Shannon Mayer, Ph.D., chair

Faculty: Bonfim, Lawrence, More, Schlosshauer, Utlaut

The mission of the physics department is to provide students with the knowledge of the fundamental laws of physics and the skills to use these laws in physics, other fields of science, technological applications, and everyday life. Our program will also provide a solid background in both physics and mathematics to those students who wish to pursue physics or related fields at the graduate level. In broader terms, we wish to foster in our students the ability to question and discuss issues in all aspects of life with an unbiased scientific attitude.

Physics is the science that seeks to understand natural phenomena as simply as possible and so provide the foundation for the other sciences and engineering. Whatever questions they ask, physicists have discovered that the answers ultimately involve the same elegant general principles, such as symmetry, energy and momentum, mass and charge.

Rather than simply describe one observation, a physicist seeks to connect that observation with many others and apply or extend comprehensive theories. Physicists look for and study patterns among natural phenomena, including those that are readily apparent (like the orbits of planets) and those that are apparent only to deep analysis and careful observation (like the quantum transitions of atoms).

A physics major provides a rigorous grounding in the scientific process and a firm scientific understanding of the world. It fosters critical thinking and quantitative problem solving skills and provides broad practical training in science and technology. It can lead to graduate study and basic research (in a variety of disciplines), to stimulating jobs in industry, or to challenging and rewarding careers in teaching.

Our faculty members are engaged in original research, and physics majors are drawn early into collaborative research projects with the faculty. Students learn to think as physicists, not just work physics problems, and faculty welcome students’ curiosity, questioning, and new perspectives.

A physics major is essential for students planning to pursue a graduate degree in physics. A physics major provides a solid foundation for students who anticipate careers in secondary education, engineering, or medical research. Students looking for a broad scientific grounding as part of a liberal arts education are also well served by the physics major.

Learning Outcomes for Physics Majors

Physics graduates of the University of Portland should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate critical thinking in the context of science.
    1. Be able to model and solve real-world problems.
    2. Test solutions for limiting cases.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of scientific literature, such as journal articles and textbooks.
    1. Communicate effectively in a scientific setting.
    2. Reproduce results published in a paper.
    3. Explain assumptions and justify approximations used in the readings.
  3. Demonstrate quantitative problem solving skills.
    1. Use mathematical concepts, strategies, and procedures to derive and manipulate formal relationships between physical quantities.
    2. Incorporate the use of calculator and computer-based technology in problem-solving.
    3. Make appropriate approximations in problem-solving.
  4. Demonstrate understanding of the general principles in physics and patterns in nature.
    1. Apply general principles to solving problems.
    2. Apply physics principles across disciplinary boundaries.
    3. Write and publicly present research, explaining experimental results to other students at a similar level.
  5. Integrate the scientific method into problem-solving and experimentation.
    1. Set up an appropriate laboratory investigation addressing the principles and applications of an area of physics.
    2. Safely employ experimental apparatuses, make accurate physical measurements, and understand experimental uncertainty.
    3. Incorporate the use of calculator and computer-based technology in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data.