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Physics, Department of

Course Designators: PHY, AST, PHS

For information, please contact the chairperson, 989-774-3321, 203 Dow Science Complex;

Why Study Physics and Astronomy?

Physics is the basis of science and technology. The laws of physics describe the behavior of matter and energy and help us to understand the physical world. On the smallest scale, physicists study quarks, nuclei, atoms, and other basic constituents of matter. They also study the mechanical, electromagnetic, and thermal properties of solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas. On the grandest scale, physicists and astronomers study stars and galaxies, and apply physical principles to questions about the nature of the universe.

More than 50,000 physicists work in industry, educational institutions, state and federal government, and nonprofit research centers in the United States. Some perform basic research in physics, while others apply their knowledge to solve human problems in such areas as energy sources, climate change, medicine, transportation, communication, geology, and defense.

These researchers are supported by those who teach science and engineering, providing students with the problem-solving and laboratory skills necessary for tackling the challenges of the future. Physics teachers are prepared to instruct at the high school or college level, and many physicists are employed as university professors. Besides educating future physicists, our faculty provides students with the knowledge of physics that is required for such fields as medicine, engineering, technical writing, and environmental science.

Physics and Astronomy at CMU

The Department of Physics offers physics and astronomy courses to serve the needs of a variety of students: those considering graduate studies or professional employment in physics and astronomy; those planning to teach physics or astronomy at colleges and secondary schools; those seeking to enter technical professions such as medicine or engineering that require a thorough understanding of physical concepts; and those planning to major in a non-technical discipline but desire an understanding of the fundamental processes that govern the physical environment.

A student can take a major or a minor in Physics. An Astronomy and Astrophysics major is available for students intending to pursue graduate work in astronomy. For students headed for a teaching career, both the Physics major and minor are available. Any student interested in a major or minor in physics should contact the chairperson as soon as possible to be assigned an advisor.

Undergraduate and graduate physics students have opportunities for individual research projects in the department’s research laboratories: the Brooks Astronomical Observatory, the x-ray diffraction laboratory, the thin-films laboratory, and the nuclear physics laboratories for Penning-trap mass spectrometry and radiation detectors development. Opportunities also exist for research at national and international laboratories. Students may also choose to engage in computational physics research, in areas ranging from condensed matter and nuclear physics to astrophysics. This work is carried out on computer clusters located on campus and at high performance computing centers around the country.

The department’s classrooms, laboratories, and faculty offices are located in the Leon and Frances McDermott wing of the Dow Science Complex. A large collection of physics and astronomy books is housed in the Park Library. There is a departmental study room in Dow 231, where tutors are available during the evening hours. Undergraduate physics and astronomy majors enjoy the use of a comfortable office space where they can meet and study together.


The Physics Department offers courses under three designators: PHY, PHS, AST. These courses are described in detail in the part of this Bulletin entitled “Course Descriptions”. Physics and engineering students, as well as students of chemistry, meteorology, and geology, normally begin their study of physics with a calculus-based sequence. A separate introductory physics sequence based on trigonometry is offered for biology and pre-professional students.

The Faculty

Fahim Ahmed, Veronica Barone (Chair), Alfredo Estrade, Marco Fornari, Mihai Horoi, Koblar Jackson, Aaron LaCluyze, Axel Mellinger, Chris Nelson, Juan Peralta, Georgios Perdikakis, Valeri Petkov, Matthew Redshaw, Christopher Tycner, and Glen Williams

The Programs

Astronomy and Astrophysics Major

Physics Major

Physics Minor