By David Prete
Before the Science Lab had walls, the Dee Events Center had a foundation and the Stewart Bell Tower had ticked its first tock, a younger though equally ambitious Ronald Galli answered the call to build a physics department from scratch.
The year was 1963, and Weber State College had just transitioned from a junior college to a four-year institution named Weber State University. It was a time of uncertainty in the United States. As many as 5,500 students dotted the campus, and annual parking passes could be purchased for a dollar.
“When I started, the union building had just been built,” Galli said. “The old gym, which was then the new gym, was just being completed, and the Science Lab was still just a dream. The challenge of starting a new department and being on the ground floor of a transitioning institution was very appealing to me. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Galli, who grew up in Salt Lake City, attended the University of Utah, where he began studying physics his sophomore year. He remained at the university to earn his Ph.D., and in 1963 was approached by Paul Huish, then the divisional chair of math and physical science at WSU, about heading up the physics department at the recently renamed school.
“I had received offers from all over the country,” Galli said. “And finding anybody with a Ph.D. in physics who would be interested in going to what had been a junior college wasn’t going to be easy.”
After consulting his friend and mentor Henry Eyring, Galli arrived at a decision.
“He told me that Weber State needed me and that I needed Weber State,” Galli said. “Besides, it was a good place to start my career, and they had an excellent retirement package.”
Now, more than 50 years later, Galli remains dedicated to both teaching and spreading his love for physics with anyone willing to listen. From his nationally acclaimed study and coiled construct highlighting the angular momentum of a cat’s natural ability to land on its feet, to his latest publication with WSU physics professor Farhang Amiri demonstrating time dilation and length contraction with reflected light, Galli remains happy and active as WSU’s longest-tenured teacher.
“His classes are always full,” said Colin Inglefield, the current chair of WSU’s physics department. “It’s amazing; you’re always meeting people who’ve taken physics from Dr. Galli. He’s a great guy, and it’s great having him around.”
Ashley Jeffers, a WSU student currently enrolled in Galli’s elementary physics class, said she thinks Galli is “awesome.”
“I didn’t like physics before, and his class was one I had to take, but Dr. Galli makes it fun, and I’m really enjoying myself so far.”
Galli said he currently has no plans for retirement and is focusing his free time on a study of the principles of relativistic photon refraction.
“I could be here another 10 years, or 20 years, or even another 50 years,” Galli said. “Or I could come in tomorrow and say I’m finished and that would be the end of it. It’s nice having that option. I’ve been pleased with my time here and want to stay on as long as I can, though I might reconsider if I ever get to a point where my students are not satisfied.”