Photo of an astronomy classroom.

Physics & Astronomy

Explore the great unknown.

Physics is fundamental to understanding our universe

Our subject matter underpins every other natural science, so physicists get to study everything from quarks to the cosmos. As exceptional problem-solvers, physicists use the most basic laws of the universe to attack its toughest questions. Whether you’re curious about how solar panels convert photons to electricity, or you wonder why black holes send ripples through space-time, the answers lie in physics.

Our professors will guide you through the pillars of the discipline—electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, statistical mechanics, and computational physics—while preparing you to explore the forefronts of knowledge. (And we’ll do it in style, through a little something called Hawaiian Shirt Fridays.)

Why Macalester? Research

At Macalester, we think the real work of physics isn’t doing problem sets. It’s shooting laser beams at atom-thick sheets of carbon, or using telescopes to probe the nature of galaxies that are millions of light years away.

We live in such an exciting time for physics and astronomy. Improved technology is rapidly increasing the rate of research and discovery, both around the world and here at Macalester. And we guarantee our majors get to take part. Every single Macalester physics major completes an original research project of publishable scope before they graduate—whether they’re working at a professional observatory or side-by-side with their professors in a lab on campus. For previous projects, see our in-house journal of physics and astronomy.

Life after Macalester

Physics & Astronomy in the cities


Fortune 500 companies are near campus, including 3M

Access to the University of Minnesota's top research labs


Minnesota’s rank in the nation for businesses in technology and science

Join the community

  • High-Power Rocketry Club – Build a rocket and show it off at competitions around the region
  • Physics and Astronomy Club – Host public observing nights with Macalester’s research-grade telescope (or take in a sci-fi movie with the group)
  • Weekly Seminars – learn something new from professionals in the “star” business
  • Physics Wing – Study or hang out in our slice of Olin-Rice
Student participating in Rocketry Club
The Rocket Club launched Quantum Field Theory 1, their high-power rocket, 2,256 feet into the air. Parachutes lowered it safely back to the ground. More >>
Department happenings

19 October 2020: Four new post-baccalaureate researchers have joined the Macalester community!  Allison Erena (Smith College class of 2019); Jackson Fuson (UC Irvine class of 2020); April Horton (Bluffton University class of 2020); Johnny Inoue (Williams College class of 2020). With support from a National Science Foundation grant, these four individuals are working full time with Professor John Cannon on data acquired with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array.    The “Survey of HI in Extremely Low-mass Dwarfs” (SHIELD) is a comprehensive study of the physical properties of faint, low-mass galaxies.


28 August 2020: Congratulations to Professor John Cannon on his recent award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund his research project titled, “SHIELD: The Survey of HI in Extremely Low-mass Dwarf Galaxies.” Working with undergraduate students this research will undertake a detailed study of the neutral hydrogen gas in the 82 SHIELD galaxies using data from ongoing Large Program VLA/20A-330 at the Very Large Array in New Mexico. This research program will be the most comprehensive investigation of the physical properties of low-mass galaxies to date.

The 2020 edition of the Macalester Journal of Physics and Astronomy (MJPA) is available on Digital Commons. Check out the research of our 2020 graduates!

4 June 2020: Congratulations to Professor Jim Doyle for winning the Janet Andersen Lecture Award from the Midstates Consortium for Math and Science in the area of Physical Sciences, Math and Computer Science. The Janet Andersen Lecture Award recipients are recognized as invited speakers at the Consortium’s annual Undergraduate Research Symposia (taking place at some future date).

The 2020 Physics and Astronomy seniors and faculty celebrated success at their virtual senior dinner. Congratulations, Class of 2020!

More department events