Nov. 20, 2013

Geneseo is #1 in the nation for awarding undergraduate physics degrees

physics lab work

George Marcus, associate professor of physics, center, works with physics majors Sara Gearhart '14 and Jacob Wirth '14 in the optics lab. Geneseo surpassed all other undergraduate institutions in the country in the number of graduates majoring in physics in 2011-12, according to American Institute of Physics data. /PHOTO BY KEITH WALTERS '11

This year, Geneseo’s physics and astronomy department is celebrating 50 years, with more students in the major than ever —220. In 1963, there were just three.Popularity of the discipline at Geneseo is reflected in recently compiled data by the American Institute of Physics. Geneseo's Department of Physics and Astronomy awarded more bachelor's degrees in physics during the 2011-12 academic year than any other physics departments in the country in which a bachelor's is the highest physics degree offered.

Geneseo graduated 33 physics majors during the year, besting the U.S. Naval Academy and several well-known private institutions.

"We have built a strong department over the years with faculty who are both outstanding researchers and teachers," said department Chair and Professor of Physics Charlie Freeman. He was honored this year with the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. "Good teaching attracts good students and we are pleased to see our major growing and so many of our students excelling in either graduate school, industry or other fields requiring physics training."

About two-thirds of Geneseo physics graduates attend graduate school immediately after graduation, contributing to Geneseo's ranking of fifth in the nation among its master's school peers in the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who earned doctorates between 2001-10. The department has nine full-time faculty members.

Students regularly participate in undergraduate research, including projects such as determining the age of star clusters and measuring the response of a detector film that is used to study a specific type of fusion reaction. The college has one of the few particle accelerators at a liberal arts college, allowing undergraduate students to get hands-on experience in a state-of-the-art laboratory. The department also has a 20-inch reflecting telescope on the roof of the Integrated Science Center.

Among Geneseo's prominent physics alumni are professors Brian DeMarco ’96, who helped to discover a new form of matter, and Ben Kilminster ’87, who was featured in"The Atom Smashers," for his research regarding the Higgs boson, which is often referred to as the so-called "God particle." 

Read Ben Kilminster’s article about his involvement in confirmation of the Higgs boson and the discovery’s importance for our understanding of the universe in an exclusive Geneseo Scene essay on page 18.