Jul 18, 2024  
2024-2025, 2nd ed. General Catalog 
2024-2025, 2nd ed. General Catalog

Physics and Astronomy

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Programs by Department

Department Office
Darwin Hall 300
(707) 664-2119

Chair, Dr. Mark Perri

About Physics

Physics is the most fundamental of all the scientific disciplines. Ranging from the applied to the abstract, from the infinitesimal to the infinite, and from quarks to the cosmos, the study of physics seeks to explain all the complicated phenomena in the natural world by providing a description of these phenomena in terms of a few basic principles and laws.

Physicists also use their knowledge of fundamental principles to solve concrete problems. Problems in understanding and utilizing the properties of semiconductors and other materials; in designing and building lasers, photonics, and telecommunications devices; and in designing and using instrumentation such as adaptive optics for astrophysics, are typically solved using the techniques of physics. Such applied physics problems often have a significant overlap with topics and techniques in engineering and computational physics. Indeed, many of the department’s graduates are currently employed in engineering or computationally oriented positions.

In their most abstract work, physicists seek a unified mathematical description of the four known forces of nature (gravitation, electricity and magnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces). This quest for the “Theory of Everything” eluded Einstein and is continued today by many physicists, including those who study superstring theory. The ultimate goal is to correctly predict the fundamental forces and the masses and interactions of the elementary particles from which all matter is formed.

The department offers a traditional, mathematically rigorous program leading to a BS in physics; a BS in physics with a concentration in astrophysics; and a BA in physics with calculus as well as a non-calculus BA in physical science. All programs stress fundamental concepts and techniques, offer an unusually rich laboratory experience and intensive use of computers, and require a capstone course as a culminating experience. Capstone projects may include experimental design, instructional design, or undergraduate research—personalized and unique opportunities to demonstrate the skills and knowledge acquired in the major.

The department is housed in Darwin Hall, which is well equipped with lower-division teaching laboratories and facilities for intermediate and advanced laboratory courses, undergraduate research, special studies and capstone projects. The Darwin facilities include thin film fabrication systems such as thermal evaporation and electrodeposition, a Hall measurement system, an adaptive optics and astronomical instrumentation development laboratory, a 3D-printer, and laboratories for building and testing small satellites (CubeSats). Physics majors also use the multidisciplinary Keck Microanalysis Laboratory in Salazar Hall which includes a scanning electron microscope, atomic force microscopes, and an x-ray diffractometer. A campus makerspace is also available for student use.

A substantial program in undergraduate astronomy includes many courses, listed in this catalog under Astronomy, which may be included in the BA or BS degree programs in physics. The department operates a teaching observatory on the SSU campus and a NASA-funded remotely operated research observatory at a darker site in northern Sonoma County. Students and faculty also have access to time on an adaptive optics-equipped 1-m telescope in Southern  California. Students are strongly encouraged to use all of the above facilities for special studies, undergraduate research and capstone projects.

Careers in Physics

For information on what you can do with a bachelor’s degree in physics, follow links from: http://phys-astro.sonoma.edu

About Astronomy

Astronomy, offered by the Department of Physics & Astronomy as a concentration of the Physics BS degree, is the study of the planets, stars, and galaxies in the universe beyond the earth’s atmosphere. The fields of astronomy and astrophysics, the application of physics principles to astronomical observations, deal with essential questions, such as the origin and nature of the “Big Bang;” the subsequent creation of matter and the chemical elements; the eventual formation and evolution of structure in the universe; and the life cycles of stars, including the tremendous explosions which are often their death knells and can lead to the formation of black holes. Modern astronomy leans heavily on the concepts and techniques of physics and mathematics. Astronomers use ground and space-based instruments that detect photons spanning the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as particles such as cosmic rays or neutrinos. An emerging branch of astronomy seeks to correct the effect of the Earth’s turbulent atmosphere using adaptive optics, thus providing “sharper” views of the universe.

The SSU Campus Observatory reopened in a new building in the fall of 2017. It houses two 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. Both are computer controlled, and can be equipped with auxiliary instrumentation for CCD imaging and spectroscopy. A NASA-funded research observatory, located in the darker skies of northern Sonoma County includes a remote controlled and operated 14-inch telescope, equipped with a high-efficiency CCD detector and a filter wheel. Equipment available for observational work in astronomy by SSU students is ideally suited for studying objects that vary in time and space. This includes pulsating, eclipsing and cataclysmic star systems, the variable nuclei of active galaxies (such as quasars and blazars), gamma-ray bursts, and extrasolar planetary systems that exhibit planetary transits. Our equipment is also well-suited for follow-up observations of Near Earth Objects, which may threaten life on Earth.

The department houses a laboratory for experimental astrophysics research, where students can test and build cameras, spectrometers and other equipment for SSU’s telescopes. The laboratory includes an Adaptive Optics testbed, which uses advanced technology to measure and sharpen images. The department partnered with Pomona College to construct KAPAO, a remotely operable adaptive optics system for a 1-meter telescope at Table Mountain Observatory in Southern California. Access to optical and near-infrared diffraction-limited imaging brings additional research opportunities to our students.

In November 2013, the Department launched its first CubeSat, T-LogoQube. This student-designed and built small satellite was the first in a series of space missions being built by SSU students. The most recent was EdgeCubedeployed in February 2020.

The on-campus observatory is used by students in laboratory and lecture courses, and all the astronomical facilities described above are available for faculty and student research projects.

All students are strongly encouraged to participate in the ongoing research programs of the department, and/or to propose student-initiated research programs.

Careers in Astronomy

Career fields for which an astronomy minor would be beneficial include aerospace, astronomy, atmospheric science, education, planetary geology, and geophysics.

For information on what you can do with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy, follow links from: http://phys-astro.sonoma.edu


    MajorConcentrationMinorSample Four-Year PlansSample Two-Year Transfer Plans

    Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Programs by Department