Jul 18, 2024  
2024 - 2025 College Catalog 
2024 - 2025 College Catalog

Physics, BS

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Physics is the most fundamental of all of the sciences; its goal is nothing less than to figure out the most basic laws which govern the universe. Because of this, the study of physics offers deep insights into many disciplines: knowledge of physics is a foundation for understanding the fundamentals of chemistry, biology and geology. It also offers insight into other aspects of our modern world. For example, two allied problems of today are the energy crisis and the issue of global climate change. It is impossible to understand either of these issues without some knowledge of physics.

The goals of the department are to a) teach our students a basic understanding of the laws of physics and their applications; b) teach them to understand the structure of the Universe around us as generated by those laws; and c) provide our majors with an introduction to research methods in physics (both experimental and theoretical.)

To this end we offer rigorous programs in physics with majors in two areas: physics and applied physics.  Both programs are equally rigorous; the physics major is a standard undergraduate program primarily meant for students who are interested in pursuing a graduate career in physics or other careers, while the applied physics track is meant for students interested in future work and/or graduate study in the applied sciences or technology (i.e., in disciplines such as applied physics, engineering, geology or geophysics, biophysics and bioengineering, etc.).

We also offer a physics minor designed for students majoring in mathematics, chemistry or biology, and several undergraduate courses designed for the general student, including two courses in astronomy. Undergraduates can also take part in research with faculty members, both as part of the St. Mary’s Project and also in research programs at the nearby Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Our students have also participated in research programs at the National Institute of Standards & Technology, the NASA-Goddard Spaceflight Center, the Naval Research Laboratory, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Super Kamiokande Neutrino detector in Japan.

Learning Outcomes

  • Use the many laws of physics to explain the phenomena of a specific real-world problem.
  • Build a useful model of a real-world problem using the laws of physics.
  • Apply the scientific method.
  • Identify and use appropriate data analysis tools and techniques to interpret data sets.
  • Write clear and concise explanations of their work at a level appropriate for the audience.
  • Present their work clearly and concisely at a level appropriate for the audience.
  • Locate relevant information sources for use.
  • Understand multiple career opportunities and how to find more information about pursuing their career goals.
  • Share responsibility and cooperate to achieve a team’s goal.

Degree Requirements

To earn a bachelor of science degree with a major in physics, concentration in applied physics, a student must satisfy the following minimum requirements:

General College Requirements

General College Requirements (see “Curriculum ” section), including the following requirements to satisfy the major

Required Courses

Physics Core Courses (32 credit hours)

Cognate Courses (16 credit hours)

Elective Courses (four credit hours selected from the following list of courses)

Senior Seminar in Applied Physics

Every applied physics major must successfully complete two semesters of the senior seminar in Applied Physics, PHYS 475 - Topics in Applied Physics I , with two separate topics. Topics will typically be different in fall and spring semesters. Applied physics majors do not need to do a St. Mary’s Project, but may do so if they wish.  If they choose to do so, requirements for the St. Mary’s Project are the same as for students with a physics major.

Research Experience

Research is integral to the practice of physics. Every applied physics must successfully complete a research experience in one of the following three ways:

Mary’s Project. This project may be in physics or in another major discipline or a study area. The guidelines established in the selected area apply. The project must be proposed to a mentor and to the chair of the Department of Physics at least three weeks before the last day of classes of the second semester of the student’s junior year, and it must be approved by the mentor and the department chair.

Directed Research in Physics at an upper level. To use Directed Research to satisfy the research requirement for the applied physics major, students must successfully complete a total of four credits of upper-level Directed Research in Physics (PHYS 397  or PHYS 497 ). Concurrent with the final credit of Directed Research, the student must also register for PHYS 350 and complete its presentation requirement.

Other research experience. Students with an applied physics major may satisfy the research requirement with another approved research experience, such as a Research Experience for Undergraduates or a research assistantship at another institution, so long as the research experience is in physics or a related discipline and it occupies at least 160 hours. Concurrent with the research experience, the student must also register for PHYS 350  and complete its presentation requirement.

Students majoring in applied physics may not also major in physics, nor may they minor in physics.  Students majoring in applied physics may also minor in Astrophysics, but cannot use PHYS 391 - Astrophysics  or PHYS 392 - Cosmology  to satisfy the upper-level elective requirements of their major if they do so.

Minimum Grade and GPA Requirements

Students must earn a grade of C- or better in all courses listed in items 2-3 above, and maintain an overall GPA of 2.0 or better in these required courses.

Sequence of Study

The following model is suggested as a sequence of study that satisfies the above requirements:

First Year:

Sophomore Year:

Junior Year:

Senior Year:

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