Physics (PHY)

The Physics Department offers BA and BS degrees in Physics, a BS degree in Biophysics and a minor in Physics.

Educational Goal

The overarching educational goal the Physics Department has for its BA and BS students is to provide them with a rigorous introduction to the fundamental principles of physics along with mathematical tools and experimental techniques that allow them to investigate physical phenomena in detail. In the process we seek to instill habits of the mind in our students that are characteristic of physical scientists. These habits include developing a natural curiosity for the physical world, developing an abiding interest in deeply understanding challenging scientific concepts and tackling difficult scientific questions, and developing the ability to apply mathematical and physical reasoning to understand the laws that determine the interactions that occur in physical systems. The specific knowledge and skills that we expect our students to learn to achieve these educational goals are listed below for each of the different options we provide for our majors.

Core Learning Outcomes all Students Earning either BA or a BS in Physics, or a BS in Biophysics

  1. Students will be proficient in the fundamental concepts of physics – classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics.
  2. Students will use critical thinking skills to formulate and solve quantitative problems.
  3. Students will have mastered the scientific method by demonstrating the ability to articulate questions and hypotheses, and then apply physical techniques to answer the questions and/or test the hypotheses.
  4. Students will demonstrate an ability to apply core physical concepts in practical environments.
  5. Students will learn to present well-organized, logical and scientifically sound technical reports.
  6. Students will understand the variety of career paths and opportunities that are open to students who have majored in physics.

Additional Learning Outcomes Students earning a BS Degree in Physics

  1. Students will be proficient in advanced concepts of physics– classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics/thermodynamics.
  2. Students will develop an understanding of physics at an advanced mathematical level.
  3. Students will develop deeper, more complex problem solving skills.

Additional Learning Outcomes Students earning a BS Degree in Biophysics

  1. Students will be proficient in fundamental concepts of biophysics, and demonstrate competency in the core competencies of chemistry and biology.
  2. Students will master the scientific method at research.
  3. Students will learn research methods by undertaking significant research at a level that can be presented locally, nationally, or internationally; and/or by discussion of contemporary research, scientific literature and acquisition of scientific information.

Additional Learning Outcomes Students earning any Physics degree with Honors

Students will demonstrate an ability to present well-organized, logical and scientifically sound oral and written technical reports.

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

Physics courses are highly sequential in nature. Lack of competency in any of the basic areas blocks success in later courses. When such deficiencies are identified, faculty members work individually with students to correct such deficiencies.

The department conducts written surveys of all graduating seniors in which we ask for them to assess the quality of their training. These reports were generally quite positive. Feedback is used to modify the curriculum. For example, the department was asked to consider changing the B.A. in Physics with a Concentration in Biophysics and Biochemistry to a B.S. degree. The survey indicated that every respondent favored the proposal to offer a BS in Biophysics instead of the BA with Concentration option. The Department faculty and the College ultimately approved this switch. So the department now offers students the option of earning a BS in Biophysics.

We conduct surveys of all alumni for which we have contact information, and ask them to assess the quality of their education and to identify any deficiencies. This survey is conducted every seven years.

Here we describe the plan of the Physics Department for assessing two of its goals.

The first one is goal number 5 of the Core Goals for the BA (and BS) majors which states “Students will learn to present well-organized, logical and scientifically sound technical reports.” The second is goal number 1 for the Honors students which states “Students will demonstrate an ability to present well-organized, logical and scientifically sound technical reports.”

In the PHY 265, 266, and 230 labs students already write lab reports. At the end of the semester the instructor will use a rubric agreed upon by the Department to categorize the writing of each student. The rubric contains the categories Exemplary, Very Good, Acceptable, Marginal, and Poor. Each of these has clearly defined criteria which are given in the link below. The Department will keep a record of the assessments and keep them anonymous so that most members of the Department will not know which student was being referred to. However, it will be possible within this context to track the progress of given students as they take the different labs.

Our senior honors students are not anonymous. We already keep examples of their writing in terms of their honors theses. Further they give talks on their work to the Department. We will make assessments of the qualities of these theses using a similar rubric to that used for the lab students and preserve these assessments for future reference. The Department will keep a record of the assessments and keep them anonymous so that most members of the Department will not know which student was being referred to. This is complementary to the anonymous assessments given to students in the labs.

The Undergraduate Committee will be responsible for examining this data once a year and reporting back to the faculty.

Rubric for assessing written lab reports (PDF)