Prizes & Awards

Robert S. Hyer Research Award

The Robert S. Hyer Research Award, of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society, will be presented each year to a recipient who must have been an undergraduate student when the research was performed. The only criterion is excellence, including potential impact in the relevant scientific community. The research must be in physics or a physics-related subject, and it must have been presented at a Texas APS meeting within the past two years by the student, who must have been a TSAPS member at the time. Nominations for the award can be made by the student’s advisor or other qualified nominators who are familiar with the work. In addition to the nomination letter, a maximum of three letters of support can be submitted either before or after presentation of the research at a Fall or Spring TSAPS meeting. Normally the recipient must be in attendance when the award is presented. Also, the award will normally not be given in two consecutive years to recipients at the same institution. Nominations will remain active for two years, or until no longer eligible. The Executive Committee will name a 3-person awards committee to choose the recipients each year. The conditions for the presentation of the award will be decided by the Executive Committee.

The recipient will receive a plaque and $1000. The award will be presented at the Fall meeting. 

Note: The requirement that the research “must have been presented at a Texas APS meeting” is satisfied if the work is presented at the SAME Texas APS meeting where the Hyer Award is conferred. I.e., research presented at earlier meetings and research presented at the current meeting are equally eligible for a Hyer Award at the current meeting. The new talks (and poster presentations) on Hyer-nominated work will be given Friday, before the award presentation.

Hyer Award Committee Chair: Prof. Lindsay King

Nominations for the 2023 awards should be received by Monday, September 25th. Each nomination should preferably be submitted as a single pdf document and must include:

  1. the completed nomination form (Nomination Form PDF),
  2. the nomination letter,
  3. up to three supporting letters,
  4. vita for the nominee, and
  5. any papers or other supporting materials.

Complete nomination packages should be emailed to Prof. Michael Kesden.

Questions regarding the submission/nomination process should also be directed to Prof. Michael Kesden.

Anson Jones Press


Photographs and portrait from Robert Steward Hyer: The Man I Knew (Anson Jones Press, Salado, Texas 1957), by Ray Hyer Brown. Original credit for the photo of Robert Hyer demonstrating the use of x-rays to faculty members at Southwestern University: Special Collections, A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.

Biography of Robert S. Hyer

Robert Stewart Hyer, scientist and university president, son of William L. and Laura (Stewart) Hyer, was born in Oxford, Georgia, on October 18, 1860. After receiving his elementary education in Atlanta he earned from Emory College an A.B. degree with first honors in 1881 and an M.A. degree in 1882. He received honorary LL.D. degrees from Central College of Missouri in 1901 and Baylor University in 1910.

Hyer followed Emory graduates Morgan Callaway, Jr., and Claude C. Cody to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. He was professor of physics (1882-1911) and, after first declining the position, served as regent [president] of the university (1897-1911). During his administration two large limestone buildings, Mood Hall and the Administration Building, were constructed; the endowment was raised to nearly $300,000; the student body increased from 400 to 1,200; and a medical college at Dallas and the School of Fine Arts in Georgetown were established. With the apparent blessings of the 1910 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Hyer attempted to move the university to Dallas. This effort caused a major split in the trustees and faculty and brought about Hyer's resignation in June 1911. Later that year he moved to Dallas to become one of the founders of Southern Methodist University, where he served as president from 1911 to 1920. He was also professor of physics at SMU until his death.

After attending a Harvard lecture series on electricity and electromagnetic waves in 1891, Hyer returned to Georgetown and in 1894 transmitted a wireless message from his lab to the city jail, a distance of about a mile. This experiment was independent of and nearly simultaneous with those of M. G. Marconi. Hyer's X-ray experiments in 1896 and 1897, only two years after Roentgen's discovery, were demonstrated to scientific and medical groups throughout Texas. His scientific writings were widely recognized. Just before his death Hyer made patent applications to protect his invention of the resistograph, an instrument he used to locate oilfields in Ward County and in West Texas near Wink. In the Fall of 1928 the Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Emory University elected him to membership for his outstanding scientific achievements.

