Herb Broida Aligns Laser Optics
Herb Broida Aligns Laser Optics

Broida Hall @ 50

Herbert Broida and the Early Days of the UCSB Physics Department

In 1963, Herbert Broida (1920-1978), a distinguished molecular spectroscopist, left the National Bureau of Standards to join 16 colleagues in UCSB’s newly created Department of Physics.

The Department had been founded in 1960, with members Paul Barrett (Chair), Leondard Hall, Peter Redmond, Bill Walker, and Alan Williams. In 1963, UCSB also had a new Chancellor, Vernon Cheadle. A colleague who had earlier informed the faculty of the department about Herb's interest in an academic career had said that if Herbert Broida came to Santa Barbara, the Physics Department would never be the same. But at the time, no one predicted that the UCSB Physics Department would become one of the most distinguished in the world in just a couple of decades.

Herb Broida in the Lab
Herb Broida in the Lab

The Department was originally housed in Sycamore Hall, a World War II Marine barracks. There, Broida played a central role in the early development of the Department with his mantra that “we will only hire people better than ourselves.” He worked tirelessly to design and plan the building that now bears his name.

At UCSB, Broida created a molecular physics laboratory renowned throughout the world for research in combustion-energy exchange, chemi-luminescent reactions, laser-induced photo-luminescence, and excitation spectroscopy. Broida was one of the first to realize and use the potential of lasers for the study of molecules.

Stricken with polio as a child, Broida had recovered to become an Eagle Scout. He climbed more than twenty of the highest peaks in Colorado while at the NBS. His untimely death in a hiking accident in 1978 cut short the career of someone who will be remembered not only as a remarkable scientist, but also as a teacher with an extraordinary devotion to his students.