University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

Overview

< >

About Us: History

In the late 1970s, a detector to search for proton decay was built in the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota. This broadened the activities of the particle experimental group beyond accelerator-based physics and marked the beginning of a major underground research activity, that today is focused on the study of neutrino oscillations.

The School of Physics and Astronomy includes the Astronomy program, the William I. Fine Theoretical Physics Institute and the History of Science Technology and Medicine. Physics at the University of Minnesota offers a world-class education and cutting edge research to its students. The physics program in the School has 43 faculty members, 17 emeritus faculty and 133 (Ph. D. and Masters) graduate students and about 110 undergraduate students. Our graduates go on to be high school teachers, industrial physicists, medical physicists, engineers, lawyers, finance managers; or after graduate study in physics, professors, junior college teachers and researchers at national labs or industrial research centers.

Honors

Our award winning faculty includes a member of the National Academy of Science, a Lilienfeld Prize winner, a Fritz London Memorial Prize- IUPAP winner, a Pomeranchuk Prize winner, three Sakurai Prize recipients, three Humboldt Research Award winners, a Regional Emmy Award winner, three AAAS Fellows, six Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellows, three American Geophysical Union Fellows and 27 APS Fellows.

Teaching

We employ innovative techniques to teach physics, such as using Learning Assistants in the classroom to help facilitate problem solving. Our faculty make learning physics fun and interesting with courses that are designed to develop problem solving skills in our students. We teach core courses to more than 3000 students annually from 23 different major disciplines. There are some large lecture courses, but the discussion and laboratory sections are kept to 15 to 18 students. There are positions open for our undergraduates who are interested in teaching including discussion or laboratory instructors (after training and orientation) and also as graders for introductory courses. Other opportunities include the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, (PhysTEC), a program designed to give undergraduates the opportunity to be learning assistants. This is a paid position working in classrooms to facilitate problem solving.

Research

The physics faculty at Minnesota is carrying out cutting edge research in

We are ranked 26th by US News and World Report for 2010. Physics undergraduates have great opportunities to work in active research laboratories, in classrooms, gaining valuable work experience and a paycheck. We have rigorous training and orientation for new students interested in teaching opportunities. Our undergraduates working in research labs have gone to CERN in Switzerland to be involved in the large Hadron Collider, the desert southwest launching the EBEX balloon and almost half a mile underground at the Soudan Underground Laboratory working on MINOS and CDMS II. Over the next few years we will be hiring over 100 undergraduates to build modules for the NOVA experiment. For the fiscal year 2009-2010, physics received 15 million dollars in sponsored research funding, most from federal granting agencies. Our faculty members are involved in the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and the Nanofabrication Center (NFC). In support of our research programs, the University is now seeking $56.3 million in state funds to help build an $80 million physics and nanotechnology building that will provide modern and flexible research space for 40 new laboratories.

Outreach

Physics Force is a group of Physics and Astronomy professors and high school teachers who put on a physics circus of dynamic and entertaining demonstrations for 35,000 students per year. They have been performing since 1985 and have appeared on local, national and international television programs.

PACES stands for Parents and Children Experiencing Science. PACES presents family science nights in schools that are considered "at-risk" to help build a positive association with science in young children.

REU or Research Experience for Undergraduates is a summer program that brings about a dozen students from Minnesota and universities around the nation to conduct physics research in our laboratories. Some have gone on to do graduate research here, a testament to the high quality of their experience working in our labs.

RET or Research Experience for Teachers is a program that brings high school teachers back to campus to earn graduate credit and summer salary while working in our research labs.