Hyer was a lay member of the general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1898, 1902, 1906, and 1911 and a member of the ecumenical conferences in London (1902) and Toronto (1910). He was a member of the general board of education of the Methodist Church (1898-1910) and after 1902 a member of the education commission. His first wife, Madge Jordan of Georgia, whom Hyer married in 1883, died in childbirth at her mother's home in 1884. To his second marriage, to Margaret Lee Hudgins in 1887, were born three children. Hyer died on May 29, 1929.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ray Hyer Brown, Robert Stewart Hyer, the Man I Knew (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1957). Ralph W. Jones, Southwestern University, 1840-1961 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973).

Robert Lewis Soulen

The Handbook of Texas Online is a joint project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association.

Hyer as a Scientist

The following material is taken from To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University, 1840-2000 (Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, 2006), by William B. Jones, Professor Emeritus of History and University Historian.

Two special curator committees on academic matters had been appointed at the meeting just completed (1897). One dealt with the library, the other with the Natural Science Department. The purpose was to determine what might be done to enhance the work of each area. The library had been upgraded significantly in 1895 when the old chapel was refitted for library and reading room purposes. Homer S. Thrall, one of the most intellectual Methodist ministers in service, had also willed his library to the university. Two years later the curators reported that the library contained 2,300 volumes.[i] The library committee made several suggestions duly adopted by the curators about how to further develop the library.

The other committee dealt with the Natural Science Department. Here its members came into contact with Robert S. Hyer, who, during the 1890’s, had brought Southwestern into the world of international research in physics. In the summer of 1891, Hyer had gone to Harvard to attend a series of lectures on the latest developments in physics. The subject matter for the lectures was the work of James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) on electromagnetism at Cambridge, England, succeeded by that of Heinrich Rudolph Hertz (1857-1894) on radio waves at the University of Bonn, Germany. Returning home, Hyer repeated the experiments of Hertz. By adding a transmitter and a receiver to the Hertzian apparatus, he discovered he could send and receive messages by wireless. By 1894 he was sending messages from his laboratory on the old campus to the jail in Georgetown, a distance of over a mile. According to some observers, this result anticipated that of Marconi by a year. He did not, however, publish his results or seek a patent.[ii]

By 1894-95 physicists such as Wilhelm Konrad Röntgen (1845-1923), professor of physics at the Royal University of Würtzberg, Germany, were turning their attention to a new discovery called the X-ray. Hyer was quite excited by this research and worked on it diligently in his laboratory. He assembled an X-ray machine for himself by ordering parts from a scientific supply house. “He built a fluoroscope using heavy card board for the sides, lining the inside with black cotton flannel, whittling a handle from a cedar post.” It is this machine that can be seen on the table in a well-known laboratory picture taken of him and the rest of the faculty.

Hyer learned that these rays would not penetrate bone or metal, leading to all sorts of possible uses for the machine. People in Georgetown and in neighboring towns became excited over the machine, and Hyer used it on several occasions to help physicians diagnose fractures and to locate foreign objects in the body. “For these pictures,” says his daughter, “he would charge one dollar, the price of the plates.” When Dr. A. C. Scott, of the Scott & White Sanitarium at Temple, got an X-ray machine in 1897, he invited Dr. Hyer to illustrate what he had learned about it from his own experiments. He finally wrote a monograph on “electric waves” that was published in The Journal of the Texas Academy of Science.[iii]

Little wonder that the curator committee gave a glowing description of his work when it reported back to the assembled curators in full meeting. It said:

. . . Your committee is unanimous in the opinion that if Prof. Hyer had the facilities he ought to have, he could easily put our university in the very front rank on the lines of his special department. . . . . The results of his patient study and careful investigation are sought for and complimentary notices are given both in England and America. This department needs apparatus. So much more could be done if it were well equipped.[iv]


  1. Jones, SU 1840-1961, p. 211.
  2. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 36-37.
  3. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 38-41. The Special Collections section of the SLC possesses an X-ray picture made by Hyer in the summer of 1899. Presidents, Score Correspondence 1947-49.
  4. SU Curators-Trustees 1869-1912. May 28-June 1, 1897, pp. 326-328.

