Nov 29, 2022  
2022-23 Western Washington University Catalog 
2022-23 Western Washington University Catalog

Physics and Astronomy

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Physics is a branch of science that explores the basic principles that govern the physical world, including matter and energy, as well as their properties and interactions. Physics is often called the fundamental science because principles of physics are essential for the understanding of nearly all branches of the natural sciences. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts in Education (BAE) degree in Physics/Mathematics education, and additionally supports a BS degree in Geophysics that is housed in WWU’s Geology Department. Students graduating with the BS degree in physics are well prepared for graduate school in physics, astronomy, and related fields, and for a variety of professions in education, industry, and more.


The BS in physics is based on a core curriculum that covers fundamental topics of physics including classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. Laboratory work forms an important part of the core curriculum with sophisticated laboratory courses offered throughout the curriculum. Students planning graduate work and professional careers in astronomy should pursue the BS program in physics and complete the full year of 300-level astronomy courses offered in the department.


The Department of Physics and Astronomy highly values the role of research in the undergraduate experience. Students work collaboratively with peers and faculty to investigate open-ended problems of current interest and communicate the results of that work with the broader physics research community. The department has research specialists in condensed matter and materials physics, astronomy/astrophysics, planetary science, and physics education research. Research topics in condensed matter and materials physics include magnetism and magnetic materials, organic semiconductor and plasmonic materials, surface science, and quantum computing. Research topics in astronomy and astrophysics include observational and theoretical studies of stars and dust in the Milky Way, distant galaxies and galaxy clusters using imaging and spectroscopy at multiple wavelengths, and experimental gravitational physics. Research topics in planetary science include remote sensing of planetary surfaces and experimental studies of planetary interiors. Research topics in physics education research include the identification of specific conceptual and reasoning difficulties, and the development and testing of instructional strategies.


Physics and geophysics majors are encouraged to participate as laboratory teaching assistants. Such involvement provides valuable experience and financial support. Students report that their teaching experience deepens their understanding of fundamental physics concepts, builds leadership and communication skills, and fosters community. Close collaboration among faculty and students in teaching and learning is one of the strengths of the department.


KEVIN COVEY (2014) Chair and Associate Professor. BA, Carleton College; PhD, University of Washington.
ASMAA BOUJIBAR (2021) Assistant Professor. BS, Université de Rennes 1; MS, Université Clermont Auvergne, PhD, Université Clermont Auvergne (France).
ANDREW BOUDREAUX (2008) Professor. BS, University of California-Berkeley; PhD, University of Washington.
SVENJA FLEISCHER (2020) Assistant Professor. Diplom, University of Heidelberg, Germany; PhD, University of Heidelberg, Germany.
MILTON FROM (1998) Associate Professor. BSC, University of Manitoba; MSc, PhD, McGill University.
BRAD JOHNSON (1997) Professor. BS, MS, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs; PhD, University of Colorado-Boulder.
KRISTEN LARSON (2002) Associate Professor. BS, University of California-San Diego; MS, PhD, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
THANH LE (2017) Assistant Professor. BA, MA, University of California Berkeley; PhD, University of Maine.
JANELLE LEGER (2008) Professor. BS, University of California-Davis; MS, PhD, University of California - Santa Cruz.
BRANDON PEDEN (2010) Senior Instructor. BS, Physics, MS, Mathematics, Western Washington University; PhD, Physics, University of Colorado-Boulder.
ARMIN RAHMANI (2016) Associate Professor. BS, Baha’i Institute for Higher Education; PhD, Boston University.
ANDREAS RIEMANN (2006) Professor. BS, MS, University Halle, Germany; PhD, Free University Berlin, Germany.
MELISSA R. RICE (2014) Associate Professor. BA, Wesley College; MS, PhD, Cornell University.
KENNETH RINES (2008) Professor. BA, Rice University; AM, PhD, Harvard University.
ELLIS ROE (2010) Instructor. BS, Physics, Western Washington University; PhD, Physics, University of Oregon.
PHILIPP ROSER (2018) Instructor. MPhysPhil, University of Oxford, UK; MSc, Imperial College London, UK; PhD, Clemson University.
KATHLEEN SANDELIN (2008) Senior Instructor. BS, Chemistry, Western Washington University; MS, Physics, College of William and Mary.
TAKELE SEDA (2002) Professor. BS, Asmara University (Eritrea); MS, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia); PhD, University of the Witwattersand, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Declaring a Physics Major/Minor

Students are advised to declare the major as soon as possible, ideally no later than the end of the freshmen year or immediately upon transfer to Western. Admission to the Physics B.S. major is a two-step process - see details under the Physics B.S. below. Declaring the major allows you to receive important information from the department, priority enrollment into required courses, and benefits such as accounts on department computers and access to department study space. Contact the department office to declare the Physics B.S. major or a minor (Physics or Astronomy) in person or by email. We will determine which of the courses you have already taken will be applied toward the major/minor and develop a plan of study for the remaining coursework. If you are not sure which program option is for you, we can help.

Other Departmental Information

Advice to First-Year Students

The core curriculum for the BS program is arranged sequentially, with earlier courses required as prerequisites for later courses. Thus, it is important to start the core sequence as early as possible, since any substantial delay will result in needing more than four years to complete the degree. All core courses require mathematics, and calculus is particularly important. For this reason, students considering a major in physics should enroll in MATH 124, MATH 134, or MATH 138 as soon as possible, concurrently with PHYS 161. First-year students who have had calculus in high school are advised to take PHYS 161 during their first quarter, along with the appropriate level of calculus course.

Advice to Transfer Students

The first two years of the physics BS program is based on the following core courses:

Students planning to transfer to Western should strive to take as many equivalents of the courses above as possible. The course sequences equivalent to PHYS 161-162-163 will usually be called introductory physics with calculus and should include labs or should be taken alongside the corresponding lab courses. MATH 124 or 134, MATH 125 or MATH 135, or MATH 138, MATH 224 is the first year of college calculus. MATH 204 is Elementary Linear Algebra, MATH 304 is Linear Algebra and MATH 331 is Ordinary Differential Equations. Students should be aware that like-named 200-level courses taken outside of WWU may or may not transfer as equivalent. Please contact the department office if you have questions or concerns about transfer equivalencies.


Anyone interested in learning more about the study of physics and astronomy at Western is invited to write, phone, e-mail, or visit the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9164, telephone: 360-650-3818, email: The department office is in Communication Facility 385. Information about Western’s physics and astronomy programs is also available at the department website,


    Undergraduate MajorUndergraduate Combined MajorUndergraduate Minor



      Courses numbered X37; X97; 300, 400 are described in the University Academic Policies  section of this catalog.


      Courses numbered X37; X97; 300, 400 are described in the University Academic Policies  section of this catalog.

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