Considering how small atoms are, how are protons and electrons, etc counted? And how indeed do you know the structure inside an atom?
Professor Selim Hobart Peabody comes to the University as Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics. (He will continue to teach physics even after he becomes Regent in 1880.) The University Catalog boasts that the "Physical Laboratory" comprises "a collection of apparatus from the most celebrated European and American makers, costing over $5000 and illustrating the subjects of mechanics, pneumatics, optics, heat, and electricity."
Laboratory practice is introduced into the physics curriculum at Illinois. At this time, only two other U.S. universities offer laboratory work in physics—Stevens Institute of Technology  and Massachusetts Institute of Technology .
From the 1872/73 University Catalogue—"This subject [physics, ed.] has been amply provided for in the New Building (University Hall) by the appointment of a Physical Laboratory and Lecture Room, to which the apparatus will be removed this summer, and where the expected additional instruments necessary to fully illustrate the subject can be accommodated. In connection with the lectures, Silliman's Physics is used as a textbook; as many of the topics are more thoroughly discussed in other classes, special attention is paid to the portions remaining. The following are the main heads: Matter, Force, Motion. Properties and Laws of Solids, Fluids, and Liquids. Acoustics and Optics, with mathematical discussion of the undulations and instruments, solar and stellar spectra, etc. Magnetism. Electricity. Chemical Physics is given in a special course of lectures."
As a cornerstone of engineering education, Dean and Professor Stillman Robinson introduces and teaches a course in physics, believing that a knowledge of physics is fundamental to the education of every engineer.
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