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Offices & Services > Office of the Registrar > Knox College Catalog, 2016-2017 > Departments and Courses of Study

Physics and Astronomy

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Major and Minor

Faculty and professional interests

Thomas Moses, chair
   Liquid crystals, condensed matter physics, laser physics
Nathalie Haurberg
   Extragalactic astronomy and astrophysics, chemical evolution of galaxies, stellar populations
Charles Schulz
   Magnetic resonance, Mössbauer spectroscopy, biophysics
Mark Shroyer
  Nuclear quadrupole double resonance, magnetic susceptibility, condensed matter physics

Physics has developed and grown throughout history as a result of the intricate but essential interplay of theory and experiment. Department programs emphasize this theme as the student takes courses involving both theoretical and laboratory work, which become progressively more complex and rigorous. At the same time, there is an emphasis on the development of a variety of skills and techniques necessary in the pursuit of physics and also highly valuable in almost any career in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) the student might choose. These skills include experimental design, instrumentation, data analysis and evaluation of experimental results; the application of mathematics and the computer to the solution of problems; communication of results and understanding to others; and, perhaps most important, the application of general principles to the analysis of specific problems.

The physics major in the context of a liberal arts program provides the student with great flexibility in the choice of a career. In the past five years, some physics majors have embarked on careers in research and/or teaching by entering graduate programs in physics or physics-related areas (such as biophysics, astronomy, astrophysics, or atmospheric science). Others have entered programs in engineering through Knox's pre-engineering program or have pursued graduate degrees in engineering or in business prior to joining the management group of a science-related industry. Some have gone directly into secondary education or industry, while others have entered medical, law or theological school.

One of the great advantages of the physics major at Knox is the opportunity to participate in a research project as an undergraduate. Knox faculty have active research interests in both experimental and theoretical physics, and experimental facilities are available at Knox for Mössbauer spectroscopy, magnetic susceptibility, differential scanning calorimetry, scanning electron microscopy, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, evanescent-wave ellipsometry and nuclear magnetic resonance experiments. The department also has a microprocessor controlled 10-inch Meade telescope, and a Nexstar 8-GPS with a CCD camera.

Astronomy minor

Astronomy at Knox explores our most fundamental questions: What is the universe made of? How did the universe begin, and how does it evolve? Although it is among the most ancient of disciplines, astronomy is now one of the hottest fields of science with some of the most important unsolved problems, as exemplified by the current attempts underway to investigate the nature of dark matter and to understand the accelerating expansion of the universe. A minor in astronomy together with a major in the physical sciences or mathematics would be a strong preparation for students interested in a career path in astronomy or astrophysics, in pursuing graduate studies in astronomy or astrophysics, or for students with an interest in secondary education in the sciences. Apart from professional objectives, a minor in astronomy is appropriate for anyone interested in learning about humankind's quest for a scientific understanding of nature at its most fundamental level.

Course offerings include introductory courses in astronomy and exobiology, an upper-level laboratory-based course in observational astronomy, and upper-level courses in astrophysics and cosmology. Some background in general physics (included in the minor requirements) and mathematics is needed to complete the upper-level courses. Department facilities include multiple telescopes with photometric and spectroscopic instrumentation and a small rooftop observatory on the Umbeck Science and Mathematics Center. Hands-on experience with research-grade equipment is a key aspect of learning astronomy which is provided to all students undertaking a minor in Astronomy.

The departmental curriculum contributes to the College's Key Competency Requirements as follows:

  • Writing Key Competency - PHYS 241 and 245 serve as writing-intensive courses for majors
  • Speaking Key Competency - PHYS 241 and 245 serve as speaking-intensive courses for majors
  • Information Literacy and Informed Use of Technology - Confident use of technology and skills with Information Literacy are both critical for those interested in careers in the sciences. Physics majors are exposed in PHYS 241 and 341 to tools for scientific presentation and data analysis. They experience in multiple courses (PHYS 110, 241, 242, 312 and others) the use of computers for data collection, physical modeling, and numerical calculations. Information Literacy skills are developed through assignments in multiple courses requiring searching physics literature and interpreting the results of those searches.

Departmental Learning Goals

Students completing a Physics major or minor will:

  1. (Critical Thinking) Be able to read intermediate-level science literature, follow the logic of the development and data analysis, and to think consciously about and be able to respond to flaws in papers.
  2. (Scientific Literacy) Be familiar with and be able to explain key developments in the history of physics, and to be able to do literature searches on research topics.
  3. (Numerical Literacy) Be able to correctly and confidently apply the analytic tools of mathematics through differential equations to problems in physics, to be able to correctly and confidently solve physics problems using numerical and computer-based methods (e.g. Mathematica)
  4. (Physics Content Areas) Be familiar with, be able to solve intermediate-level problems, and be able to interpret their results in the areas of Analytical Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, and Modern/Quantum Physics.
  5. (Lab and Research Skills) Be able to use standard physics lab instrumentation (e.g. oscilloscopes, multimeters, various force, pressure, and temperature sensors) to make physical measurements, to be able to properly do error analysis on data collected from those measurements, and to be able to write a well-crafted report on the experiment.
  6. (Communication Skills) Be able to speak confidently and coherently to an audience about topics in physics, to be able to write clear, concise, and accurate research reports in standard style.

Students completing an Astronomy minor will:

  1. Be able to understand, describe, and analyze a range of astronomical phenomena, at scales ranging from planetary to galactic and extragalactic.
  2. Be able to make use of the mathematical and physical theories that form the basis of modern astronomy.
  3. Be able to carry out observational projects in astronomy using appropriate computational and statistical tools for the analysis of data.

Requirements for the Major and Minors

Physics and Astronomy Course Descriptions

Knox College

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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