Those engaged in the discipline of physics have as their goal the discovery, elucidation, and application of the laws that govern the interactions of matter throughout the physical universe. In its most abstract form, physics is a search for the forces of nature and the source of the presently known fundamental forces of gravitation, electricity, and magnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear interactions, and for the elementary particles from which all matter is formed. Physics provides a description of complicated phenomena in terms of a few simple principles and laws.
Physicists also use their knowledge of fundamental principles to solve more concrete problems. Problems in understanding and utilizing the properties of semiconductors, metals, and ceramics; in the theory, design, and applications of lasers; in applications of the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter, and in the theory and design of modern electronic instrumentation, among many others, are amenable to solution using the techniques of physics. Such topics, usually described as applied physics, often overlap with engineering. Indeed, many of the Departments graduates are currently employed in engineering positions.
The Department offers a traditional, mathematically rigorous program leading to a B.S. in Physics; a newly-revised, rigorous, more applied curriculum leading to a B.S. in Physics with a Concentration in Applied Physics, with areas of study in applied optics, applied nuclear physics, and applied electronics and devices; and a very flexible B.A. program with two advisory plans. All programs stress fundamental concepts and techniques, and offer an unusually rich laboratory experience and intensive use of computers.
With the selection of appropriate courses, students can learn to use such instruments and techniques as optical time-domain reflectometry, solid state and tunable dye lasers, an argon laser with computerized Raman spectroscopy detector, fiber-optic instrumentation, neutron activation analysis with gamma radiation spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence, and charge-coupled device (CCD) imagery and analysis with the observatory telescopes.
A substantial program in undergraduate astronomy includes many courses, listed in the catalog under Astronomy, which may be included in the two degree programs.