Physics

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Program Overview

The study of physics aims to teach the laws that govern nature and the interaction of matter and energy that underlie all physical phenomenon. At Fairfield, students learn to apply physical principles and theoretical models to logically predict the behavior of the universe.

The physics major introduces students to the foundational theories of physics: gravity, electricity, and magnetism, as well as quantum, classical, and statistical mechanics. Through the applied components of the curriculum, students receive a comprehensive education focused on the physical methods that create modern technology.

Lab work, along with independent and team research, teach critical thinking and problem-solving accompanied by skills and experience in the use of instrumentation.

Physics is a foundational science in engineering and technology and has deep connections to medicine and material science. Upon completeion of the program, you will have the necessary skills for entrance into graduate study or the workforce. A physics degree offers graduates the flexibility to pursue careers in health, computer science, medicine, law, and education. 

 

Requirements

Bachelor of Science - Major in Physics

Students who major in physics must complete 44 credits and 18 classes in Physics, 18 credits in Mathematics (five classes), and 8 credits in Chemistry (two classes with lab, or equivalent with the permission of the chair). The 44 credits in Physics must include the following classes:

General Physics I and II, with Labs

(PS 115, PS 115L, PS 116, PS 116L)

Modern Physics and Modern Physics Lab

(PS 285, PS 204L)

Classical Mechanics

(PS 226)

Computational Physics

(PS 215)

Electricity and Magnetism 

(PS 271)

Modern Optics and Optics Lab

(PS 222, PS 206L)

Thermal and Statistical Physics

(PS 241)

Quantum Physics

(PS 386)

Physics Capstone (Fall and Spring)

(PS 391, PS 392)


The remaining nine credits can be satisfied with any other 200-level or higher course offered by the physics department. Other substitutions are not allowed except by permission of the department chair.
 
The 18 math credits may be satisfied with any math course approved for math, science, or engineering students. However, many physics classes have math classes as prerequisites. Thus, students will normally need to take MA 145, 146, and 245 (Calculus I—III), MA 251 (Ordinary Differential Equations), and MA 332 (Partial Differential Equations) to fulfill their physics prerequisites.

 

  Credits
First Year Fall Spring
PS 115-116 General Physics I and II 3 3
PS 115L-116L General Physics I and II, Lab 1 1
MA 145-146 Calculus I and II 4 4
Core Curriculum 9 9
Total 17 17
Sophomore Year Fall Spring
PS 285 Modern Physics 3  
PS 204L Modern Experimental Methods, Lab   2
PS 226 Classical Mechanics   3
PS 215 Computational Physics   3
MA 245 Calculus III 4  
MA 251 Ordinary Differential Equations   3
Core Curriculum 9 6
Total 16 17
Junior Year  Fall  Spring
PS 271 Electricity and Magnetism 3  
Physics Elective    3
PS 222 Modern Optics   3
PS 206L Modern Optics, Lab    1
PS 241 Thermal and Statistical Physics  3  
CH 111-112 General Chemistry I and II 3 3
CH 111L-112L General Chemistry I and II, Lab 1 1
MA 332 Partial Differential Equations   3
Core Curriculum  6 3
Total 16 17
Senior Year  Fall Spring
PS 386 Quantum Physics 3  
Physics Elective   6
PS 391-392 Capstone in Physics 1 3
Core Curriculum 3 3
Free Elective 3 3
Total 10 15

Provision for Physics Advanced Placement Exam C

Entering students who have passed both AP Physics C exams with scores of 4 or 5 may advance directly to the physics sophomore course PS 285 - Modern Physics, without taking the PS 115-116 prerequisites. Note: For having passed the AP exams, only 4 credits are awarded toward graduation, according to the general AP Physics policy of the University. Students who therefore do not take PS 115-116 under this provision will need to take an additional elective in physics or another discipline with the chair's permission, in order to complete the required number of credits for the major in physics.

 

Minor in Physics

Students who major in an area other than physics can earn a 16-credit minor in physics by completing the following minimum requirements of two courses and an advanced lab beyond the introductory physics sequence:

  • Introductory sequence: PS 115-116 General Physics I and II with lab (eight credits)
    AND
  • Modern Physics (PS 285) and a three-credit course chosen among the 200- and 300-level physics courses, with the chairman's approval (six credits).
  • Modern Experimental Methods Laboratory (PS 204L, two credits).

