University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400714
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4714
(434) 924-3781 Fax: (434) 924-4576
Overview Physics is concerned with the most basic principles that underlie phenomena in the universe. Physicists search for elementary particles, seek understanding of the behavior of collections of particles ranging from quarks in nucleons and electrons in atoms to stars in galaxies, and of the nature of space and time. On a more human scale, physicists explore the behavior of matter and energy including devices of modern electronics, complex biological molecules, the atmosphere, and forms of energy and its uses. The principles of physics are the basis for much of 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 physics, nuclear and particle physics, atomic, molecular and optical physics, and condensed matter physics. Last year, it received $7 million in research grants. The state-funded Institute for Nuclear and Particle Physics includes a number of faculty members with research related to the 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, some of whom are now affiliated with this institute.
Faculty The faculty offers 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, the Neutron Scattering Society of America Science Prize, a Packard Foundation fellowship, six Sloan fellowships and seven Young Investigator Awards (four from the National Science Foundation, two from the Office of Naval Research and one from the Department of Energy). 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 textbooks in physics, seven have earned University Outstanding Teacher awards, and three have received the Pegram Award of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society for excellence in teaching.
Students Physics majors make up a small but outstanding, enthusiastic, and diverse group. Approximately thirty five 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 or professional school. Many graduates have taken positions in industry or government immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. In addition to those who go to graduate school in physics and physics-related fields, each year several go 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 Creating new knowledge is a primary role of a university. This process involves undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty working together at a research frontier and it can provide some of the most stimulating and rewarding educational experiences. The extensive research laboratories and computer facilities in the physics department provide opportunities for students to participate in research. In addition to the facilities in the Jesse Beams Laboratory of Physics and the High Energy Physics Building on the University Grounds, research groups from the department have active programs at various particle accelerator facilities, including the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia; the Fermi Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois; and several accelerators in Europe. Undergraduates are involved with research groups through independent study projects, informal affiliations, and working as research assistants during the academic year and in the summer.
One valued privilege for physics majors is having keys that give them access at any time day or night to the departmental library and the departmental computer laboratory as well as conference rooms in which they can meet to work together.