Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 18 (June 1966): 51.

On November 19, 1965, Dr. Frank Allen, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Manitoba died at the age of 91. He rests from his labours and his works follow him.

A descendent of the Tuttles who came from London, England, on the Planter, the vessel following the Mayflower, Frank Allen was born in N e w Brunswick, his later ancestors having moved into Canada among the United Empire Loyalists.

He graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1895 with highest honours in Physics and Chemistry and a Gold Medal in Latin, and was appointed High School Principal the same year at the remarkably early age of 21. In 1&97 he received his M.A. from New Brunswick, in 1900 his A.M. from Cornell, and in 1902 his Ph.D. also from Cornell, the last for work on physiological optics, a subject which interested him for the rest of his life. It might well have been otherwise for at Cornell he became interested in the newly discovered thermionic diode but allowed himself to be dissuaded by his professor from investigating the effect of adding a third or grid, electrode as developed by Lee de Forest a few years later.

After a short period of high school teaching, he accepted the founding chair of physics in the new University of Manitoba in 1904 and remained there all his life, serving as Head of the Physics Department until his retirement in 1944. He was elected to Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada in 1912 and was awarded the Society's H. M. Tory Gold Medal for Scientific Research in 1944. Other honours included honorary degrees of the University of Manitoba and the University of New Brunswick, membership in Canada's National Research Council and honorary membership in the Optical Society.

On a very small research budget, he and his students enthusiastically undertook research and in his lifetime Professor Allen contributed about 300 research papers, mainly on physiological optics and the physics of other senses, to learned journals in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He had work in preparation for publication at the time of his death.

*Brian P. Sutherland is Administrative Assistant of Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company, Montreal.

Professor Allen was not only a creative research scientist but also an inspiring teacher. A former student describes his first lecture in Physics thus:

Uneasy and diffident, I climb to the very back, the room fills, the lecture starts . . . The professor talks quietly but even where I am sitting every word is clear. Every now and again he pauses and apparently looking beyond the walls lays a fresh vision before us. Soon I forget my self-consciousness, then myself; the room fades, the very earth becomes but a speck in a great immensity beckoning for study. Within the hour I had become a physicist.

Professor Allen constantly stressed the importance of science and the excitement of discovery, while for relaxation he delighted to write and converse in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In common with many of his generation, he held vigorous religious and political beliefs. The strong scientific tradition of the Manitoba Medical School owes much of its fame to him and his influence has spread far beyond its confines.

He joined the ASA in its early days and was elected a Fellow soon afterwards. He contributed the chapter on 4,The Witness of Physical Science to the Bible" to our book "Modem Science and Christian Faith" and was the author of ASA Monograph III on "The Eye as an Optical Instrument". He was one of the Affiliation's four honorary members.

In 1903 he married Sarah Estelle, daughter of D. S. Harper. He is survived by a daughter, Lillian, Associate Professor in the School of Home Economics, University of Manitoba, and two sons, Professor John F. Allen, F. R. S., Head of the Department of Physics at St. Andrew's University in Scotland, and Mr. William A. Allen, Principal of the Architectural Association School of Architecture.