Substitution of the Modern Physics courses must be approved by the chair.

Note: Biology and Chemistry majors can minor in physics by taking two lecture courses and one laboratory course beyond the requirements of their major. Engineering majors can minor in physics by taking one lecture course and one laboratory course beyond the requirements of the major.

 

Physics Major with a Minor in Educational Studies and the 5-year teacher education program

Physics majors who elect a minor in Educational Studies and who have been admitted to the Five Year Integrated Bachelor's-Masters Degree and Teacher Certification program may count ED 462 Science Methods as their Physics 3 credit Independent Study project. Physics majors with an Education Minor should consult with Dr. Angela Biselli, education advisor, and Dr. Patricia Calderwood, director of the Five Year Integrated Bachelor's-Masters Degree and Teacher Certification program.

Course Offerings

See Physics course descriptions from our catalog for more information 

  • PS 115: General Physics I
  • PS 115L: Lab for General Physics I
  • PS 116: General Physics II
  • PS 116L: General Physics II Lab
  • PS 71: Physics of Light and Color
  • PS 76: Physics of Sound and Music
  • PS 77: The Science and Technology of War and Peace - The Way Things Work
  • PS 78: The Nature of the Universe
  • PS 87: Fundamentals of Astronomy
  • PS 89: Physics of Sport
  • PS 90: Physics of the Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate
  • PS 93: Energy and Environment
  • PS 204L: Modern Experimental Methods Lab
  • PS 206L: Modern Optics Lab
  • PS 212: Circuit Analysis and Analog Systems
  • PS 212L: Laboratory for Circuit Analysis and Analog Systems
  • PS 215: Computational Physics
  • PS 222: Modern Optics
  • PS 226: Classical Mechanics
  • PS 241: Thermal and Statistical Physics
  • PS 255: Introduction to Astrophysics
  • PS 260: Introduction to Biomedical Optics
  • PS 271: Electricity and Magnetism I
  • PS 285: Modern Physics
  • PS 371: Electricity and Magnetism II
  • PS 386: Quantum Physics
  • PS 387: Introduction to Condensed Matter
  • PS 388: Elementary Particles and Nuclear Physics
  • PS 390: Special Topics
  • PS 391-392: Capstone in Theoretical or Experimental Physics
  • PS 399: Independent Study

Faculty-Student Research

The College of Arts and Sciences empowers and encourages undergraduate students from all disciplines to conduct innovative, in-depth, and collaborative research under the guidance and encouragement of faculty experts and staff. Each year, more than 300 faculty-student research projects are conducted in the areas of STEM, the humanities, arts, and social sciences, more than half of which are presented at national scholarly meetings and/or published in professional journals and manuscripts.

Check out some of our recent physics research projects below, then visit the College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate research webpage to learn more.

Impact of Social Mixing in Submarine Canyons

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Impact of Social Mixing in Submarine Canyons

Physics majors Christian Burns ’20 and Jordan Hamilton ’22 participated in a summer long research study alongside Assistant Physics Professor Robert Nazarian, PhD, on the global impacts of ocean mixing in submarine canyons. Often tens of miles long, submarine canyons are suggested to be regions of intense ocean mixing, a process that is responsible for sustaining the ocean’s circulation, as well as the global climate system.

Utilizing a high-resolution ocean topography map and computational model for energy fluxes to calculate the total amount of ocean mixing occurring in submarine canyons located along the continental shelf, the researches set out to determine the total amount of energy that is lost in marine canyons as a result of this mixing.

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Detector Simulation & Data Quality at Jefferson Laboratory

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Detector Simulation & Data Quality at Jefferson Laboratory

The internal structure of nucleons, called protons and neutrons, are still vastly unknown to scientists. Many laboratories dedicated to the field of nuclear physics are still trying to get a better understanding of these particles, including Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia, one of the leading facilities in the world studying how quarks, the fundamental components of most particles, are distributed within the nucleons.

For his research project, physics major Richard Capobianco '19 worked under the mentorship of professor Angela Biselli, PhD, to study the optimal configuration for an upcoming experiment at Jefferson Lab that would reduce the background noise coming from nuclear electrons – noise that could inhibit the physicists’ ability to produce legible results. He also aided researchers by performing data quality tests for each run of the detector. Towards this end, he compiled relevant data tables displaying significant results from each run into a centralized location, making the results more accessible, in addition to providing an easier method of seeing how the results of the experiment vary between runs of the detector.

