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Department of Physics and Astronomy

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Undergraduate Program

Physics and Astronomy have been described as an “organized conversation with nature. Physicists [and Astronomers] ask questions; nature responds... when the question is a good one, the answer can be unexpected and gives us new knowledge of the way the world works.” 

Physicists and Astronomers are model-builders, building a description of nature from a few, fundamental ideas. Research in these fields has a direct impact on our understanding of nature small and large: from sub-nuclear quarks to black holes. Physics and Astronomy is at the heart of the search for answers to mysteries such as the origin of the universe (and its eventual fate). Physics is also playing a leading role in hot, new fields such as nanotechnology. Also see Why Study Physics by the American Physical Society.

As fundamental sciences, physics and astronomy continue to be driving intellectual forces in expanding our understanding of the universe, in discovering the scientific basis for new technologies, and in applying these technologies to research. In keeping with this crucial role, the Department of Physics and Astronomy offers courses dealing with both the cultural and intellectual aspects in the disciplines; a broadly-based major program flexible enough to serve as preparation for graduate study in physics, applied physics, medical physics, astronomy or astrophysics, professional study in another area, or technical employment; and minor programs for students desiring to combine physics or astronomy with other majors. An honors program is available for qualified departmental majors. 

A distinguishing feature of the Vanderbilt undergraduate curriculum is the close coupling between teaching and research. At Vanderbilt, active research groups are studying the physics of elementary particles; nuclear structure and heavy-ion reactions; nonlinear interactions of lasers with materials at ultrafast time scales; the behavior of electrons, atoms, molecules, and photons near surfaces; the electric and magnetic properties of living systems; the structure and dynamics of biopolymers; unusual stars, young stars; equations of state in brown and white dwarfs; and cosmology. Most professors are engaged in research, and undergraduate students can participate in this research informally or through independent study or summer work. 

The Society of Physics Students arranges informal discussions and field trips to scientific laboratories at other institutions.