The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. At the Bachelor’s level, the Department offers a BS degree in Astronomy and a BS degree in Physics. Undergraduate majors in these fields receive a solid foundation in the basics and are also taught analytical and problem-solving skills essential for success in any career path. The Department also offers minors in Astronomy, Physics, and Renewable Energy.
What are the objectives of astronomy?
First, to elucidate the nature of the myriad objects that inhabit the cosmos, including stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. We aim to understand the structure of these objects as well as how they form and develop over time. We are continually discovering new types of objects to explore. Some of the big questions currently under investigation include: Will the universe expand forever? (Recent observations show that the expansion is currently accelerating.) Normal matter, of which stars, planets, and people are made, accounts for only about 4% of the material content of the universe. What is the mysterious “dark matter” and “dark energy” that makes up the rest? How did structure in the universe, i.e. galaxies and clusters of galaxies, form? How do stars and planets form? What fraction of stars have planets that are hospitable to life? Is there life beyond Earth? Second, we attempt to make use of cosmic objects to shed light on fundamental physics questions. A famous, early instance of this occurred in the 1680s, when Newton developed a theory of gravitation that could account for both Galileo’s ground-based experiments with falling objects and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
Physics is the science that describes how the physical world works. It is the most fundamental of all sciences. Other sciences build upon physics.
Physicists conduct research into the fundamental laws of nature or make use of what we already know about the physical world to design and develop new practical products. As a career, physics offers an astonishing variety of possibilities.
The world of the physicist stretches from the tiniest particles of subatomic matter to galaxies and beyond. It includes computer circuitry and spacecraft orbits, medical imaging and the search for controlled fusion power. Some of the questions that physicists try to answer are deeply philosophical: How did the universe begin? On a very small scale, does empty space become “granular” or “foamy”? But many of the questions that physicists deal with are highly practical: How can more information be packed into a smaller space? What will be the effect of adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? Can chemical rockets be replaced by electromagnetic launchers? How can solar cells be made more efficient?
Most modern technology rests on physics. Sometimes new knowledge is put to work quickly. For example, many practical uses were found for the laser soon after its invention. Sometimes new knowledge is slow to be harnessed. In 1905 Albert Einstein explained how light can eject electrons from solid surfaces. It was many years before this “photoelectric effect” found application in television cameras.
Physics provides deep understanding of the laws of nature and will continue to help shape the world of the future. Few careers are more exciting, more rewarding, and more important to society than physics.