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Contact Microscopy

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Contact Microscopy

Over the course of the summer, physics student Edward Wenzel ’10 worked alongside faculty mentor David Winn, PhD, to investigate methods of developing a form of lensless microscopy. The researchers worked together to write a design proposal for a specific kind of microscope that could look into the human body with a wider field of view.

For Field-of-View (FOV), Time, and Opacity, Wenzel proposed a contact microscope with an array of individual “pinhole camera pixels,” similar to the eye of a fly or a lobster, that would be in contact with a back-illuminated clear surface or one immersed in a clear, soft material/liquid, like the ones used on a microscope slide. To image opaque materials or objects in contact with the microscope, he also proposed an alternative design using half the pixel collimators to illuminate the adjacent pixels on the object.

If developed, a lenless microscope like the one proposed in his findings, could allow scientists to better determine and diagnose diseases within the human body, including various forms of cancer.

Faculty

The College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University is home to a vibrant community of engaged faculty, dedicated staff and budding scholars devoted to the process of invention and discovery and excited by the prospect of producing knowledge in the service of others. Meet the innovative members of our Physics Department.

Internships

If you've ever wondered if a particular career is a good fit for you, internships are a terrific way to find out. Academic credit and noncredit internships are available to Fairfield students in every field and offer hands-on, professional experience at leading companies throughout the region.

Life After Fairfield

Upon graduation with the B.S. in Physics, students have available to them a number of career options including graduate studies leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in any subfield of physics, industrial careers in research and development, and professional careers where a physics background, or more generally, a science background is an asset. Examples of this latter category include:

  • Medicine
  • Biophysics
  • Astronomy
  • Computer science
  • Science education

 

Many recent graduates are pursuing graduate degrees at major institutions across the country. Others have secured employment at major industrial organizations. Whatever their occupation, their degree in physics signifies a true intellectual achievement and is the basis for a financially and creatively productive life.

Physics majors at Fairfield are broadly educated in a liberal arts context and they follow diverse career paths. Graduates of the last several years have chosen:

  • Medical school
  • Optometry
  • Environmental education
  • Secondary school teaching
  • Work in regulatory affairs for a medical instrument manufacturer
  • Computer engineering

 

A substantial portion of our graduates have gone on to advanced study in physics at:

  • Georgetown
  • Columbia
  • SUNY - Stony Brook
  • Colorado State
  • Tufts
  • Yale

 

Learn more about how Fairfield's Career Planning Center can support your post-graduate goals, and how Fairfield's tight-knit alumni network can build career and mentoring opportunities that last a lifetime.

Student Activities

A student majoring in physics at Fairfield has excellent opportunities for learning and maturing intellectually and professionally. Among the most important aspects of these opportunities are:

  • A close-knit relation with other physics majors and with faculty who are routinely available to students in class, in their offices and in research laboratories.
  • The opportunity to participate in the student-organized Physics Club, which arranges for various hands-on projects, guest speakers, and field trips.
  • The opportunity to join the Society of Physics Students and the Physics Honor Society (Sigma Pi Sigma). These two organizations are student sections of the American Physical Society which numbers more than 40,000 members nationally and internationally.
  • For qualified students, the opportunity to participate in the Honor's Program at Fairfield University and, for students with an exceptional academic record of achievement, the opportunity to be elected to the country's premier honor society, Phi Beta Kappa.
  • Opportunities for summer research as paid research assistants on campus or in NSF sponsored summer intern programs at other institutions throughout the country.

It is possible for physics majors to be involved in research activities after completion of the sophomore year as research assistants during the academic year or during the summer months. During the summer, these research assistants also receive a salary for their intern work as well as gaining invaluable experience in the laboratory. These students make worthwhile contributions to the ongoing research activities of the faculty.

Over the last few years, students have participated in studies of:

  • The physical properties of diamond films
  • The construction of calorimeter models for elementary particle detection systems
  • Photoluminescence of porous silicon and other advanced materials
  • Transport phenomena in semiconductors
  • Neutron activation analysis and gamma-ray analysis applications in environmental science studies.

In some instances, this research work results in publications of papers in various journals and attendance and presentations at conferences on undergraduate research.

Internet Resources

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