The Washington State University Pullman Catalog

Department of Physics and Astronomy

The online catalog includes the most recent changes to courses and degree requirements that have been approved by the Faculty Senate, including changes that are not yet effective.

Department of Physics and Astronomy
Webster 1245

Chair and Professor, B. Saam; Regents Professors, Y. M. Gupta, M. G. Kuzyk; Professors, S. Bose, P. Engels, Y. Gu, P. L. Marston, M.D. McCluskey, S. L. Tomsovic, G. Worthey; Associate Professors, B. A. Collins, M. Duez, M. Forbes; Assistant Professors, V. Baldassare, Q. Guan; Scholarly Professor, F. Gittes; Scholarly Associate Professors, M. Allen, N. Cerruti; Teaching Assistant Professor, A. Guy.

Physics is the study of nature at its most fundamental level. It is the science upon whose principles all other sciences and technologies are based. A major in physics is ideal preparation not only for further study in physics but also for advanced study in biophysics, medicine, astrophysics, geophysics, chemical physics, engineering, meteorology, and computer science. All of these areas also offer potential careers for the physics major.

Courses offered introduce the student to the major physical theories: mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical physics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum physics. Additional undergraduate courses cover optics, atomic physics, nuclear physics, solid state physics, biological physics, and astrophysics. Students test the theories in laboratories and learn experimental techniques needed to work with modern apparatus such as computers, high-vacuum equipment, lasers, and electronic and optical devices.

Active research programs supported by federal grants and contracts are pursued in the following fields: acoustics (scattering, nonlinear processes, and levitation); astrophysics (planetary, stellar, and galactic structure and evolution); astrophysical generation of gravitational waves, gravitational wave data analysis, cosmology; optical properties of semiconductors; biophysics; nanoscale physics and materials, Bose-Einstein condensates, cluster physics; optical physics (femtosecond laser spectroscopy, scattering from doped polymers, nonlinear optics, quantum electronics, Fourier spectroscopy, diffraction catastrophes); physics education (use of microcomputers in teaching and labs); nuclear solid state physics (Mössbauer effect, perturbed angular correlation, positron annihilation studies of defects in solids); shock wave and high pressure physics (chemical and structural response of condensed materials to high dynamic pressures, time-resolved optical spectroscopy, shock and detonation wave propagation, chemical reactions, dynamic mechanical failure); surface and chemical physics (synchrotron SAFS, diamond films, molecular interactions with surfaces, reactive etching of surfaces, photoelectric and thermal emission microscopy); theory (quantum chaos, nonlinear dynamics, mesoscopic systems, phase transitions and critical phenomena, quantum liquids and gases, atomic and molecular physics (ultra-cold atoms, optical pumping, magnetic resonance), classical and quantum gravity, black hole thermodynamics, and low-temperature physics). These research groups offer graduate students the opportunity to pursue original investigations required for advanced degrees. Undergraduate physics majors are encouraged to participate in research through the special-project course (PHYSICS 499) and through part-time jobs that are sometimes available.

The department offers courses of study leading to the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Physics, Master of Science in Physics, and Doctor of Philosophy (Physics).

Astronomy courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels are administered by the department. Instruction in astronomy is enhanced by the use of a 12-inch telescope at the Jewett Observatory, the Spitz planetarium, and faculty research at LIGO gravitational-wave observatory. Opportunities are available for students to collaborate with faculty to do research projects.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is a major participant in the Materials Science Program and offers courses and research opportunities leading to advanced degrees in this interdisciplinary program.

Student Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the undergraduate program in physics will be able to use scientific reasoning to form and test hypotheses; think independently and critically in acquiring, reproducing, and assessing information from a variety of sources; understand the important concepts in each of the four core areas of physics: mechanics, electricity and magnetism, modern and quantum physics, and thermal and statistical physics; apply these concepts in mathematical models to solve theoretical and real-world problems; design and conduct scientific experiments which test new ideas and theories; present concepts and results clearly, both orally and in writing; and be prepared for graduate study and/or careers in physics and related fields. 

Transfer Students

Transfer students receive credit for equivalent courses taken elsewhere, but must meet the requirements for graduation listed.

Preparation for Graduate Study

Undergraduate students contemplating graduate work in physics should consider enrolling in PHYSICS 443, 521, 571, and additional math courses.

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