Discipline Coordinator- Duane Pontius
Physics provides the foundation for natural sciences, covering topics ranging from subatomic particles to superclusters of galaxies, from interactions occuring on the shortest durations of time and smallest intervals of space, to the event horizons of black holes where the distinction between time and space becomes murky at best. While studying a wide variety of fascinating topics, majoring in physics also provides an excellent preparation for any profession that depends upon analytic thinking skills. Along with graduate studies in physics, many of our majors go on to careers in medicine and dentistry. Physics majors may enter public school teaching with the appropriate courses in education for certification. Physics is also a component of Birmingham-Southern's dual degree in engineering.
The introductory two-course sequence in physics introduces students to some of the major concepts and classical topics of physics: the behavior of matter and radiation; conservation of fundamental quantities such as energy, electric charge, momentum, and angular momentum; oscillations and wave phenomena. Perhaps more importantly, the course is designed to teach the very powerful and flexible analytical tools with which physicists address subjects, ways of approaching problems and framing questions that are useful beyond the particular topics traditionally considered by physicists. We place a strong emphasis on acquiring a deep understanding of the conceptual foundations and learning how to apply that understanding to practical problems. In physics, memorization is an ancillary skill at best. Upper level classes focus on deeper facets of these classical topics and offer the chance to explore some truly wonderous subjects, including astrophysics, quantum mechanics, and Einstein's theories of relativity.
Engaging in research is a vital part of a student's education in physics, even for those majors not expecting to pursue careers as professional physicists. Research offers the opportunity to tackle problems whose answer can't simply be looked up. In research, as in real life, one finds that formulating an appropriate question is the most challenging aspect of a problem! Students work in close collaboration with faculty members, learning from guidance and by example. Recent student researchers have analyzed spectroscopic observations of Jupiter and designed computational simulations of ionized gases flowing around electrically conducting bodies. The expanded physics facilities of the new Elton B. Stephens Science Center will allow the department to grow and flourish in state-of-the-art facilities as part of an active community of scientists.
For more information, including a course listing, please visit the Disciplinary Major/Minor section of the most recent issue of the Birmingham-Southern College Catalog.