The Physical World and Your Relation to It
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.
In the Classroom
The department offers a wide variety of courses, from introductory physics and astronomy, to astrophysics, biophysics, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. 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.
Outside the Classroom
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.
Beyond the Classroom
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.
The mission of the Department of Physics & Astronomy follows from the statement of purpose of the college:
Our purpose is to inspire and educate our students to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents, and active citizens…. We seek to engage students in a liberal arts education which fosters self-determination and demonstrates the transformative power of education…. Our curriculum balances breadth with depth…. Our faculty is committed to undergraduate education… effective teaching informed by the best scholarship… (and they) encourage (our) undergraduates to be partners in original investigation….
The Department takes seriously each element of the college’s statement of purpose and adds the following specific mission:
Our courses are designed to bring students to an increasingly independent level of investigation in experimental and theoretical physics, and to a level of sophistication commensurate with their motivation, goals, and abilities.
In our February 2013 retreat, we developed a revised set of specific academic goals, affirming that each of our students should develop:
- an understanding of the principal physical laws which govern the physical world
- a mastery of the fundamental reasoning process used in solving problems
- the ability to use requisite mathematical techniques and computational tools to solve physics problems
- an understanding of electronics and computer measurements
- the ability to identify, organize, and conduct an independent investigation in physics and communicate the results
The study of physics is a challenging and intellectually rewarding activity selected by those who seek to sharpen and broaden their appreciation and understanding of the physical world and their relationship to it. To this end, 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, and to a level of sophistication commensurate with an individual’s motivation, goals, and abilities.
A major in Physics is an excellent preparation for careers in engineering, medicine, business, computer science, law, industrial management, and teaching. Sufficient flexibility exists in the major program to suit the needs and goals of the individual.