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Why? How? Why? How? Why? How? For many people who study Physics, these questions play on a loop—a soundtrack that drives them to understand the seeming mysteries at the heart of how our universe works. As a McDaniel Physics major, you can nourish this drive with hands-on access to great laboratories, helpful professors, thoughtful course sequences, and deep-dive research experiences.

Degree Types
Major , Minor
Complementary Programs
Distinctive Requirements
Graduate Program Opportunity
3+2 or 3+3 with Washington University

Thinking about Physics? Interested in Engineering?

One of the hallmarks of our department is close student-faculty interaction through small classroom settings and hands-on collaborative research, frequently undertaken in the Nonlinear Optics Laboratory (featuring Nitrogen-pumped dye-laser system producing 7 ns pulses and a Melles-Griot air-cooled, tunable argon-ion laser system).

Nationally-Recognized Commitment to High-Level Teaching

We develop classroom environments that demonstrably help students learn physics deeply and develop critical problem-solving skills. What is distinctive about the Physics Department at McDaniel is that several of our curricular initiatives have been funded by large, external grants and our findings and results have been published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at national conferences devoted to physics education. Also, the department further committed to delivering high-quality physics courses by hiring a full-time faculty member who specializes in physics education research.

Diverse Research Choices, or Choose Your Own Research Topic

At McDaniel every major in our department participates in a significant research project, and many of the projects have led to publications in peer-reviewed journals or presentations at professional conferences. You can choose from one of these important areas: lasers and optics, thermosluminescence, microelectronics, or physics education. Alternatively, and largely unique to our department, you can select a research area that interests you. In the past, students have chosen projects involving the physics of sports, astronomy, chaos, geophysics, electricity and magnetism, and fluid dynamics.

Multiple Paths to Degree Completion

We provide two avenues to begin a degree in our department. Students ready to take calculus are encouraged to enroll in General Physics I and Calculus I their first semester, and General Physics II and Calculus II in the Spring. We also offer a novel alternate sequence of courses for students who not ready to take calculus their first semester: Introductory Physics I (Fall) and Introductory Physics II (Spring). With this extra path, ALL interested students can get connected to the department and start working toward their major as soon as possible.

Internships, Careers, and Graduate School

Our department has a phenomenal track record with placing our students into internships while they are at McDaniel, helping our graduates land jobs in relevant careers, or getting admitted to competitive graduate schools. Some of the internships have included the National Security Scholar’s Program; Fermi and Jefferson National Laboratories; and the supercollider site, CERN, in Switzerland.

Our graduates have been admitted to PhD programs in Physics or Engineering at very prestigious universities, including MIT, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, Georgetown, and Yale.

And, of course, many of our graduates have moved into rewarding careers by securing positions at engineering firms, defense corporations, financial institutions, government positions, and tech companies.

Fantastic Graduation Rate

We have a nearly 100% retention rate of physics majors in our department. We accomplish this by providing close mentoring, individualized attention to your academic strengths and weaknesses, student-centered classroom environments, and engaging research opportunities.

Courses Where You Choose the Content

We have a set of courses unique to McDaniel’s Physics Department: Investigations in Physics 1 and 2. These 1-credit courses provide you the opportunity to pose your own question and then you get the full semester to explore your question. In other words, at McDaniel you will have the opportunity to think like a physicist in a way that traditional courses and even research experiences do not permit.

Distinctive Courses

PHY 1101 - General Physics I

The course will introduce students to the fundamental ideas that govern kinematics and dynamic motion for both linear and rotational systems, concepts of energy and momentum, simple harmonic motion, wave phenomena and sound, and fluid statics and dynamics. The laboratory component of the course is aimed at developing data collection and analysis skills through a series of experiments in mechanics and must be enrolled in separately.

PHY 2212 - From Lenses to Lasers

Optics is an influential branch of physics that deals with the origin and propagation of light as well as it interaction with matter. In this course, students will study how and why optical phenomena occur. We will cover theories that treat light as a bundle of rays (ray optics), as electromagnetic waves (wave optics), and as a stream of particles (quantum optics). We will explore phenomena of reflection, refraction, dispersion, scattering, polarization, interference, and diffraction in terms of these theories. Students will learn about the limitations of ray optics, the improvements in wave optics, and the triumph of quantum optics leading to the study of the laser. This course includes an integrated laboratory component to help students develop strong links between theory and practice.

