Why Study Physics?

Physics is the scientific study of the material universe at its most fundamental level.

A physicist might study the inner workings of atoms and nuclei, the size and age of the universe, the behavior of high-temperature superconductors, or the life cycles of stars, from their formation out of interstellar gases to their end-states as pulsars or black holes.

Physicists use high-energy accelerators to search for quarks; they design new laser systems for applications in medicine and communications; they heat hydrogen gases to temperatures above those of the sun’s core in the attempt to develop nuclear fusion as an energy resource. From astrophysics to nuclear physics to optics and crystal structure, physics encompasses some of the most fundamental and exciting ideas ever considered.

Why Study Physics at PLU?

The Department of Physics offers bachelor of science and bachelor of arts degrees in physics, a bachelor of science degree in applied physics, and a bachelor of arts in education degree for secondary-level physics teachers. A minor in physics is also available and is often selected by students with majors in mathematics, chemistry, computer science or computer engineering.

The PLU Department of Physics offers small classes: typically 30–50 students in the introductory courses, and 10-15 students in upper-division classes. In addition to the lower-division physics courses, which provide overviews of classical and modern physics at an introductory level, the department offers a solid curriculum of upper-division courses. Our faculty is strongly committed to undergraduate education, both inside and outside the classroom.

Each senior student, under the supervision of a faculty member, completes an independent project and presents the results to students and faculty. Recent undergraduate projects have included holographic interferometry, astronomical photometry, solar cell testing and high temperature superconductivity.

Facilities in the modern Rieke Science Center include a 2,500-square-foot open laboratory, a Boeing Advanced Laboratory, the Keck Astronomical Observatory, and two Jordahl Research Laboratories. An electronics/machine shop is also available to support research and student projects. The open laboratory and the advanced laboratory both include networked computing facilities available for student use.

Careers for Physics Majors

A degree in physics can lead to employment in design and development work in private industry or in large, government laboratories. With their broad education in fundamental physical concepts, physicists often work closely with engineers who have more specific design-oriented training. Those who complete a Ph.D. degree in physics may be involved in the basic research of unanswered questions in science, or may contribute to the development of new, advanced technologies.

Physics graduates from PLU often pursue employment directly after graduation. Past graduates have found successful careers with Northwest companies such as Boeing, Boise-Cascade, Hewlett-Packard, INTEL, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, Tektronix, Westinghouse-Hanford, Immunex and STI Optronics.

Other graduates have earned post-baccalaureate degrees in physics, material science, engineering, astronomy and medicine at institutions around the country, including the University of Washington, Yale University, the University of Colorado, the University of Rochester, Oregon State University, Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin. An undergraduate program in physics provides excellent preparation for graduate study in many areas of the physical sciences and engineering, such as mechanical engineering, civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, aerospace engineering, optical engineering and electrical engineering.