Physics is the most fundamental and all-inclusive of the sciences; its goal is to understand nature's physical processes through experiment and theoretical analysis. Some of history's most famous scientists were physicists: Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Curie, Hubble. Physicists probe the far reaches of space and the depths of the ocean; investigate the structure of the atom; design and program computers; solve environmental problems; and develop new manufacturing materials. Research in physics has paved the way for technological innovations such as the Internet, cell phones, lasers, fuel cells, diagnostic techniques in medicine, and solid-state electronics. Physicists lead some of the world's major technology companies.
The powerful array of technical skills acquired by physics majors-critical thinking and problem solving, computers, electronics, mathematical analysis, technical writing-are of practical importance in many areas of theoretical and applied science. Employers value the broad training, versatility, and laboratory experience of physics graduates. Career plans of the physics major may include graduate study in physics, materials science, biophysics, geophysics, oceanography, medical physics, or in various branches of applied science or engineering. Other physics majors establish careers in industrial or government laboratories or teach in secondary schools. Students wishing to enter the professions of law, business or medicine sometimes major in physics to gain the competitive edge that a good physics background can provide.
The department's course offerings cover all the major disciplines in physics, including classical and quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, electronics, statistical and condensed-matter physics, astronomy and astrophysics, environmental physics, earth science, physics of music and courses dealing with the impact of science on society. Students are encouraged to participate in faculty research in physical oceanography, atomic and nuclear physics, theoretical physics, traffic engineering, computational physics, and astrophysics. In addition, many possibilities exist for physics students to study and participate in research in areas such as computer science, acoustics, electro-optics with faculty in closely-related departments in engineering, science, and mathematics. The physics department has a wide array of equipment, including computer work stations, lasers, and a fully equipped observatory with a state-of-the art 16" Meade computer controlled telescope. Students also have the opportunity to accompany faculty members conducting research at national science facilities.
UMD Physics major Peter Jumper (2nd from the Right) a finalist for the prestigious 2012 APS Apker award for outstanding undergraduate physics research.