6: College of Arts and Sciences

General Information | Academic Information | Departments and Programs | Faculty

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Department of Physics

Course Descriptions | Faculty

Overview   Physics is concerned with the most basic principles that underlie all phenomena in the universe. Physicists search for the most elementary particles, seek understanding of the behavior of collections of particles ranging from quarks in nuclei and electrons in atoms to stars in galaxies, and strive for insights into the nature of space and time. On a more human scale, physicists explore the behavior of matter and energy including all the devices of modern electronics, complex biological molecules, the atmosphere, and all forms of energy and its uses. The principles of physics are the basis for engineering and technology. Studying physics can prepare students to push back the boundaries of knowledge in this most fundamental of the natural sciences; it can provide invaluable training in the concepts and methods of science for application in many professional areas; it can develop one’s capacity for clear analytical thought that is crucial in many fields, or it can simply increase one’s knowledge and appreciation of the wonders of the world around us.

The department has research programs in high energy and nuclear physics, atomic and laser physics, condensed matter physics, biophysics, and gravitational physics. It currently receives approximately $5 million each year in research grants. The state-funded Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics includes a number of faculty members with research related to the new $600 million electron accelerator at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia. This accelerator was originally conceived and successfully proposed by physics department faculty members who are now affiliated with this institute.

Faculty   The faculty seeks to offer an outstanding undergraduate program, with opportunities for both majors and non-majors, in the context of a vigorous research department. Students have the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses with many different professors.

Among the many awards and honors the faculty has received in recent years are four Outstanding Scientist in Virginia awards, an Outstanding Faculty Award—the state’s highest honor for teaching faculty, the Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society for research in atomic physics, a Packard Foundation fellowship, five Sloan fellowships and six Young Investigator Awards (four from the National Science Foundation, two form the Office of Naval Research). The faculty has also been recognized for its teaching. One professor has received an award for innovations in continuing education, four are authors of major new textbooks in physics. and three have earned University Outstanding Teacher awards.

Students   Physics majors make up a small but outstanding, enthusiastic, and diverse group. Approximately thirty students graduate each year with bachelor’s degrees in physics. Beginning in the first year, there are special courses for physics majors. All of the courses are taught by faculty members. The third and fourth-year classes are small, and students have much interaction with the faculty. Physics majors participate in independent study projects, working on a tutorial basis with faculty members and often working with a research group. Since the department has extensive research activities, there are many opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research on the frontiers of physics.

The department has programs designed to serve students with a wide variety of objectives. More than half of those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in physics go on to graduate school in physics or related subjects at top-ranked universities. Many graduates have taken positions in industry or government immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. Each year several go on to professional schools in medicine, education, business, or law. Others graduate with physics as a concentration in a broad liberal arts program without a specific scientific career objective.

Special Resources
Summer Research   A Research Experiences for Undergraduates program sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the department’s Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics provides lodging and a stipend for fifteen students to work for ten weeks with research groups and attend special lectures and activities related to physics. Work begun under this program is often continued as an independent study project during the academic year.

Requirements for Major   The Department of Physics offers both Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees. In addition, there is a joint astronomy/physics B.A. described under the Department of Astronomy. Students planning graduate study in physics or physics-related areas should elect the B.S., the B.A. with a distinguished major course sequence, or the astronomy/physics B.A. The basic B.A. is designed for students interested in physics and planning to enter other fields including medicine, education, business, and law, and for liberal arts students seeking a concentration in physics. Students are urged to contact a physics undergraduate advisor as early as possible to design a program to fit their specific needs.

There are several course sequences leading to the physics major. For all of them it is highly desirable to complete MATH 131, 132 or equivalent courses in calculus by the end of the first year. However, it is possible to begin calculus in the second year and complete the requirements for the B.A.

Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts in Physics   There are two options leading to the B.A. in physics, each having three components:

Option I
  1. Prerequisites - MATH 131, 132 and PHYS 151, 152.
  2. MATH 221 and PHYS 221, 222, 251, 252.
  3. Any three 300-level physics courses.
Option II
  1. Prerequisites - MATH 131,132.
  2. MATH 221 and PHYS 231, 232, 201L, 202L.
  3. Any four 300-level physics courses.

For either of the options, a year of chemistry may be substituted for one of the 300-level physics courses in component (3). MATH 225 is not required for the B.A. degree, however, it is a prerequisite for many of the courses at 300 level and above. Students choosing option II who want more extensive preparation in basic physics and those planning to take physics courses numbered 315 and higher should replace PHYS 201L, 202L in component (2) with the higher level laboratory sequence, PHYS 221, 222 to be taken after completing PHYS 231, 232. It is also possible to enter the physics sequence through PHYS 142E. Students wishing to use this route should consult one of the physics undergraduate advisors.

Bachelor of Arts with Distinguished Major Course Sequence   This sequence may be entered using components (1) and (2) of either option I or II above. Component (3) is replaced by the following requirements: MATH 225, PHYS 315, PHYS 317, PHYS 321, PHYS 331, PHYS 342, PHYS 343, PHYS 355, PHYS 356, and PHYS 393.

Bachelor of Science in Physics   The requirements for the B.S. in Physics are the completion of the distinguished major course sequence plus MATH 521, 522 (or equivalent APMA courses) and one additional upper-level physics elective. Except for Echols scholars, the area requirements for the B.S. are ENWR 101 and the second writing requirement, one foreign language through the 202-level, six credits in the humanities, and six credits of social science, all taken on a graded basis.

Distinguished Major Program   The Distinguished Major Program provides recognition of outstanding academic performance in a challenging sequence of physics courses including an independent study project. Students who complete the distinguished majors course sequence or the B.S. requirements with final grade point averages exceeding 3.4, 3.6, or 3.8, are given departmental recommendation to receive their degrees (B.A. or B.S.) with distinction, high distinction or highest distinction, respectively.

Requirements for Minor   A minor in physics can be earned through one of the following course sequences: (1) PHYS 151, 152, 251, 252, and either 221 or any 300-level physics course; (2) PHYS 231, 232, 201L, 202L and any two 300- level physics courses.

Additional Information   For more information, contact Bascom Deaver, Chair of the Undergraduate Program Committee, Department of Physics, Jesse W. Beams Laboratory of Physics, 382 McCormick Rd., Charlottesville, VA 22903, (804) 924-3781; Fax: (804) 924-4576; bsd@virginia.edu. A detailed departmental brochure is available.


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