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Physics

Department Overview

Einstein’s theory of relativity, the quantum theory, and the cosmology of Stephen Hawking, famous outposts of human imagination, are parts of a vast realm of knowledge and mystery that we call physics. This realm includes the foundations for all of the natural sciences. It extends from the structure of the atomic nucleus, to the fundamental processes taking place in living cells, to the large-scale structure and evolution of the whole universe. This realm is well-traveled by the physicist, yet every path leads to uncharted territory. To know physics in depth is to understand the deepest things known about the structure of space, time, matter, and the laws that govern natural phenomena, as well as to experience the frontiers of the human quest.

A physics major is a challenging undertaking. Our program for majors at Lewis & Clark involves a two-year introductory sequence, followed by advanced courses in classical dynamics, quantum mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. In addition, we offer a selection of elective courses that varies from year to year. In the introductory courses, you will have wonderful opportunities for close faculty interaction. In the upper-division classes, these interactions deepen, the classes assume more of a seminar format, and individualized assignments and projects are possible.

It is best to start a physics major in your first year. You may also start in the second year, but you’ll need to double up on the advanced courses in your senior year. The flexibility of our course scheduling enables students to take advantage of the College’s overseas study program.

An important part of the physics program is collaborative summer research between faculty and students. This work is supported by both internal and external grants, and pays students a stipend plus living expenses. Students who excel in their coursework may be invited to engage in this activity, which frequently leads to publication in research journals. Students coauthor and present papers at national meetings of the professional societies in physics, biophysics, and astronomy.

Our students secure internships at research universities and laboratories. In recent years, students have done summer internships at MIT, Columbia University, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, University of Colorado, University of Utah, and Tektronix. One student took an academic semester plus a summer research internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Some students continue to do collaborative research during the academic year. Students may also propose research projects of their own, to be carried out in their junior and senior years. Those who qualify are invited to do an honors thesis during their senior year.

Awards won by physics majors

Our students are recognized nationally. Nearly all physics majors at Lewis & Clark go on to careers or further study involving physics. Some take research positions in private industry or in government service. Others pursue teaching careers at the secondary or college level. Many of our majors go on to graduate school for additional training, in physics, engineering, or computer science.

Our majors are accepted into graduate programs across the country, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Washington, and the University of California at Berkeley. Our top students secure prestigious fellowships from NSF, NASA,  and the Hertz Foundation.