PHY 3313 - Computer Modeling of Physical Systems

This course is an introduction to modeling complex systems through application of computational numerical methods and graphing techniques using the software package Mathematica. Specific topics include: numerical techniques of integration and differentiation, analytical and numerical solutions of systems of differential equations, iterative procedures, symbolic manipulation of equations, use and manipulation of lists, procedural and functional programming, the use of rules in Mathematica, structured programming using loops and lists, and development of computer animations. Students will model systems from a wide range of areas such as Newtonian mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics.

PHY 4401 - Quantum Mechanics

In this course, students will investigate the origins of quantum theory, the Schrödinger equation, physical interpretations of quantum mechanics, and solutions to one- and three-dimensional problems including spin. Topics include solving the time-dependent and time-independent Schrödinger equation, development of the uncertainty principle, solutions for the infinite and finite square well problems, study of the harmonic oscillator and free particle solutions. A large part of the course is devoted to developing the formalism of Quantum Mechanics, wavefunctions as vectors in Hilbert spaces, eigenfunctions and eigenvalues of operators, commutators of operators and the Dirac notation. Solutions are obtained for the hydrogen problem in 3-D, including the study of the angular momentum and spin operators.

The McDaniel Commitment in Action

The McDaniel Commitment—a series of opportunities guaranteed to all students—provides enhanced mentoring and coaching, and ensures every undergraduate student completes at least two meaningful experiential learning opportunities.

A student wearing a hat leans on a railing looking off camera while smiling.

Meet a Green Terror Class of 2024: Dalton A. Pearl Anything is Possible

"I am leaving behind the impact of showing others it is possible. I want everyone to remember that you can succeed, whatever your goals are, no matter who doubts you. ’Cause no one would’ve thought the wrestling country boy would graduate with three STEM degrees and go on to pursue a doctorate."

Physics professor Apollo Mian

Dual Degree Engineering Programs and an In-House Engineering Specialization

Every year we get inquiries from students who are interested in Engineering, but want a small school environment. To help those students achieve their goals, we have introduced an Engineering Specialization, in which students take Engineering and Physics courses that stretch over their four years at McDaniel. This opportunity will further prepare our students for their post-graduation engineering careers either in graduate school or industry.

Alternatively, we have very strong dual-degree partnership with Washington University (WashU), a top 20, nationally-ranked university with one of the best engineering programs in the country. McDaniel students who have a GPA over 3.25 can transition seamlessly, with no additional application process, to WashU to earn a BS or an MS in engineering. This is a fantastic way to for students to start their education in a small school setting, but finish a second (or third) degree at a very prestigious university. The WashU agreement also comes with significant financial aid guarantees! 

Senior Capstone

Chuck Knower, a Physics major from Lansdale, Pa., designed and built the machine he used to study the physics of rock skipping.

Estimathon Kathalyn Urquizo and Dimitri Lezcano raising their arms in celebration.

A Contest of Logic Estimathon: A contest of logic and strategy Applying Your Knowledge

Team PChem — Physics major Dimitri Lezcano and Chem major Kathalyn Urquizo — snatched first place in the second annual Estimathon that saw science, Math and two Business Administration majors dipping deep into their information wells and mustering every ounce of their skills in logic to answer 13 questions.

Special Opportunities

Explore all your options in the Physics department, a diverse set of offerings designed to match your interests and passions.

Biology professor guiding students in 3D printing.

Physics – Specialization in Computer Science

Designed for students who wish to focus their study of physics in the field of computer science.

Physics professor Apollo Mian

Physics – Specialization in Engineering

Designed for students who want to apply their knowledge of physics to the field of engineering.

Jeff Groff

Alumni Spotlight Jeff Groff ’01

Jeff Groff ’01 is Professor of Physics and chair of a department at a university that doesn’t offer a degree in Physics. In fact, he embraced the opportunity to explore a new field and enrich it with his unique expertise – ultimately earning West Virginia Professor of the Year honors and making exciting innovations to the Environmental Studies program at Shepherd University.

Jeff Marx

Faculty Spotlight Jeff Marx Professor and Department Chair

Professor Marx is the recipient of a $170,000 National Science Foundation grant to develop a novel science course for non-science majors on “The Nature of Science,” which dovetails with his student-centered interests in developing curricular materials to minimize these student difficulties in learning physics and working with students to help them conceive, design, and analyze their own physics projects such as the physics of various sports.