Physics

  • Degree Type Bachelor of Science
  • Department Physics and Engineering
  • Academic Division The College
  • Offerings Major

Students work on building a project together Students work on building a project together

Building upon a foundation in theory and concepts, students apply critical thinking to analytical, computational, and experimental methods, which fosters in them a universal approach that promotes success in any field.

Physics

Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. It is the oldest, most basic and fundamental science. Through completion of the program, our physics majors will:

  • Apply fundamental physics theory and concepts.
  • Integrate fundamental physics concepts to comprehend advanced topics.
  • Simulate and model physics problems using mathematical and computational methods.
  • Gain proficiency with instrumentation, equipment, and hardware employed in physics experimentation.
  • Process data, identify trends and interpret results from physics measurements or simulations.
  • Design and conduct physics experiments.
  • Demonstrate awareness of current lines of inquiry in physics or related interdisciplinary areas.
  • Identify valid technical resources and extract relevant information.
  • Communicate scientific information through written and oral presentations for either technical or general audiences.
  • Articulate the role of physics in society.
Opportunities 

Research with faculty on campus: Students work with faculty on research projects during the year for credit, or over the summer for credit and paid stipend.

Research opportunities and internships: Students are encouraged and supported by faculty to participate in research and internship summer programs outside of W&L. Our students routinely participate in National Science Foundation-funded programs at various research universities, as well as at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and
CERN (The European Organization for Nuclear Research). The department website maintains a listing of off-campus research opportunities.

Intro Physics TAs: Physics, Engineering, and Integrated Engineering majors
(or sophomores by invitation who intend to major) who meet the minimum requirements can apply to become a teaching assistant for the Introductory Physics labs.

Conferences: Our research students often present their work at the American Physical Society National Conference and other national and international conferences. For example, our students participated at conferences in Seoul, South Korea, Madrid, Spain and Lyon and Paris, France.

Publications: We are very proud to have our students as co-authors. Our research students publish in prestigious journals such as Physical Review A, Physical Review E, Physica A, and the Journal of Statistical Mechanics.

Dan Mazilu

Department Head

Tanya Bennett

Administrative Assistant

News


Mengying Liu

W&L Engineering Professor Publishes Paper in Science Advances

Mengying Liu collaborated with researchers from Texas A&M University on the peer-reviewed article.

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Flying High

Misha Lin ’25 is taking her dance education to the next level this summer with intensive aerial dance training, finishing with a two-week international festival in August.

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W&L’s Hamza Zia ’26 Receives Davis Projects for Peace Grant

Zia plans to continue his work with the PINK Center Project in his home country of Pakistan.

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W&L’s Demetri Patrinos ’25 Awarded Goldwater Scholarship

Patrinos is one of three W&L students selected for the scholarship this spring.

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Total Eclipsing on the Colonnade

Hundreds of W&L students, faculty and staff came together to witness the astronomical event.

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W&L Student Performs at Havana Jazz Festival

A meeting with a Broadway legend allowed engineering major Zaria Daniels ’26 to take her vocal talents to Cuba.

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W&L Hosts 17th National Symposium of Theater in Academe

“Myth, Magic, and Madness” will feature a dynamic lineup of creative workshops, dramatic readings and staged productions March 21-22.

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W&L’s Jon Erickson Part of Coalition that Receives Major Medical Research Grant

The engineering professor will perform research related to gastrointestinal motility over the next three years in New Zealand.

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Six W&L Students Awarded Gilman Scholarships to Study Abroad

The Gilman Scholarship Program offers awards of up to $5,000 to U.S. undergraduate students who are Pell Grant recipients.

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Tom McClain

W&L’s McClain Presents Nobel Prize Symposium Talk

Tom McClain, assistant professor of physics, will discuss this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics on Wednesday, Nov. 1.

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Digging Deep

W&L’s Summer Research Scholars program gives students hands-on experience in collaborative research with faculty mentors.

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Mengying Liu

W&L Professor Receives Grant from the American Association of University Women

Mengying Liu will use the funds to research high-throughput crystallographic mapping in the United Kingdom.

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

PHYS 151

Stellar Evolution and Cosmology

An introduction to the physics and astronomy of stellar systems and the universe, including the formation and lifecycle of stars, stellar systems, galaxies, and the universe as a whole according to “Big Bang” cosmology. Observational aspects of astronomy are also emphasized, including optics and telescopes, star maps, and knowledge of constellations. Geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and logarithms are used in the course.

