Longtime physics professor Dr. B.J. Bateman remembered for dedication to students, science

Dr. Bateman served the University and its students for over 40 years.

Dr. Bateman served the University and its students for over 40 years.

A fixture in Troy University’s physics department for 45 years, Dr. B.J. Bateman is fondly remembered by his colleagues for his dedication to his students—and his sometimes-unorthodox teaching methods.

Born in Panama City, Florida, on March 10, 1943, Dr. Bateman passed on August 5. He spent his childhood living throughout Alabama and Florida and attended Chipola Junior College before transferring to Florida State University where he met his wife, Betty. He earned his Ph.D. in physics with a focus on cosmic radiation from Texas A&M University before making the move to Troy in the early 1970s.

During his tenure at TROY, Dr. Bateman served as the Director of the State Junior Academy of Science, a U.S. Army program that gave out scholarships to high school science students who were pursuing science degree. He also participated in the NASA Jove project, doing research at the Argonne National Lab in Chicago, Illinois, and at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, during the summers. 

Dr. Michael Woods, now retired from the University, met Dr. Bateman in January 1989 when he was first hired. Considering their offices were only one floor apart, they saw each other frequently throughout the College of Arts and Sciences building.

Woods remembers his friend as positive, outgoing and funny.

“I was talking to a colleague that has retired who was in the same department as Dr. Bateman and had known him since he came in 1970. He said, ‘You know, all the years I’ve known B.J., I’ve never heard him say one negative thing about anyone,’” he said. “And I started thinking about it and I haven’t either. He was always positive, always laughing. Everyone liked him. He had a good sense of humor.”

A 2019 staff photo of the chemistry and physics department.
A 2019 staff photo of the chemistry and physics department. Dr. Bateman is pictured bottom row, second from the right.

That sense of humor extended to his teaching methods. Dr. Bateman once got Woods to lie on a bed of nails to demonstrate how the distribution of weight would allow him to remain unharmed.

“As a physicist, he would do these weird things, and he got me one time,” he recalled. “He and Dr. Omasta got me to come to the hallway in the third floor, and they had this piece of plywood and it had all of these number 16 nails nailed through it with the sharp ends up. They said it was fine, and I knew that scientifically it was supposed to work, but I insisted they do it first. Of course, Dr. Bateman did it. 

“He laid down, he got up and there was no blood. But I thought, ‘Let me see your back.’ So he pulled his shirt up and you could definitely tell where the nails were, but the way it distributed so equally it doesn’t puncture the skin. I did try it and it wasn’t bad at all.”

Dr. Bateman also had a unique way of teaching physics concepts, like the time he had students drop raw eggs down the third floor stairwell to see how well the cushions they’d devised had worked.

“He would have the students take raw eggs and they were supposed to cushion their fall to see how they could prevent them from breaking,” Woods said. “It was a mess on the first floor.”

Dr. Govind Menon, physics professor, Director of the School of Science and Technology and Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, first met Dr. Bateman when he became a TROY student in 1987. One of Menon’s favorite memories as his student was taking exams.

“He would hand out exam questions and walk out of the classroom,” he said. “Students talked and discussed the exam because we all knew when he was coming back into the classroom—he had a pocket full of jingling change that informed us of his return.”

As his colleague, Menon said Dr. Bateman was a true believer in science, always working on a project with the sole intention of discovery, not promotion. He was particularly interested in solar cells in recent years.

“Although he never really did research, he tinkered with physics. Using his own money, he would buy solar panels and play with them to see how they could be used more effectively,” he said. “And Dr. Bateman, being a low-key person, he never really took the trouble to write it down. I believe there could have been a journal paper or two in it.”

An archived photo of Dr. Bateman from his early years at TROY.
An early 1970s photo of Drs. B.J. Bateman, Edward Teller and Eugene Omasta.

Menon graduated from TROY in 1991 and returned as an employee in 1996 and credits that move to Dr. Bateman, a member of the search committee that hired him.

“This was before the days of the internet, so we didn’t have any contact for the years I was away, but he still remembered me,” he said. “Through the many years I’ve worked with him as colleagues, we’ve worked well together. And even when I became Chair years later, I still called him Dr. Bateman. He was never B.J. to me; he was always Dr. Bateman. We were friends, we were informal, but he was still Dr. Bateman.”

Although it’s been nearly 40 years since the nail board was created, Menon said they still use it in classes. And although he’d retired, Dr. Bateman remained a fixture in the department, too.

“He would come here and spend time in the department, talk to students,” he said. “He helped the students quite a good bit. He was engaged in teaching full time. He was very dedicated to his students, and, more than that, he was just all around a good guy.”

Dr. Bateman spent his entire professional teaching career at TROY. Woods said he was continually mentoring students that needed extra help and spent many late nights in the study science lab.

“There are faculty that really want to do the research, and there are faculty that really want to teach and he did both,” he said, “but I feel certain he would say he had a passion for teaching and for the students. He wanted them to do well and he was willing to help them if they wanted extra help.

“He loved it here, and he loved his students.”