Member of the Division of Science
The physics curriculum helps students develop the analytical, experimental, and computational craft needed to study the physical universe. Physics majors deepen this craft through curiosity-driven inquiry in open-ended labs, guided independent projects, and mentored research with faculty who contribute to the development of new knowledge. The intellectual curiosity and disciplined study promoted by work in physics are important in such diverse fields as the natural sciences, the social sciences, engineering, medicine, and law.
Students may begin their study of physics at several different points, depending on their preparation. Most begin by taking PHY 131 , which requires calculus. Those with advanced placement in math and physics may start in PHY 132 or even in PHY 232 . The department also offers courses (PHY 109 , PHY 116 , and PHY 180 ) specifically designed for students who do not plan to major in one of the sciences.
Students who wish to major in physics are encouraged to take part in departmental activities such as the weekly physics seminar and the astronomy discussion group. As they develop expertise with laboratory techniques, computational modeling, and analytical methods, students are urged to pursue their own interests within the discipline through the core curriculum, upper-level elective courses, and research opportunities. Most physics majors do independent projects or research, either on or off campus.
Faculty in the department maintain active research programs with students in a variety of areas, including astrophysics, biophysics, general relativity, optics, solid state physics, and surface physics. Excellent laboratory facilities support the physics program. The Grant O. Gale Observatory features a 24-inch research-quality telescope with CCD-based imaging and spectroscopic capabilities. The solid-state physics lab includes a single crystal growth suite, single crystal x-ray diffractometer, and a PPMS-9 materials characterization platform. The nuclear physics lab features computerized data acquisition systems and high-purity germanium detectors. The laser lab has two high-power tunable lasers for molecular spectroscopy: a Nd:YAG pulsed dye system and a continuous-wave Argon ion/Ti Sapphire system. The biophysics laboratory uses a sCMOS-equipped fluorescence microscope and photon counting spectrofluorimeter for investigating biomolecular self-assembly below the diffraction limit of light. The surface science lab uses an atomic force microscope to study nanoelectronic materials.
Students interested in astronomy should consider a physics major with elective coursework in astrophysics, as well as astrophysics research projects on or off campus.
Many physics majors enter MS or PhD programs in mechanical or electrical engineering after graduation. Others choose to pursue 3-2 engineering with one of four partner universities, which leads to a bachelor’s degree in engineering in addition to a Grinnell degree. Students interested in engineering should consult with the department’s engineering adviser.