Physics and Astronomy | Earlham College - Earlham College Physics and Astronomy Department

Physics and Astronomy

Center for Science and Technology is Now Open

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The 42,000-square-foot Center for Science and Technology (CST) is home to the math, physics and computer science departments and the Science and Technology Learning Commons, a shared space for all the sciences. The CST connects directly to the newly renovated biology and chemistry departments in Stanley Hall.

Physics and Astronomy

Exploring the universe, from quarks to the cosmos

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.

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.

Special Learning Opportunities

Our faculty collaborate with students in their research (focused on lasers, computational biophysics, observational cosmology). We actively seek out student researchers for both summer projects and continuing work throughout the academic year.

It's possible and common to double major, even in fields with few overlapping courses like Philosophy, English and Theater.

The physics major is flexible enough to allow students to participate in the off-campus study program of their choice. Students can also participate in the Oak Ridge Science Semester, if they are looking for a physics-related off-campus experience, and in any of Earlham's diverse off-campus programs (e.g. the semester in France) as a broader part of the liberal arts education.

We encourage our students to participate in research experiences for undergraduate (REUs) during the summer. In addition, students involved with faculty research have opportunities to work with off-campus collaborators.

Earlham’s facilities include an observatory, a planetarium, a laser lab and scientific computing clusters.

The Academic Enrichment Center provides tutoring for introductory courses. Upper-level students serve as tutors, course TAs, and as TAs in introductory labs. This helps ensure student success in the introductory courses and provides valuable experience for the upper-level students.


A physics major prepares students for careers in secondary education, graduate studies (in physics, engineering, or other technical disciplines, even medical or law school), scientific consulting, etc.

Of each year’s graduates, about two-thirds continue to graduate school in physics or related fields. According to the most recent Higher Education Data Sharing figures, 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).

 Earlhamites in Physics and Astronomy

Justin Vadas
Science Scholar

Justin Vadas gained a rare combination of scientific skills and experience at Earlham. A double major in chemistry and physics, he earned the Outstanding Student Award for his work during a summer research experience at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Anna Schonwald
NASA Internship Confirms Career Path

Anna Schonwald ’16 attributes at least a part of her success at landing a prestigious internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the confidence she has in knowing what she wants to do.

Distinctively Earlham
Students are involved in on-campus research with faculty as early as their first year. Many of these projects are interdisciplinary, with groups involving mathematicians, computer scientists, biochemists and chemists working on the same projects.


Our new building, slated to open in Fall 2015, will feature new lab spaces and offer collaboration with the Joseph Moore Museum to let students develop their scientific communication and presentation skills.



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 Assistant Professor of Physics Ellen Keister — the 3/2 Faculty Liaison.

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