Jan 22, 2022  
2012-2013 Academic Catalogue 
2012-2013 Academic Catalogue [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics and Astronomy

Physics is the study of the basic laws that describe all natural phenomena, and it is often instrumental to the development of new technologies. At VMI dedicated faculty mentors help cadets develop strong analytical reasoning, laboratory, computational, and technical communication skills. They also provide our majors with the opportunity to combine skills developed in their coursework with the creativity needed to solve real-world problems in independent research projects in pure and applied physics.

Mathematics is an integral part of the study of physics, and it is essential for students to come with strong mathematics skills to successfully pursue the physics major. While the physics curriculum is rich in applied mathematics, it is also a wellbalanced program with many opportunities to develop hands-on laboratory and computer programming skills and to probe the relationship between experiment and mathematical theory that is the hallmark of physics.

The physics curriculum is a flexible curriculum that provides an excellent opportunity for the development of intellectual breadth while also building strong scientific and technical skills. Our degree programs offer a generous complement of electives, allowing cadets to obtain one or more minors or even to double major in select cases. This flexibility allows each cadet to point the degree along the career path that they wish to pursue. Historically, physics has been a very marketable degree that graduates use to follow a wide range of career paths in the military, industry, and in education.

Our B.S. physics degree program offers solid training for many technical career paths or for graduate study in physics and other closely allied technical fields. In addition to the core curriculum requirements, it includes 15 credit hours of free electives, 6 credit hours of humanities and social science electives, and 12 hours of technical electives.

Our B.S. in physics with a concentration in nuclear energy is specifically designed to prepare students for work in the nuclear power industry, the Navy’s NUPOC program, or for graduate study in Nuclear Engineering. It includes 12 credit hours of free electives, 6 credit hours of humanities and social science electives, 6 credit hours of technical electives, and 6 credit hours of physics electives (at the 300 or 400 level).

Our B.A. physics degree program is well suited to the student who wants to major in physics but who also has strong interests in the humanities or social sciences. The B.A. degree program is also designed to allow those cadets interested in teaching physics at the high school level to work toward teacher certification while they complete their physics degree. With 21 credit hours of free electives, the B.A. option allows a cadet to pursue a second area of study in depth, and it is expected that some of the free elective hours will be used to obtain a minor or to pursue a double major. There are also 9 hours of technical electives and 9 hours of physics electives (at the 200, 300, or 400 level). Finally, cadets pursuing the B.A. are required to meet a four semester foreign language requirement or demonstrate equivalent proficiency.

The department houses a generous complement of wellequipped classrooms, teaching laboratories and faculty research laboratories. The teaching laboratories include two general physics laboratories, an electronics and interfacing laboratory, an optics laboratory, and a modern physics laboratory. The department has a small accelerator and nuclear physics laboratory in the basement of Mallory Hall, and the VMI Observatory, a short drive from Post, has a 20-inch reflecting telescope and an array of smaller telescopes that are used in our astronomy courses and for faculty and cadet research projects.

Faculty conduct research with cadets in laboratories devoted to organic thin film device fabrication and characterization, laser physics and fiber optics, solid state and gas phase laser spectroscopy, and astronomy. Every cadet who completes the degree program will work one-on-one or in a small group with a faculty mentor on a research project.

Cadets majoring in physics and the fulltime physics faculty form a close-knit academic community in which cadets can pursue a deeper understanding of the physical world while also preparing for a broad array of career paths.