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Message from the Director of the Undergraduate Program

"Physics is the liberal arts education for a technological society." - Joseph Pimbley (in Physics Today)

Should you major in something practical that is going to help you get a good job? Or should you choose a major by pursuing ideas that you enjoy and that you find most interesting and profound? Physics is a great solution to this dilemma! Physics majors learn marketable analytic, quantitative, logical, communication, and teamwork skills while studying fascinating, mind-bending ideas about the fundamental nature of space, time, matter, and causality. Physics graduates are known in the workplace for being good problem solvers, being able to learn quickly, and having a drive to understand problems deeply. Majoring in physics can transform your perception of the "ordinary" world and lay a foundation for lifelong learning of wonderful everyday and exotic phenomena.

Our undergraduate program has several distinctive components:

  • A welcoming community

We strive to make our department a welcoming place where our students want to be. We support their mutual cooperation and friendship with a staffed help center near faculty offices, a room for the Society of Physics Students, and a spirit of acceptance of our students as unique, whole persons, each of whom gives a sincere effort to master a challenging subject. We are proud to serve a diverse, inclusive, and highly connected student community. We also strive to maintain an open atmosphere of communication where students can discuss with faculty any issues or problems that affect their academic lives.

  • Interactive engagement instruction

We recognize the very strong body of evidence from research in the learning sciences that interactive engagement is an important condition for substantive learning. For this reason, we promote the use of interactive engagement and other research-based instructional strategies in our courses, and we expect also to undergo constant improvement as the scholarly understanding of these methods evolves.

More general information about research-based instruction in physics:

Our most prominent set of research-based instructional materials is Tutorials in Introductory Physics.

  • Authentic laboratory experiences

We recognize the positive value and the importance of students engaging in authentic laboratory experiences to construct scientific knowledge themselves. These experiences are multi-dimensional by nature and challenge students to develop many different skills. Among these, perhaps most surprising to students who are less accustomed to student-centered instruction are students' direct participation in generating their own hypotheses and designing their own experiments to test those hypotheses. This is contrast to labs where students follow a prescribed set of instructions.

AAPT recommendations for the Undergraduate Physics Laboratory Curriculum

  • Computational modeling

Computer programming is a must-have ability for physics graduates in today's workforce. We promote our students' computational skills with computational work interspersed throughout the curriculum, using LabView, Mathematica, MATLAB, and Python.

  • Undergraduate research

We encourage each undergraduate physics major to get involved in a research project with faculty. Research is where knowledge comes from, and your education will be much richer if you have shared in this experience. If you are interested in graduate study in physics, research experience will be a very important part of your application.

Here are statements on undergraduate research from our professional societies:

APS statement

AAPT statement

SPS statement


Enjoy your studies!

With best wishes for creative problem solving and deep insight,
Hunter G. Close
Associate Professor & Director of Undergraduate Program
Department of Physics