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Physics, the fundamental natural science, and astronomy, the oldest science, strive to provide explanations for a wide range of physical phenomena through the use of a small number of general principles and concepts. These include theories of mechanics, gravitational and electromagnetic fields, relativity and quantum mechanics. The study of physics and astronomy not only contributes to students’ understanding of the physical environment, it also develops their abilities to reason analytically and to test hypotheses. These abilities are useful in many fields other than physics. Earlham’s Physics Department provides a well-balanced curriculum, with opportunities for advanced study on campus with Earlham faculty as well as during off-campus programs. The research interests of the faculty and off-campus programs offer opportunities for advanced study in a variety of areas. Current faculty interests include ultrasound, laser physics, musical acoustics, computational physics, archeo-astronomy and theoretical astrophysics.
Physics students have access to excellent laboratory, computer and library facilities. Students in advanced laboratories study such topics as single photon interference, chaotic motion, optical coherence lengths, infrared and atomic spectroscopy, and have the opportunity to study solar physics and applied optics. Off campus, Earlham students have frequently been invited to serve as summer interns at various astronomy and physics research facilities such as Notre Dame, Argonne, Fermi Lab and the MIT's Haystack Observatory. In addition, seniors may spend part of their final year in research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Of each year’s graduates, about two-thirds continue to graduate school in physics or related fields. According to the most recent HEDS data, Earlham is ranked 54th (in the 96th percentile) among 1,469 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. in the percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D.s in the physical sciences. Of those receiving Ph.D.s in physics, Earlham ranks 64th (in the 95th percentile).
Recent graduates have studied physics at such universities as Columbia, Dartmouth, Ohio State and at the universities of Notre Dame, Michigan and Washington. Others have gone on to further study in such fields as astronomy and engineering (University of Michigan), neuroscience (New York University), geophysics (University of Washington), medical physics (Vanderbilt University) and environmental science (University of California, Berkeley).
The basic training provided by a major in Physics gives the student experience in experimental design, the analysis of data, computer usage and analytical reasoning in addition to an understanding of physical phenomena. A Physics Major, therefore, has wide vocational possibilities outside of research physics.
Not all students who major in Physics intend to pursue graduate studies in physics. The study of physics fosters habits of thought that are useful in careers ranging from urban planning to business and from law to medical research. Physics majors with such interests should plan academic programs that include courses in other departments consistent with their career goals.
In addition to a major in Physics, Earlham offers a 3-2 program in engineering, in which a student takes foundational science and distribution courses at Earlham for three years, then spends an additional two years earning an engineering degree at an accredited engineering school. At the end of those five years, the student then receives two degrees: a B.A. from Earlham and a B.S. from the engineering program.
Our students most often choose to attend Columbia University, University of Minnesota and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
For more information about this opportunity, students should speak to Professor of Physics and Astronomy John Howell — the 3/2 Liaison Officer.