erik Holm who had been acting physics professor at KTH. Following many complaints the government finally decided in favor of Borelius who took up the chair on July 1, 1922. The physics department was located at Drottinggatan 95 until 1931. Borelius held the chair until his retirement in 1955 and was a prime mover for physics and science at KTH. The establishment of a professional school for engineering physics in 1932 was made on his initiative.

Portrait of Borelius. July 1949, David Tägtström. Photo P. Carlson.

Borelius most important achievement for KTH was the introduction of engineering physics which strengthened the standing of physics at KTH. He made field trips abroad to study engineering physics at universities and institutes of technology and authored several articles on this subject, e.g. in “Teknisk Tidskrift” 1925 where he suggests a new educational line, for engineering physics.

Borelius observes that whereas education in technology in England and USA mainly is done at universities, in Germany and the Scandinavian countries it is instead done at separate institutes of technology. In Germany, soon after the Great War, science was strengthened at the institutes of technology and education in engineering physics was introduced. Also at the Norwegian Institute of Technology at Trondheim there was a discussion to introduce engineering physics. For KTH an education in engineering physics would mean that in the last two years physics would be the main subject. Finally Borelius pointed out that the question of an educational line in engineering physics at KTH is dependent upon Swedish industry following larger industrialized countries and to a larger extent promote in-house research and development.

In 1929 Borelius suggested that the faculty should adopt the idea of an education in engineering physics, a proposal that was accepted in 1932. The government made an unusually fast decision and the engineering education started 1 July 1932. The physics department had moved into the new premises at Valhallavägen 1930/31. First only a few students were accepted to the education. In 1935 the total number of students in engineering physics was 16. Admission increased and was 45 in 1962 and 75 in 1969. The name became the section for engineering physics.

The term engineering physics could be found already within the Technological Institute: in the library at the time there was the subject group engineering physics.

Borelius' research

Borelius' field of science was metal physics. He dealt with different aspects, e.g. phase transitions in alloys. Conductivity and magnetism of metals and alloys was investigated. He published many scientific articles and books. He visited Kammerlingh Onnes (Nobel prize in physics 1913) lab in Leiden, the Netherlands and there, in the beginning of the 1930s, an absolute thermoelectric scale was established. In several articles from the early 1950s data from metal physics experiments was analyzed that helped understanding different phenomena. In 1984, at the age of 95, Borelius published an article about the magnetic transition in Nickel.

Borelius at a Friday colloqium in F01, September 1975. Lamek Hulthén is asking a question and Hans-Uno Åström listening. Photo K. Biedermann.
In 1981, at the age of 92, Borelius as sole author, publishes this paper in Physics Letters.

The Borelius medal

To commemorate Gudmund Borelius distinctive achievements for engineering physics, a Borelius medal was established in 2000 and is awarded annually.

The Borelius medal
The 2002 recipients of the Borelius medal, em prof. Nils Åslund (left) and former university lecturer Bengt-Örjan Jonsson (right) . Photo C. Johannesson.