Paul J. Nienaber SJ, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair
Physics is the study of the structure of the material universe, the particles that comprise it, and the forces by means of which these particles interact. The physics department helps students understand that structure and those particles and forces, and appreciate and apply these fundamental principles.
Consistent with the mission of Saint Mary’s University, the physics department seeks to develop the professional competencies of its graduates and to instill in them a habit of life-long learning.
General Department Goals
To this end, the physics department presents to students a broad survey of the interconnected concepts of classical and 20th-century physics, and develops in students an array of problem-solving skills appropriate to and involving those concepts.
All students in physics classes should gain an appreciation of science as a human and creative endeavor, acquire and be able to apply skills of quantitative reasoning, and understand science’s distinctive disciplinary methodology, with its emphasis on experimentation and open communication. Science majors in physics courses should in addition master foundational physics principles and analytical methods, learn experimental techniques to test physical models, and be able to apply these principles, methods, and techniques to their own professions. Physics majors should add to these goals an introduction to the abstract models and advanced experimental techniques used in the study of physics as a profession, to provide groundwork for their future study or careers.
Through knowledge of these concepts and acquisition of these skills, students then are able to:
- Live, continue learning, and pursue careers as scientifically literate and technologically competent adults;
- Demonstrate and profit from their expertise in the techniques of modern experimental physics and electronics;
- Appropriately and advantageously employ computer technology both for data acquisition and processing, and algorithm development and execution; and
- Communicate their knowledge and skills effectively and cogently in a variety of modalities (oral, written and graphical).
The physics curriculum is designed to meet the needs of students who wish to teach, do research, undertake graduate study or to enter engineering professions or such interdisciplinary fields as biophysics, astrophysics, medical physics, health physics, etc. The physics department endeavors to help students see the impact of scientific thought, methods and discoveries on contemporary society. Through class and laboratory work, students develop the ability to interpret phenomena in light of existing theories. A strong emphasis is placed upon laboratory experience in order to bring students to a level where they can work independently, and where they have developed initiative and reliability in their work.
The Saint Mary’s chapter of the national physics honor fraternity Sigma Pi Sigma was founded in 1964; it is the second-oldest chapter of this prestigious society in the state of Minnesota.
Physics Department Honors at Graduation
Graduating students in physics are eligible for the Brother Jerome Rademacher FSC Graduating Senior Physics Award, presented to senior physics majors who exemplify Brother Jerome’s dedication to intellectual vigor, careful scholarship, and service to the community, and who exhibit strong commitment to and potential for contribution to the profession of physics. The criteria for the award are:
- Nomination by the physics academic advisor and approval by the department;
- Attaining an overall cumulative GPA of 3.9 or greater;
- Participation in at least one extramural research internship or URE, resulting in a presentation at a regional or national professional conference or meeting;
- Intent to pursue physics as a profession, evidenced by acceptance into a scientific post-graduate program (MS, MD, or PhD);
- Physics-related service to the Saint Mary’s community (e.g., as a tutor).