Hyer's Personality and Character

The following material is taken from To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University, 1840-2000 (Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, 2006), by William B. Jones, Professor Emeritus of History and University Historian.

Hyer was a many-sided person, a first-class scientist but also a dedicated churchman, friendly to everyone but also somewhat “aloof and reticent,” a leader because of his natural talents but an unwilling one, a theoretical thinker who turned out beautiful woodcarvings with his hands. Like Mood, he was somewhat formal in his contacts with other people, though his careful attention to everyone in conversation and his unfailing desire to be helpful dispelled any notion that he was proud. When once asked why he listened to other people so intently, he replied: “No one can know all sides of a subject, and often you can learn something new by just listening to very simple people.”[1] He was “a Southern gentleman of the ‘old school,’” says his daughter, “dignified . . . in both manner of speech and dress.” Nevertheless, he had a subtle but very keen sense of humor.[2] Though the students in private called him “King Bob,” he was popular with them. When he and his wife returned home from the Ecumenical Conference in London in 1901, where he was a delegate, they gathered at the depot at 11:30 p.m. to shout, “Welcome home, King Bob!”[3]

In spite of the fact that Hyer was a skilled writer, he disliked writing letters and did not leave the wealth of intimate information about himself available today on Mood and Cody from their letters. One of the first things he did as Regent was to purchase a typewriter and to employ Alec Mood, Dr. Mood’s youngest son, as secretary to use it. Thereafter he dictated most of his letters. He liked all of the new inventions except the telephone. He liked to talk to people face-to-face.[4]

His reserved manner was in part the result of a fractured upbringing, making him somewhat reticent to expose himself too quickly or too openly. Though he spent his early years at home with his family in Charleston, South Carolina, he had been born in Oxford, Georgia, the home of his mother, who returned there to give birth to her son. The daughter of a Methodist minister, Laura Stewart Hyer taught him early that the two most important things in life were religion and education.[5] He joined the two in his professional life. At Southwestern he would receive many offers to leave his ill-paid professor’s position for one more lucrative elsewhere, twice being courted by the University of Texas. He refused both times, “his reason being that he believed his place in education was through the church—rather than the state.”[6]

A major turning point in his life was the death of his mother on his 14th birthday, October 18, 1874. During her long illness, his grandmother Hyer in Atlanta cared for him and his sister. He received his elementary education while with her. After his mother’s death, his father, a railroad engineer, apprenticed him to a watchmaker and engraver in Atlanta. He learned to engrave and to do lettering in gold and silver. His Uncle Joe, however, his mother’s brother, felt that his intelligence called for him to be more than a tradesman and made it possible for him to leave the apprenticeship. He took him into his home at Oxford, where he was a professor at Emory College. Young Bob entered Emory and lived for five years with his uncle’s family.[7]

At Emory he became an outstanding student. He graduated with first honors in the class of 1881. The records show that out of seventy grades, none was below 97, and forty-three were 100. He became an assistant in physics and received his master's degree in that field after two summer sessions. Though he and his father saw little of each other, William Hyer was proud of his son and gave him a railroad watch as a graduation present—closed face, yellow gold, very thick, with a gold chain. Bob was proud of the gift and carried it the rest of his life.

