About Physics

Physics is the science that describes how the physical world works.  It is the most fundamental of all sciences.  Other sciences build upon physics.

Physicists conduct research into the fundamental laws of nature or make use of what we already know about the physical world to design and develop new practical products.  As a career, physics offers an astonishing variety of possibilities.

The world of the physicist stretches from the tiniest particles of subatomic matter to galaxies and beyond.  It includes computer circuitry and spacecraft orbits, medical imaging and the search for controlled fusion power.  Some of the questions that physicists try to answer are deeply philosophical:  How did the universe begin?  On a very small scale, does empty space become “granular” or “foamy”?  But many of the questions that physicists deal with are highly practical:  How can more information be packed into a  smaller space?  What will be the effect of adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere?  Can chemical rockets be replaced by electromagnetic launchers?  How can solar cells be made more efficient?

Most modern technology rests on physics.  Sometimes new knowledge is put to work quickly.  For example, many practical uses were found for the laser soon after its invention.  Sometimes new knowledge is slow to be harnessed.  In 1905 Albert Einstein explained how light can eject electrons from solid surfaces.  It was many years before this “photoelectric effect” found application in television cameras.

Physics provides deep understanding of the laws of nature and will continue to help shape the world of the future.  Few careers are more exciting, more rewarding, and more important to society than physics.

Why study Physics at GMU 

What can GMU Department of Physics offer you?

Our program is flexible. We know everybody doesn’t end up getting a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy. You study a solid core curriculum your first three years, then you specialize your senior year in one of our eight concentrations.

The department’s faculty is committed to giving majors a solid foundation in the basics of physics and to teaching students the analytical and problem-solving skills that are essential to any career.

Upper-level  Physics classes are small, typically ten to fifteen students, an optimal size that guarantees individual attention. These courses are taught by faculty members who bring their research interests into the classroom.

The faculty members in physics have diverse research interests that range from astrophysics to physics education . Whenever possible, undergraduates are offered the chance to participate in vigorous faculty research programs.

Our introductory physics laboratories are equipped with  microcomputers to aid students in data acquisition and analysis and  to reinforce concepts learned in class.

Particle physics– the study of the smallest, most elemental building blocks of nature and the basic forces of nature.  The “microscopes” of the particle physicist are enormous particle accelerators.  (Particle physics is also called high-energy physics.)

Solid-state physics – (also known as condensed matter physics) the study and application of the electric, magnetic, optical, and acoustic properties of solid matter.  Integrated circuits are the product of solid-state physics.

Optics – the study of light (including the invisible ultraviolet and infrared radiation).  Optical physicists often work with lasers and are engaged in the optical transmission of information via thin fibers and in the design of optical “circuits” for future computers.

Acoustics – the study of sound.  An acoustical physicist could be involved in the design of a concert hall, stereos, or synthesizers.

Astrophysics – the extension of basic physics into the cosmos.  Astrophysicists study the life cycles of stars and the processes that gave rise to our expanding universe at the moment of the “big bang.”  Cosmology, the study of the structure and evolution of the universe in the large is a closely related field.

Plasma physics – the study of electrically charged (ionized) gases, sometimes called the fourth state of matter beyond solids, liquids, and gases.  Plasma physicists are pursuing the possibility of controlled thermonuclear energy on earth.  They also contribute to astrophysics.

Nuclear physics – the study of the nucleus of the atom, its radioactivity (including medical applications), and nuclear energy.  Tools of the nuclear physicist include accelerators and nuclear reactors.

Geophysics – the physics of the earth and planets, including seismology (the study of earthquakes), hydrology (the study of water on and below the surface), and volcanology (volcanoes).

Low-temperature physics – the study of phenomena such as superconductivity and superfluidity that occur at temperatures near absolute zero.  Cryogenic (extreme low-temperature) devices have practical importance in generating magnetic fields and in circuits that will be needed in future computers.

Vacuum physics – the study and applications of vacuums, volumes nearly free of matter.  Vacuums are important in many manufacturing processes and in experimental devices such as accelerators.

Tribology – the study of how materials wear.  Tribophysicists seek ways to reduce the damaging effects of friction, whether in automobile pistons or in artificial heart valves.

Rheology – the study of the flow of viscous (thick, sticky) materials and mixtures of materials.  The interests of rheologists include the flow of blood in the body, the flow of materials in a food-processing plant, and the flow of arctic glaciers.

Biophysics – the application of physics to biological problems.  Biophysics includes studies of proteins and DNA at the molecular level as well as studies of the human body as a mechanical system and the design of artificial limbs, and computer modeling of neural networks.

Medical physics – the application of physics to medical practice, including uses of radiation, ultrasound, and sophisticated imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Physics education – Teachers experience the excitement and fulfillment of education others about all the fields of Physics.

In addition to these subfields, many physicists work in areas as defined by a particular problem rather than a specific subfield.  Examples of such problems include global change (including global warming), design of new generations of accelerators and computers, and arms control verification