Physics is the study of matter and its interactions, or more loosely speaking, it is the study of nature and how things work. Physics is carried out both theoretically and experimentally on a variety of levels. At the smallest scales, physicists study elementary particles and the fundamental forces of nature, as well as the behavior and properties of nuclei, atoms, and molecules. At intermediate scales, physicists study the bulk properties of matter in its various phases (liquid, solid, vapor), including its electrical properties, dynamics, and collective motion. Lastly, at the largest scales physicists (and astronomers) study astronomical objects such as planets, stars, and galaxies, and their interactions and dynamics.
At Colby College, faculty members in the Department of Physics and Astronomy conduct research in areas that collectively cover most of the primary subdisciplines in physics, including condensed matter physics, atomic and molecular physics, astronomy and astrophysics, particle physics, and cosmology. The department offers a wide range of courses in traditional core areas of physics as well as advanced upper-level courses in specialized areas of interest.
The department consists of six faculty members, a teaching assistant, and roughly 12-18 physics majors per class year. Most upper-level physics courses are small, with enrollments of about 8-15 students. The faculty and staff pride themselves on being accessible to their students, and the department welcomes students from all majors and with diverse backgrounds.
The physics major and minor programs are designed to be flexible (allowing double majoring) and to fit within the context of a strong liberal arts education. The physics major is designed to prepare students for careers or advanced training in science, teaching, business, medical professions, and engineering.
Physics students at Colby acquire skills in mathematical calculation, experimental measurement and instrumentation, theoretical and numerical modeling, scientific writing, and oral presentation. These abilities serve them well in whatever careers they go on to choose.
The physics curriculum at Colby begins with a sequence of foundational courses in classical and modern physics. It is followed by an array of upper-level core and elective courses that students are free to choose from. In their senior year, all Colby physics majors are required to do a project or honors thesis under the supervision of a faculty member and to give a talk on it to the department. Students interested in graduate study are encouraged to do the Honors Program in Physics, which also involves writing an honors thesis on their research work.
Life after Colby
In recent years, graduates from Colby College with a major in physics have gone on to graduate programs in physics, astronomy, or related fields at universities such as Yale, Dartmouth, MIT, UConn, UMass, Florida, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, Colorado State, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Illinois, Cornell, Michigan, Wisconsin, and others.
Former Colby physics majors are now working in a variety of careers, including education and research in physics, astronomy or other scientific disciplines, engineering, business and industry, information technologies, medical professions, consulting, banking and finance, and a variety of other occupations.