Kristine I. Spangard, Department Coordinator
The department hosts a vibrant community of students and faculty brought together by their common interest in physics and astronomy. On average, 12 students per year graduate with majors in either physics or physics with astronomy emphasis. Our five permanent faculty members are dedicated teachers and provide opportunities to learn about physics and astronomy to our majors and other interested students at all levels.
Our faculty members conduct active research programs in exciting fields at the frontier of physics and astronomy, such as experimental condensed matter physics, including semiconductors and mono-layer carbon (Graphene), theoretical particle physics, including the physics of electroweak symmetry breaking (Higgs boson) and dark matter, and observational astronomy, including multi-wavelength observations of dwarf elliptical galaxies and their implications for galaxy formation. The department strongly emphasizes collaborative student-faculty research and has as its trademark that majors are required to participate in original research projects in order to graduate. Our students therefore gain valuable practical experience in a range of aspects of the scientific research enterprise, including experimental, observational, theoretical, and computational techniques, and written and oral communication skills, in addition to knowledge obtained through our rigorous curriculum of coursework and labs.
The department’s faculty members have been very successful in obtaining external research funding from the NSF, the Research Corporation, the Petroleum Research Fund, NASA, and other agencies. Engaged faculty therefore train our students in well-equipped, modern experimental facilities. The external resources are leveraged with additional support for student research from the college. Each summer, a significant fraction of our majors participate in research projects in our department, supported by stipends and with housing subsidized by the college. Other majors travel away from campus to participate in undergraduate research experiences at other institutions.
The urban location of Macalester College and its proximity to the University of Minnesota provide many additional advantages to the department. For example, Macalester students and faculty use experimental facilities at the university that are not available on campus, attend seminars at the university, and collaborate with university faculty on research projects.