Lake Erie Center

A History of Sigma Xi at UT

by Janice Colwell

Sigma Xi UT charterModern scientific societies have been central forces behind innovation and technology since the European Enlightenment. The Society of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society of North America, consists primarily of research workers in the physical, earth, biological, medical and engineering sciences. The slogan of Sigma Xi is “Research Honorary For The Encouragement of Research, Pure and Applied.” Its formation and purpose likewise represented an attempt to overcome narrow specialization and bring together a number of disciplines to compare ideas and methodologies. From its inception in the 1950’s on the University of Toledo campus, it has served to invigorate and professionalize scientific fields and research at the University and its environs. The club’s formation also reflected a synergetic climate then emerging in the sciences.

On October 5, 1955 interested parties applied to the national organization of Sigma Xi to form a club representing the University. The origins of the club can additionally be traced to a symposium on research held at the University of Toledo. At the October 15, 1956 symposium, President Asa S. Knowles spoke on the theme of university administrative support of research. Dean Archie N. Solberg gave a talk on research then being carried out at the University, while professor Andrew Fejer, professor of aeronautical engineering, addressed current general trends in academic and industrial research.
Professor E.S. Foster served as moderator. This was to be the first of many such scientific symposia sponsored by Sigma Xi and the University of Toledo. The event likewise evidenced a strong support and concern for research on the part of UT’s upper-level administration. Dean Archie Solberg would later become chapter president of the Sigma Xi Society, direct its Research Foundation, and become the University’s Vice President for Research.

The official charter was received in 1956. The Society’s installation meeting and banquet on April 11, 1956, featured Dr. Gaynor Evans of the Anatomy Department of Wayne State University School of Medicine. Speaking on the topic of “Stresses and Strains on Human Bones,” Evans emphasized the similarity of techniques utilized by both doctors and engineers in analyzing structures and materials in their respective fields.

By the 1950’s the University had initiated serious programs of research and formed strong research links to the community. A serious research program was begun at the beginning of 1945. In February 1946 the University’s Research Division and the Anthony Wayne Research Foundation of Toledo were merged and became incorporated as a non-profit entity--The Research Foundation of Toledo. The year prior to the creation of UT’s Sigma Xi Club, the University’s first Dean of Research was appointed. The position’s goal was to seek coordination between University sponsored research and that of existing outside institutions. In 1956, Dr. John J. Turin arrived to found the University of Toledo’s engineering-physics department. By then, UT has already established a strong engineering program, especially in aeronautical-mechanical engineering and won an important research contract with the Air Force in 1949.

The University of Toledo’s commitment to building an aggressive and diverse research program was strongly supported by area business and industry. The 1956 Sigma Xi club’s approximate fifty members were made up of a majority, or about thirty employees of Toledo area companies; just over twenty stemmed from the University of Toledo scientific community. Dr. Sam Silverman, assistant professor of chemical physics and research associate at the University of Toledo, became the first president of Sigma Xi. Silverman, who received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1952, joined the growing University of Toledo faculty in 1955. When UT’s chapter of Sigma Xi was formed, Owens-Illinois Glass Company was supporting much research at the University, providing important practical information in scientific fields. Benjamin Mathias of Owens-Illinois was installed as the Club’s first vice-president. Donald J. Ewing, University of Toledo electrical engineering instructor was named secretary-treasurer.

Translated the term Sigma Xi means “Spouden Xynones” or “Companions in Zealous Research,” emphasizing a network of scholars and scholarship. The group found its purpose highly compatible with the overall mission of the University, which stressed the idea of a community of scholars, the sharing of results, and the close collaborative nature of teaching and research efforts.

The national organization of Sigma Xi, based in New Haven, Connecticut, was formed in 1886 by Cornell University students and Dr. Frank Von Vleck, their professor and mentor. From the beginning a competitive, yet complementary relationship has existed between Sigma Xi scientific researchers and those from the humanities. The first honorary societies were formed by humanities scholars to encourage and reward their research efforts. Sigma Xi sought a similar purpose and function in scientific endeavors. The overwhelming concern of the Society has been in scientific fields, especially in engineering and medicine in its various branches. Since the 1950’s, however, it has also encouraged many types of research employing scientific methods, including that in the fields of anthropology, geology, archeology, history and philosophy.

The national Sigma Xi funds award grants for scientific research. In addition to publishing its quarterly journal begun in 1913, now called American Scientist, since 1936 it has sponsored a nationwide lectureship program to promote and stimulate research and chapter membership. In 1988, active University of Toledo member and professor of chemical engineering, Dr. Gary F. Bennett, was named Sigma Xi national lecturer.

The traditional colors of the Sigma Xi society are electric blue and white. Its seal depicts a wreath and laurel, exemplifying the organization’s honorary character. Arranged as an oval, these enclose the words, “The Society of Sigma Xi,” with its motto underneath. Punctuated by ten stars, the insignia also features a lamp symbolizing the illumination brought about by research.

In 1947, a group of Sigma Xi members formed the Scientific Research Society of America (RESA). Just as Sigma Xi was organized to stimulate and support research in the university community, RESA sought to encourage government-sponsored scientific research in industry. A RESA chapter formed at Owens-Illinois is a Sigma Xi affiliate.

Scientific research at the University of Toledo received the active support of its deans and other administrators, one criterion for the elevation of Sigma Xi to official chapter status. Dr. William S. Carlson, President 1958-1972, a period of great University expansion, was a Sigma Xi member. During the 1970’s, UT’s Office of Research and External Support was created to advocate the research cause for and among the University’s faculty. The position of Vice President of Research was likewise created.

