Steve Mellema ’72

Alumni and Faculty

Professor in Physics

Born and raised in the Twin Cities, I graduated from Edina High School in 1968. Before beginning my senior year there, I didn't even know what the "physics" class was, but my friends all told me to take it because, they said, "You like math, and physics uses a lot of math." My high school physics teacher that year, Mr. William Jepson, was a huge influence in my life. I still remember how empowering it felt when I first learned that one could use mathematics and physical reasoning to make accurate predictions about how systems in the world would behave. That feeling remains with me to this day.

I subsequently attended Gustavus, and graduated in 1972 with a double major in physics and mathematics. Immediately after graduation I left to join the Peace Corps in Malaysia, where I became a high school physics and chemistry teacher. All of my science teaching there was conducted in the national language, Malay. That was made possible by the superb language instruction we received during our Peace Corps training. I extended my service there twice, spending four full years as a volunteer teacher, and then two more years as a teacher trainer, providing technical training for the next two batches of incoming Peace Corps science teachers. The years I spent in Malaysia have given me both a lasting interest in other cultures (and those of Asia in particular) and the firsthand knowledge that international understanding and cooperation can best be fostered one-on-one, at a personal level, as is done in the Peace Corps.

Returning to the USA in 1978, I joined the graduate program in physics at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and got involved in experimental neutron scattering measurements as well as using the first generation of supercomputers to carry out microscopic optical model calculations of nuclear scattering processes. I received my Ph.D. in physics from Ohio University in 1983, but stayed on for another year as a half-time physics instructor and a half-time post-doctoral research associate.

In 1984 I took a job as a post-doctoral research associate with the experimental nuclear physics group at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. In my two years there I worked on experiments in radiative capture using polarized beams. The common thread from my doctoral and post-doctoral research which I most loved was the fact that, at each of these small nuclear physics laboratories, I was completely in charge of the experimental setup and data analysis. I ran and configured everything from the ion source through the accelerators and beam lines to the targets, detectors and subsequent electronics. The challenge of maintaining such a complex system throughout an experiment was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had.

In 1986 I came back to my alma mater to join the physics faculty, and in the years since then have taught almost every course in our physics curriculum, courses on the history and philosophy of science, and courses on Asian cultures including three study-abroad courses to Malaysia. I remain passionate about physics and about education in the liberal arts tradition. I have one of the best jobs in the world - working alongside brilliant, dedicated colleagues across the College to teach smart, hard-working students about the workings of the Universe.


B.A. Gustavus Adolphus College, 1972; Ph.D. Ohio University, 1983

Areas of Expertise

Experimental Nuclear Physics and Islam

Courses Taught

Synonym Title Times Taught Terms Taught
PHY-102Astronomy Lab182015/SP, 2013/SP, 2012/SP, 2011/SP, 2009/SP, 2008/SP, 2007/SP, 2006/SP, and 2005/SP
PHY-102Astronomy, Cosmology, and Astrophysics102015/SP, 2013/SP, 2012/SP, 2011/SP, 2009/SP, 2008/SP, 2007/SP, 2006/SP, 2005/SP, and 1999/SP
PHY-221Classical Physics II Lab92004/SP, 2002/SP, 2001/SP, 2000/SP, and 1999/SP
PHY-196Cosmic Universe Lab82015/FA, 2014/FA, 2013/FA, 2012/FA, and 2011/FA
PHY-271Electronics and Instrumentation Lab62016/SP, 2015/SP, 2013/SP, 2012/SP, 2011/SP, and 2009/SP
CUR-260Natural World62013/FA, 2012/FA, 2011/FA, 2010/FA, 2006/FA, and 2003/FA
PHY-390Quantum Mechanics52013/FA, 2012/FA, 2011/FA, 2005/FA, and 2004/FA
PHY-201Classical Physics I Lab52008/FA, 2007/FA, and 2006/FA
PHY-220Classical Physics II52004/SP, 2002/SP, 2001/SP, 2000/SP, and 1999/SP
PHY-305Experimental Modern Physics Lab42010/FA, 2005/FA, 2004/FA, and 2003/FA
PHY-305Experimental Modern Physics42010/FA, 2005/FA, 2004/FA, and 2003/FA
PHY-370Advanced Math Methods42008/SP, 2006/SP, 2005/SP, and 2004/SP
PHY-270Electronics and Instrumentation32013/SP, 2012/SP, and 2011/SP
PHY-200Classical Physics I32008/FA, 2007/FA, and 2006/FA
PHY-210Fortran and C++32008/JN, 2006/JN, and 2000/JN
PHY-300Mechanics32001/FA, 2000/FA, and 1999/FA
CUR-360Natural World32001/FA, 2000/FA, and 1999/FA
PHY-206Mechanical Univ Lab22016/SP and 2015/SP
PHY-195Cosmic Universe22015/FA and 2014/FA
PHY-350Electromagnetic Theory12016/SP
IDS-253Tropical Ecology12014/SP
IDS-252Malaysia Religious Exp12014/SP
IDS-251Malaysia Experience12014/SP
IDS-250Bahasa Malaysia I12014/SP
PHY-101Physical World for Elementary Education Majors12010/JN
NDL-107Chinese Film Studies12009/JN
PHY-144Special Topic: Superstring/M-Theory12007/SP
NDL-134Malaysia Culture12004/JN
PHY-330Nuclear Physics12001/JN
PHY-399Senior Seminar11999/FA

Courses prior to Spring semester 1999 are not displayed.