Physics is the most foundational of sciences. It is the study of matter, energy, space and time. Astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology and engineering apply the principles of physics to specific problems. Almost all areas of modern technology involve applications of physics. 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. Students graduating with the BS degree in physics are well prepared for graduate school in physics, astronomy, materials science, and education as well as several fields of engineering and a variety of professions in industry.
The BS in physics is based on a core curriculum that covers fundamental theories of physics: classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics. Laboratory work forms an important part of the core with sophisticated upper-division laboratories in electronics, astronomy, optics, and material physics. Students planning graduate work and professional careers in astronomy should select 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 values the role of research in the undergraduate experience. Students work collaboratively with peers and faculty to investigate open-ended problems of current interest. The department has research specialists in condensed matter and materials physics, astronomy, and physics education. Research topics in condensed matter and materials physics include magnetism and magnetic materials, organic semiconductor materials, surface science, paleomagnetism, and a variety of theoretical and computational subfields. Many of these research areas offer opportunities to collaborate across disciplines with faculty and students in Western’s Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Center (AMSEC). Research topics in astronomy include observational and theoretical studies of the Milky Way and distant galaxies and galaxy clusters using imaging and spectroscopy at multiple wavelengths.
Research topics in physics education research include the identification of specific conceptual and reasoning difficulties and the development and testing of instructional strategies.
Physics majors are encouraged to participate as laboratory teaching assistants and learning assistants. Such involvement provides valuable experience and financial support. Students report 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.
BRAD JOHNSON (1997) Chair and Professor. BS, MS, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs; PhD, University of Colorado-Boulder.
W. LOUIS BARRETT (1968) Professor. BS, University of Idaho; MS, PhD, University of Washington.
ANDREW BOUDREAUX (2008) Assistant Professor. BS, University of California-Berkeley; PhD, University of Washington.
MILTON FROM (1998) Associate Professor. BSC, University of Manitoba; MSc, PhD, McGill University.
KRISTEN LARSON (2002) Associate Professor. BS, University of California-San Diego; MS, PhD, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
JANELLE LEGER (2008) Assistant Professor. BS, University of California-Davis; PhD, University of California - Santa Cruz.
GEORGE NELSON (2002) Associate Professor. BS, Harvey Mudd College; MS, PhD, University of Washington.
ANDREAS RIEMANN (2006) Assistant Professor. BS, MS, University Halle, Germany; PhD, Free University Berlin, Germany.
KENNETH RINES (2008) Assistant Professor. BA, Rice University; AM, PhD, Harvard University.
TAKELE SEDA (2002) Associate Professor. BS, Asmara University (Eritrea); MS, Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia); PhD, University of the Witwattersand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
KATHLEEN SANDELIN, BS, Western Washington University; MS, College of William and Mary.
JOHN WILLS, BA, San Diego State University; PhD, University of Washington.
Declaring a Physics Major
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. Contact the department office to declare in person or by mail. Be sure to provide unofficial copies of your transcript(s). We will determine which of the courses you have already taken will be applied toward the major and develop a plan of study for the remaining coursework. If you are not sure which program option is for you, we can help. 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.
Other Departmental Information
Advice to Freshman
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 the student needing more than four years to complete the degree. All core courses require mathematics, and calculus is particularly important. For this reason, freshmen considering a major in physics should enroll in MATH 124, MATH 134, or MATH 138 during their first quarter at Western concurrently with PHYS 121. Freshmen who have had calculus in high school are advised to take PHYS 121 during their first quarter, along with the appropriate level of calculus course. Freshmen who have had no calculus at all should postpone PHYS 121 until their second quarter at Western, so that they may first complete MATH 124, MATH 134, or MATH 138. The physics course sequence has been arranged so that this delay of one quarter will not cause problems later.
Advice to Transfer Students
The first two years of the physics BS program is based on the following core courses:
- PHYS 121 , PHYS 122 , PHYS 123 ; MATH 124 or MATH 134 , MATH 125 or MATH 135 , or MATH 138 , MATH 224 ; CSCI 140
- PHYS 223 , PHYS 224 , PHYS 225 , PHYS 233 , , PHYS 322 ; , MATH 203 , MATH 303 ( , , and may be substituted)
Students planning to transfer to Western from a community college should strive to take as many equivalents of the courses above as possible. The community college sequence equivalent to PHYS 121-122-123 will usually be called introductory physics with calculus and will probably include labs. MATH 124 or 134, MATH 125 or 135, or 138, 224 is the first year of college calculus. MATH 203 and 303 is a two-quarter sequence in linear algebra and differential equations. Students should be aware that like-named 200-level community college courses may not transfer as equivalent.
A student seeking to complete a BS degree in physics within a four-year time span should have completed the following courses by the start of his/her junior year. Major omissions from this list will make it difficult or impossible to complete this degree within two additional years.
- PHYS 121 , PHYS 122 , PHYS 123 , PHYS 223 , PHYS 224 , PHYS 225 , PHYS 233 , ,PHYS 322 ,
- MATH 124 or MATH 134 , MATH 125 or MATH 135 , or MATH 138 , MATH 203 , MATH 224 , MATH 303 MATH 303 ( , , and may be substituted for MATH 203 and )
- CSCI 140
A student seeking to complete a BA in Education degree in physics/mathematics within a four-year time span should have completed the following courses by the start of his/her junior year. Major omissions from this list will make it difficult or impossible to complete this degree within two additional years.
- PHYS 121 , PHYS 122 , PHYS 123 , PHYS 223 , PHYS 224 , PHYS 225 , PHYS 233 , , PHYS 322 ,
- MATH 124 or MATH 134 , MATH 125 or MATH 135 , or MATH 138 , MATH 203 , MATH 209 , MATH 224 , MATH 303 ( , , and may be substituted for MATH 203 and )
Anyone interested in learning more about the study of physics at Western is invited to write, phone, e-mail, fax or visit the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9164, telephone: 360-650-3818, fax: 360-650-6505. The department office is in Communication Facility 385. Information about Western’s physics and astronomy programs is also available at the department website, www.wwu.edu/depts/physics.
Undergraduate Degrees and Programs
Chemistry/Physics - Secondary, BAE
Physics/Mathematics — Secondary, BAE
Physics and Astronomy Courses