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Physist Farrell Edwards

Beloved physics professor, respected researcher honored for dedicated service

Courtesy USU Archives

A Road Well-Traveled

Farrell Edwards Retires from Teaching after 58 Years at Utah State

In 1959, when physicist W. Farrell Edwards joined the faculty of Utah State University, a loaf of bread was about 20 cents and a gallon of gas wasn’t much more. The sci-fi thriller “Twilight Zone” debuted on (black and white) television and engineers developed the first microchip.

A lot has changed since those days, though what hasn’t is Edwards’ devotion to his students, his colleagues, his family and to USU, his academic home. But a big change came about as Edwards announced his retirement from teaching this past spring from the faculty of USU’s Department of Physics. Family and colleagues gathered to celebrate Edwards’ career and wish him well in new pursuits.

“We want you to know we are in awe of your decades of unparalleled devotion to Utah State and most especially to your students,” wrote USU President Noelle Cockett and Interim Provost Larry Smith in a congratulatory message to Edwards. “Your longevity speaks to a deep passion for physics and for sharing that passion with your colleagues and students, who you have mentored and taught with never-wavering enthusiasm.”

College of Science Dean Maura Hagan praised Edwards’ contributions, which included his role in establishing USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, serving as Physics Department head from 1966-1971 and director of USU’s Honors Program from 1988-1989. She also noted he was honored as USU’s Professor of the Year in 1977 and received Utah’s Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 2010, the state’s highest award for achievements in science.

“Yours has been a truly remarkable career and Utah State University is the better for it,” Hagan said.

Speakers also lauding Edwards’ achievements were Department of Physics head Jan Sojka, Doug Lemon, former student, retired SDL director and USU Research Foundation president, as well as colleague Doran Baker, professor in USU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Rocky Mountain Space Grant Consortium. (Baker, notably, joined USU the same year as Edwards and now, likely holds the record for USU’s longest serving faculty member.)

Highlights of the evening included musical and comical entertainment by Edwards and nine of his 10 children. Reprising his role as “Phearless Farrell the Fizisist,” the orange-caped superhero persona the professor employed, starting early in his career, to ease undergrads’ fear of physics, Edwards galloped to the rescue in a melodrama starring his daughter, Catherine Edwards Idso, as the dastardly villain and Sojka as a damsel in distress. (Science was saved.)

“Dad never takes himself too seriously,” says his son Boyd Edwards, also a USU physics professor, who served as emcee for the evening. “He’s dedicated to his students and gravitates toward original, controversial ideas for research pursuits.”

The younger Edwards praised his father’s teaching and mentoring efforts and recounted the story of a student, who struggled academically yet ultimately triumphed with the professor’s encouragement.

“Dad praises everyone’s talents and urges his students to ask deep questions, take risks, enjoy the journey and be satisfied with the result,” he says. “He’s a role model and a tremendous inspiration.”

-- Mary-Ann Muffoletto

Don Fiesinger and students

At a Spring 2017 gathering honoring his retirement, Edwards, left, holds a gift presented by USU Physics Department Head Jan Sojka, right.

Courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto