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Physics & Astronomy

Compilation of physics photos including students experimenting with balloons, water, weights, and telescopes

Physics is the study of the fundamental nature of everything!

Through experiment and theory physicists seek to explain the interactions of matter and energy in terms of a small number of basic laws. Physics deals with everything from the very large (e.g. the structure of the universe) to the very small (e.g. atoms, nuclei, quarks and even smaller structures). The devices we depend on in our technological society are based on fundamental principles of physics. Both experimental and theoretical physicists are people who enjoy understanding how things work. Studying physics develops excellent critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are applicable to many careers. Many of our physics graduates continue with graduate school in physics, astronomy or engineering. Others continue with professional training in medical school or law school. However, it is not necessary to pursue more education to have a rewarding career with physics. An undergraduate physics degree is a spring board to a broad spectrum of career options, including engineering, systems analyst, financial analyst, management, national security, medical research, education and journalism. Nationally, employment opportunities for physics graduates have been especially good in recent years.

Physics students develop excellent critical thinking and problem-solving skills.  An undergraduate physics degree is a springboard to careers in engineering, systems analysis, financial analysis, management, national security, medical research, education, and journalism.  Many physics majors pursue graduate study in physics, medicine, law, or astronomy.  

Experimental and theoretical physicists are people who enjoy understanding how things work, from the very large (e.g., the structure of the universe) to the very small (e.g., atoms, nuclei, quarks, and even smaller structures). 

The department offers a major and a minor in Physics.  Students planning to major in Physics should consult with a member of the department as early as possible in their college careers.  Students interested in Pre-Engineering should consult with a pre-engineering advisor as early as possible.  

Writing is a critical skill for all physics majors.  Knowledge of physics is often shared by the written word.  Advances in physics generally build on the work of others that is recorded in reports, and publications.  Students graduating with as the physics major will have written different types of papers. You must be able to document your work in the laboratory, providing sufficient detail to allow others to understand why you chose to conduct the investigation, what you did, how you did it, and the results that you obtained.  Additionally, there are many occasions that require you to explain the subtleties and importance of physical phenomena and events to people that are not physics majors (sometimes referred to as the general public).  Although you may not pursue a graduate degree in physics, it is quite likely that you will be expected to write persuasive arguments to request support for your ideas or projects after you leave DePauw.  Throughout your courses in the physics major, you will have many opportunities to develop your writing skills.  Specifically, you will complete a series of assignments in four specific core courses, PHYS 220, PHYS 280, PHYS 370/380 and PHYS 480, required for the physics major. 

Department faculty members are actively involved in research.  Our students have opportunities to work with faculty doing research in nuclear physics, high energy gamma ray astrophysics, applied physics engineering, optics, and computational quantum mechanics.  Recent students have also done off-campus research in conjunction with members of the department at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory and the Argonne National Laboratory.  The Oak Ridge Science Semester program enables students to spend a semester working under the guidance of an ORNL staff member.  Recently, students have participated in off campus research programs at the National Radio Observatory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Kitt Peak National Observatory and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

The department is housed in the Julian Science and Mathematics Center.  We offer innovative integrated classrooms and labs, a dedicated physics computer lab, research laboratories, and fully equipped metal and wood machine shops.  Departmental spaces also include a darkroom and a physics student lounge/study room.

The department sponsors an active Society of Physics Students. Students meet regularly for visiting lecturers, trips to conferences, special club projects, and social events.  A local chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society, hosts annual receptions for the induction of new student members.

The department operates historic McKim Observatory.  McKim contains many of its original instruments, including a 9.5-inch Clark refractor telescope and a Fauth and Co. meridian transit telescope.  McKim is also well equipped with modern instruments, including five Celestron 8-inch and one Celestron 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, an SBIG ST-6 CCD camera, a webcam, equipment for astrophotography, and a spectrometer.  McKim is used for astronomy labs, public open houses and events, and student research projects.