East Physics - Harrison M. Randall Physics Laboratory


East Physics - Randall Physics Laboratory


Among the buildings projected in the plan of construction inaugurated by President Burton in 1921 was a new building for the Department of Physics. For many years this department, which was one of the oldest in the University, had carried on its program in very limited quarters.

Professor John F. Shepard, of the Department of Psychology, who for many years was Supervisor of Plans for University buildings, Dean John R. Effinger, of the Literary College, and Professor Harrison M. Randall, of the Department of Physics, were chosen as members of the committee for the proposed Physics Building. The plans of Albert Kahn, of Detroit, the architect, were accepted in January, 1922. Construction was done by the University’s Department of Buildings and Grounds.

A University building policy was established, that put the buildings for the use of the humanities, whenever possible, in the south and west sections of the campus, while those for the sciences, would be grouped in the north and east. (Regents' Proceedings, 1920-23, p. 278-79)


East Physics - Harrison Randall Laboratory



The new Physics building was erected on East University Avenue between the New Engineering and West Medical buildings, on the site formerly occupied by the old Medical Building, which had been razed in 1914.

The building, constructed of reinforced concrete was carried on regularly spaced piers and faced with brick. It had four stories as well as three basements, and was an example of an unusual method of construction for buildings of this type. It had been planned to erect a building of five stories in the restricted area assigned to it, but this did not conform to the campus plan, especially in view of the lower height of the neighboring buildings. The only solution seemed to be to go one story farther underground. As much of the work in a physics laboratory is carried on in darkened sound-proof rooms, this departure was not open to serious objection especially since it offered the decided advantage of greater freedom from vibration and greater uniformity in temperature. A second and lower subbasement was later added to the plan making three floors below the level of the ground. Fortunately, the location in the sand and gravel bed was ideal for such construction, offering advantageous draining facilities. Moreover, the value of the sand and gravel removed compensated in good part for the unusual expense of the excavation. The building as constructed without the final unit was L-shaped, with a wing of 135 feet extending along East University Avenue. The main wing extends 146 feet from the east to the campus entrance. Both of these wings were 60 feet wide.


East Physics Building Excavation


The building was ready for use in 1924. The President’s Report for 1922-23 explained its function in the following words: “It will, as has been previously explained, be primarily a laboratory for advanced classes and for research for teachers and graduate students.”


East Physics - Harrison Randal Laboratory


Equipment needed for advanced research in the new building was manufactured in the University Shops and the Physics Shop. It was recognized that a physics laboratory was rather like a new library in that it would be quite useless until equipped with apparatus, the character and completeness of which measured the usefulness of the building.


East Physics - Harrison Randal Laboratory


The greater part of the building was occupied by laboratories and research rooms for intermediate and advanced work, as well as offices for the staff. Considerable space was devoted to the practical applications of physics, the projects being supervised by staff members under the Engineering Research Institute. In all, there were 121 rooms, fifty-three of which were available for research purposes, while some of them were adapted for special problems. A part of the second floor of the campus wing housed the physics library.

There were two recitation rooms on the first floor and two on the second. One of these (Room 1041) seated seventy-two and served as a small lecture room.

Inside the building, but on a separate foundation, with separate walls, was a small two-story brick building, completely enclosed, planned and used continuously from the beginning as a sound laboratory. The part on the second basement level was a reverberation room with smooth sound-reflecting walls, and the upper segment was sound proofed with highly absorbing walls. This unique facility made possible a significant program of studies in noise reduction.

A large room two stories high was provided in the east wing, including part of the first and second basements. The original plan was to equip it for high voltage X-rays, but this was never carried out. In recent times this room has proved extremely valuable as the location for a high energy synchrotron.

Ernest F. Barker (The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey, p.1703)

Sub-basement Randall Physics Laboratory


The East Physics Building was named in honor of Harrison McAllister Randall (’93, Ph.D. ‘02), a Physics Professor, and Director of the Physic Laboratory until his retirement in 1941.


Harrison McAllister Randall