PHYS 102

Physics and Perception of Music

Explores physical principles of sound production and music perception. Hands-on investigation is emphasized and topics include: wave properties and propagation, harmonic series and spectral analysis, tuning temperaments, response of the human ear, auditory processing, room acoustics, audio recording and reproduction technologies, characterization of various instrument families (strings, brass, woodwind, percussion, and voice).

PHYS 275

Electricity and Magnetism

An introduction to the classical theory of electric and magnetic fields. The basic equations of electromagnetism (Maxwell’s equations) are developed through a study of electrostatics, steady-state magnetism, and electromagnetic induction.

PHYS 285

Optics

A study of the properties of electromagnetic waves with special emphasis on visible light. Wave descriptions are developed for scattering, reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction, and polarization. Topics in geometrical optics are also studied, including lenses and aberration theory.

PHYS 125

Particle Physics at CERN

This course introduces students to basic theoretical and phenomenological concepts of the structure of matter at the atomic and nuclear level. Students learn about the fundamental particles and their interactions in the context of the groundbreaking experiments that are underway at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), the world’s leader in particle physics research and the host of the Large Hadron Collider. The course includes traditional lectures as well as seminar-type workshops and computational projects, and culminates with a ten-day trip to Switzerland to visit CERN, Geneva, and Bern.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Dan Mazilu
Dan Mazilu

Dan Mazilu

Department Head; Professor of Physics

Mazilu teaches courses in general physics, classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and special topics in contemporary physics. His research interests include experimental and theoretical studies of self-assembled nanoparticle monolayers, as well as interdisciplinary projects in the field of complex systems.

Curriculum Vitae

Jonathan Erickson
Jonathan Erickson

Jonathan Erickson

Professor of Physics and Engineering

Erickson’s courses include Physics and Perception of Music, Electronics, and Bioengineering and Bioinspired Design. His research interests include biomedical signal processing for gastrointestinal electrical activity patterns. In his Bioelectronics Lab, students develop electronics hardware and software algorithms to measure dynamic patterns of electrical activity in the gastrointestinal tract.

Joel Kuehner
Joel Kuehner

Joel Kuehner

Professor of Physics and Engineering

Kuehner teaches courses in entry-level engineering, mechanics, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. His recent research focuses on periodic water flows and oscillatory natural convection to uncover the causes of periodic behavior. In his Fluid Diagnostics Lab, research examines turbulent mixing mechanics. Students acquire flow properties such as temperature or velocity using laser-based methods that do not disturb the flow.

Irina Mazilu
Irina Mazilu

Irina Mazilu

Parmly Professor of Physics

Irina Mazilu teaches courses in general physics, statistical physics, nuclear physics and computational modeling of physical systems. Her current projects include nanoparticle self-assembly and applications of statistical physics to social sciences.

Curriculum Vitae

Tom McClain
Tom McClain

Tom McClain

Assistant Professor of Physics

Professor McClain teaches General Physics for first-year students. His research interests include quantum theories of gravity, gravitational wave astronomy, philosophy of physics, and mobile and cloud-based physics simulations for education.

Son Nguyen
Son Nguyen

Son Nguyen

Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics

Son Nguyen teaches courses in general physics and quantum mechanics. He is interested in applying effective field theories to nuclear few-body systems. His work involves the search for fundamental symmetry violations, direct detection of dark matter, and properties of cluster-structured atomic nuclei. Recently, he has been exploring new computational methods for studying few-body quantum mechanics using lattice formulations of these effective field theories.

Todd Rutkowski
Todd Rutkowski

Todd Rutkowski

Instructor of Physics and Engineering

Todd Rutkowski teaches courses in general physics. His current focus is on implementing effective physics pedagogies throughout the undergraduate curriculum. His research background is in condensed matter physics, studying magnetic phases of ultracold gases which arise due to strong quantum fluctuations at low temperature. He also studies cultural heritage science, leveraging non-invasive spectroscopic techniques to identify pigments used in historical paintings.

David Sukow
David Sukow

David Sukow

Robert Lee Telford Professor of Physics

Sukow’s courses include Stellar Evolution and Cosmology, Modern Physics, Optics, and Quantum Mechanics. His research involves nonlinear dynamics in semiconductor lasers, and is beginning to include astrophysics.

Jonathan Erickson
Joel Kuehner
Irina Mazilu
Tom McClain
Son Nguyen
Todd Rutkowski
David Sukow
Dan Mazilu