Though he had been reared under the strict religious influence of the Stewart family, he did not feel converted according to the Methodist understanding of his era until his senior year in college. He joined the church one spring evening during “a protracted meeting.” The text of the preacher on that occasion, “The harvest is past; the summer is ended and we are not saved,” was one of his favorites for the rest of his life. He taught a Sunday School class most of his life and asked to teach two classes in Bible at SMU. in addition to his physics classes after his resignation there as President.[8]

Hyer’s Intellectual Formation
Hyer had decided long before he graduated from Emory that he would pursue a scientific career and followed a path leading to it in his studies. Nevertheless, he was unique in one particular. In a day when many Christians anathematized Darwin, he was a devoted Darwinist. Ray Hyer Brown says that she heard him remark several times that “he considered it [Origin of Species] the greatest scientific work in English.” She quotes a passage from Dr. Herbert Gambrell, an SMU. professor, about it.

As a boy he [Hyer] had displayed unusual mechanical ability, but it was in college that he chanced upon the book that was to fix his determination. The book was Darwin's “Origin of Species,” which was published in England some twenty years before. It had created a great furor in Great Britain, and it was destined to bring about terrific struggles between dogmatic theologians and scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. To young Hyer it was a door leading into another world. He read the book and re-read it. He once told me that there was a time when he could have substantially reproduced the entire work from memory. His mind was made up. He would be a professor of science. He would apply the method of Darwin to the teaching of science, but not in a great university. His life was to be spent among the people of the South, and in colleges of his own denomination.[9]

Mrs. Brown says that she has been told that while Regent McLean used to preach against evolution in chapel, Dr. Hyer would be explaining it in his geology classes. Some of the preachers over the state became agitated about his teaching of evolution, and, after his election as Regent, one of them circulated a petition to have him discharged from the University and from the Church on grounds of heresy. Whether or not it was ever presented is unknown, but the Board of Curators, taking note of the disturbance, addressed the issue at its midyear meeting in 1900. The following resolution was unanimously adopted.

Whereas rumors have been circulated in certain sections of our state concerning instruction given in the department of Natural Science and

Whereas we have heard the fullest and frankest statement on the part of the professor [Hyer] of that department concerning his methods and substance of teaching showing the harmony between God's two books, Nature and Revelation,

Therefore be it Resolved that in the opinion of this Board of Curators the method of instruction in the department of Science is reverential towards the Bible as the revealed will and word of God and not in conflict with the fundamental teachings of our holy religion, and constantly recognizes the Scriptures as the only and sufficient rule of our faith and practice.[10]

One of his former students, says Mrs. Brown, told her that the greatest sermon she ever heard was one delivered by Hyer entitled “Why I as a Scientist, believe in God.”[11]


  1. Ray Hyer Brown, Robert Stewart Hyer: The Man I Knew (Salado: The Anson Jones Press, 1957), p. 24.
  2. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 179-180.
  3. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, p. 94. Mrs. Brown, working from memory rather than records, dates this incident to 1903. Records do not indicate such a trip in 1903, and it must have occurred after their return from the trip to the Ecumenical Conference in London, as indicated by Ralph Wood Jones, Southwestern University 1840-1961 (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Co., 1973), p. 218.
  4. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 65, 89.
  5. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, p. 18.
  6. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, p. 44.
  7. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 19-21.
  8. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 22-24.
  9. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, pp. 42-43. Ray Hyer Brown, Regent Hyer’s daughter, received a Diploma in Expression from Southwestern in 1910.
  10. SU Curators-Trustees 1869-1912. May 25-28, 1900, p. 358.
  11. Brown, Hyer: The Man I Knew, p. 43.

Past Recipients 

2019 2014 2010
2018 2013 2009
2017 2012 2008
2015 2011 2007

The nature of the Hyer Awards was changed in 2021.

Robert S. Hyer

Nominees for and holders of APS Honors (prizes, awards, and fellowship) and official leadership positions are expected to meet standards of professional conduct and integrity as described in the APS Ethics Guidelines. Violations of these standards may disqualify people from consideration or lead to revocation of honors or removal from office.