Faculty You Should Know: Cliff Chancey

Professor Cliff Chancey's passion for physics is evident. He's interested in complex subjects like nanotechnology and molecular optics, he has studied biophysical modeling and neuroscience, and he's dedicated to the state's K through 12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives.

However, one of his interests isn't quite like the others - his love for medieval history.

"As a sophomore, I was looking for an elective to fit in with my physics and math courses. I had taken Liberal Arts Core-type courses in American history and world history but never a more focused history course," says Chancey.

A course on early medieval Europe happened to fit in his schedule, so he decided to register, and his love for medieval history was born.

Chancey says, "The idea and excitement of investigating documents to understand history started for me with this course."

Chancey enjoyed his class so much, he continued his studies of medieval history, and he still performs research and writes papers on the subject today.

Most people wouldn't put physics and history together, but Chancey sees many similarities between the two. He feels his work as a theoretical physicist is closely related to his work as a historian.

According to Chancey, "Theoretical physicists try to understand patterns in experimental data. This can be hard because no experimental process is perfect; when something new in science is discovered, there can be many different experimental reports, not all of them consistent."

Chancey says that a theorist has to consider the evidence he has, and then use the best pieces to try to form an overall picture within the established structure of theoretical physics.

"Medieval history offers a similar challenge," says Chancey. "The available documents are those that have survived, and they may not form a representative sample for the place and time period. Even so, the goal is to weigh the available documentary evidence, and to write an historical narrative built from the documents while keeping faith with the wider context of the time and place." 

Currently, Chancey is dividing his time between a research calculation in condensed matter physics and the study of a medieval sheriff of Huntingdonshire in England. Despite his busy schedule, this physics professor is devoting time to both of his loves, no matter how different.