Physics is the study of the universe and how it works. Questions in physics range from the very big (evolution of the universe) to the very small (atoms and quantum physics), and from the very fast (relativity) to the very slow (laser cooling). As physicists, we attempt to infer underlying physical principles from the world around us. The study of physics is a challenging and intellectually rewarding activity elected by those who seek to sharpen and broaden their appreciation and understanding of the physical world and their relationship to it.
Courses offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy are designed to bring the student to an increasingly independent level of investigation in experimental and theoretical physics. Denison offers a variety of facilities and equipment for teaching and research in the physical sciences.
The department offers over 16 courses per year, from introductory physics and astronomy to astrophysics, optics, quantum mechanics, and the advanced seminar. Denison thrives on the close student-faculty connection, with about 20-30 students per introductory class and about 10 in advanced classes. Unique to our program is an emphasis on “doing physics.” In advanced lab, students design and conduct individualized experiments. Recent examples include: building an AM radio, measuring the speed of light, stellar photometry, and seismology.
Each of our students is required to be involved in some sort of research during their time at Denison. These projects contribute to new knowledge and often lead to co-authored professional papers and presentations. Recent examples of research include: laser spectroscopy of single-electron interferometers; simulation of clumpy and turbulent star formation; observations of fast variations in radio jets in active galaxies; photoluminescence of carbon nanotubes; and biomechanics of baseball pitching.
Our students are a close-knit group who are among the top students in the college, participating in theatre, orchestra, varsity athletics, and service organizations. They work hard and organize many of our departmental activities including movie nights, science olympics, outreach activities, and field trips to places like Fermilab.
Atomic/molecular/optical (AMO) Physics
Atomic/molecular/optical (AMO) physics research seeks to understand the structure of and interactions between atoms, molecules, and light. The implication of this work is both a better understanding of these elemental building blocks, as well as a range of applications in physics, engineering, and beyond. At Denison, active areas of research include negative ion spectroscopy, atomic collisions, atomic structure, laser cooling and trapping, quantum optics, and quantum information.
The field of astrophysics is broadly focused on the evolution and structure of planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe. Observational, computational, and theoretical astrophysics employ a wide-variety of physics topics, such as atomic, nuclear, high-energy, and gravitation, as well as lend new insight to these fields. Areas of specialty at Denison include work on active galactic nuclei, the stellar lifecycle, galaxy clusters, and observational techniques.
The burgeoning field of biophysics endeavors to derive and understand complex biological systems from the principles of physics, and is by definition highly interdisciplinary work with applications in physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine. Efforts may consist of computational modeling based on strict physical constraints, applying novel observational techniques to new systems, and quantitative analysis of biological processes. Particular topics of study at Denison include biocomplexity, motor proteins, and the physics of cellular functions.
Biophysics faculty: Dr. Riina Tehver.
Condensed Matter Physics
Condensed matter physics encompasses the properties of solids, crystals, semiconductors, polymers, superconductors, superfluids, and other novel materials. Research in condensed matter has far-reaching impact on the fabrication and utilization of tailored structures and materials. Areas of specialization at Denison include conductive polymers and soliton formation.
Condensed matter faculty: Dr. Kimberly Coplin.