A great deal of the strength of the research at the University of Toledo sprang from the work of biologist Dr. Harold L. Allen. When he came to the University, Allen, who was appointed Dean of the Graduate School in 1979, was already active in Sigma Xi. Allen was also named to the post of Coordinator of Research, a position created in 1976. Allen stressed joint research as the means whereby the University could enhance its research funding position and especially targeted international funding opportunities. Under Allen, research monies and sources grew dramatically, becoming possibly the highest among Ohio state colleges and universities by the 1980’s. Dr. Allen was also key to the creation of the Industrial Systems Technology Applications Research Center (ISTAC), a new and diversified arm of University of Toledo research. An academic and research corporation aimed at assisting businesses and industry in developing technology, it was also formed as a cooperative effort of the state and Toledo area firms.

In applying for official chapter membership in 1975, UT Sigma Xi stressed Toledo as an “excellent civic, business and industrial laboratory,” with major glass, automotive and oil-refining industries. Chapters of Sigma Xi had also been formed at the Medical College of Ohio, Owens-Illinois, and Bowling State University and shared a joint lectureship program with the University of Toledo. Further, reflective of the scientific vitality and diversity of the region, The Technical Society of Toledo formed an umbrella organization of some twenty-six other organizations for technical scientists and engineers.

In December 1975, Sigma Xi was elevated to full chapter status under the leadership of Dr. Jimmie G. Edwards, president of the Society and professor of chemistry. Formal elevation followed the unanimous vote of the 180 chapter delegates at the Sigma Xi national meeting in Fredericksburg, Maryland. The full installation took place May 25, 1976. The departments of secondary education and engineering technology by then were within the club’s purview. Dr. Frank Walmsley, professor of chemistry and later president, served as vice-president. Dr. Demetrios Raftopoulos from the College of Engineering served as secretary-treasurer. Dr. Albertine Krohn, professor of chemistry and national president of Phi Kappa Phi and Dr. Paul Block, Jr., research professor of chemistry and publisher of The Blade, were also prominent members. Dr. Lawrence M. Kushner, national president of Sigma Xi officiated at the installation, during which Dr. Paul D. Saltman of the University of California-San Diego lectured on the topic of “Mysticism Versus Reason: A Struggle for Man’s Mind.”

During the decade of the 1960’s, the University of Toledo underwent a wave of doctoral program expansion, as well as transition from a municipal to a state institution. An internationally known program in physics and astronomy which attracted faculty and students was also well underway by the mid-sixties. Including outstanding graduate students in its organization was a goal of the Sigma Xi club from its initial organization. This was finally accomplished in May 1972, when the club attained permission to elect associate graduate student members. In 1972, the chapter possessed a compliment of approximately fifty members. That year graduate students in astronomy, physics, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, pharmacy, geography and psychology were encouraged to apply for nomination to associate membership. During the early 1970’s, Sigma Xi sponsored a series of “brown bag” lectures on various topics of members’ research to stimulate interest in the organization. Graduate student inductees, nominated and seconded by a current member, were perceived to demonstrate a high level of scholarship and potential for research. The Graduate Student Association had been publishing a scholarly journal for the humanities since 1981. In 1988 it began publishing Scientia, a collection of papers from the yearly Sigma Xi graduate student symposium begun in 1980.
The scientific symposium, examining a scientific question from varying points of view and open to the public, provided a convenient forum for Sigma Xi university and community outreach. One such symposium in 1983, “How Old is Just About Everything?” featured numerous short presentation by University of Toledo science faculty and departments on related aspects of their research. The day-long seminar drew many high school and college students, teachers, and other members of the general public.

In 1978, the University of Toledo chapter of Sigma Xi was active in establishing the annual Clement O. Miniger Memorial (later Demetrios Raftopoulos) Award for Outstanding Research. The certificate and cash prize is award yearly by Sigma Xi to a member of the UT scientific community who shows great contribution to research, with an emphasis upon recent efforts. The award was initiated to compliment the four outstanding teacher awards made yearly by the university. The first award was made to Dr. Bodo Diehn, professor of chemistry and adjunct faculty to the Medical College of Ohio. The award nominating committee is made up of the many diverse elements of the area Sigma Xi community.

Sigma Xi also provides encouragement and recognition for science pursuits through a yearly certificate and cash award to an outstanding science teacher from the community, usually at the secondary level. A Sigma Xi Service Research Award first presented in 1980 to Guenther Buenning, shop superintendent at the UT department of physics and astronomy, is awarded intermittently.

From the 1970’s onward, University of Toledo Sigma Xi members increasingly focused on community service oriented research. In this vein, The Center for Applied Research and Invention (CARI) was established in late 1976. Presided over by Chairman and Executive Director William Roll, its board of directors represented the technological divisions of the University in biology, chemistry, electronic and mechanical. A number of directors, including Dr. Roll, Dr. Jimmie G. Edwards, Dr. James L. Fry, and Dr. Demetrios Raftopoulos were active Sigma Xi scholars. Part of the University’s total research program, the Center encouraged faculty in the utilitarian use of technology as a positive force in the promotion of human welfare. The organization laid the groundwork for award-winning, useful inventions, as well as fostering the intellectual and professional development of numerous graduate students.

The University of Toledo’s early concentration and pursuit of research excellence through organizations such as Sigma Xi, with its emphasis upon practical problem-solving and community outreach, served it well in coming decades. The University developed strong and diverse science programs, including Ph.D. programs in engineering, psychology, astronomy, chemistry and physics, all re-authorized by the Ohio Board of Regents in March 1996. While the OBOR terminated a number of graduate humanities programs, a new doctoral degree and department in biomedical engineering was authorized to begin in 1997.

Last Updated: 8/18/17