Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 24, 2020

Research in the Physics Department is vast and varied

By MUHAMMAD ABIDI | December 5, 2019

Very few of us have left this planet to travel to black holes or neighboring galaxies. However, there are certainly those of us that study such astronomical bodies and the universal laws that apply to them. Much research and teaching regarding such phenomenal aspects of our universe occur in the Department of Physics and Astronomy here at Hopkins.

Of course, many of the questions and theories of physics also apply to objects and notions that we engage with in our daily lives. However, current major research questions in the physics community often overlap with those in astronomy and astrophysics. Thus, the department here at Hopkins promotes collaboration and interdisciplinary discussion regarding research into areas such as the existence of and problems with dark matter and the laws and principles of black holes and the universe as a whole.

Robert Leheny, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, highlighted some of the key aspects of the Physics major for Hopkins undergraduates in an interview with The News-Letter. 

Leheny addresses the perceived difficulty of pursuing a major such as Physics; however, he emphasizes that the passion for physics and the problem-solving nature of the field produce invaluable critical thinking abilities, which can be applied to any career field after undergraduate life.

“Physics at Hopkins, and as a discipline overall, is inherently quite rigorous… and those passionate about the problems addressed in this science often gain valuable analytical and problem-solving skills through the completion of the major,” Leheny said. 

The major itself has the expected course load in physics with core requirements in mathematics and physical science courses. Elective courses cover broad topics, from subatomic particles all the way to interstellar phenomena. There is also a minor available from the department.

Research in the Physics and Astronomy department is abundant, addressing problems encompassing almost the entire field. 

“At Hopkins we have three large focus areas when it comes to research work — astrophysics, condensed matter physics and particle physics — and these don’t even include all of our current research-based projects,” Leheny said.

Needless to say, Hopkins has an abundance of research opportunities for undergraduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who wish to pursue such subject areas. Another major facility that collaborates with and promotes research work in the department is the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which is located right across the road from the department.

The STScI serves as the operations center for both the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes for organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and others throughout the international astronomical community. The Hopkins Center for Astrophysical Sciences is able to collaborate effectively with the institute in numerous research endeavors, especially those working on the questions of galactic formation and evolution.

Thus, it is evident that there exists a multitude of opportunities for undergraduate students in research projects in all focus areas of modern-day physics and astronomy. Through the coursework and research experiences, many students gain the valuable experience that Leheny discussed in critical problem-solving and analytical thinking.

Students can apply their skills after undergraduate life, whether they are going on to pursue graduate study in Physics and Astronomy, or capturing a job opportunity in a physical science field. These careers range from focusing on research-driven applications to direct engineering opportunities. Students also pursue other careers, such as those in finance and business as well as law and medicine.

It is apparent that pursuing a major in Physics and Astronomy will involve a lot of effort due to the rigor of the discipline, but it is a major that is also invaluably rewarding in terms of the problem-solving skills you gain and the passions you can pursue. 

All look toward the stars, and physical phenomena constantly provoke our imagination. However, studying such phenomena and contributing to our human understanding of the universe is a pursuit that should always be encouraged and is of the utmost relevance as we aspire to better comprehend the laws of the universe that govern us and our surroundings. 

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