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Physics is the basic science, the foundation of other sciences. Physics attempts to describe the fundamental nature of the universe and how it works, striving for the simplest explanations common to its diverse behavior. For example, physics explains why the sky is blue, why rainbows have colors, what keeps a satellite in orbit, and of what atoms and nuclei are made.

The mission of the UH Hilo Physics program is to provide students with working knowledge of the physical laws that govern the universe from the smallest to the largest scales. The program provides broad training for those intending graduate work and/or future technical, industrial or research careers in the physical sciences or related fields. It also provides basic training for majors in other scientific disciplines as well as for future school teachers.

The Physics degree program allows the student a wide degree of latitude in preparation for a chosen career. Candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts in Physics may elect to pursue study in a traditional curriculum, with a variety of courses in classical and modern physics, or may choose a more specialized curriculum suitable for careers in such areas as astronomy, geology/geophysics, mathematics, or computer science. Modern physics and astronomy laboratory equipment is used in all student training; the use of computers is emphasized throughout the advanced curriculum. Advanced students may carry out a senior undergraduate thesis or research project under the supervision of one of the physics/astronomy faculty.

The introductory courses offered by the Department span the range from Conceptual Physics (suitable to non-science majors interested in an understanding of our universe without excessive reliance on mathematics) through College Physics (for those who want a more complete treatment but don’t plan to go further in physics) all the way to General Physics (which employs calculus to develop the deepest understanding of our physical universe). Students with all interests and backgrounds are served.

Degree Requirements

See undergraduate education in the UH Hilo Catalog for a detailed listing of the:

Physics website

Visit the Physics website.

Goals for Student Learning in the Major

The Physics major is designed to develop in students:

  • A basic understanding of physical concepts in mechanics, waves, thermodynamics, electricity, magnetism, optics, atomic and nuclear physics, and quantum mechanics
  • Appropriate skills for the analysis of physical systems. These include the ability to extract data from real systems, and skills for the mathematical study of physical models
  • Scientific reasoning and critical thinking skills and the ability to recognize correct and incorrect argumentation
  • Appropriate oral and written communication skills that enable the student to explain his or her work to people from a wide variety of backgrounds
  • The ability to adapt to new situations arising from the changing nature of science and technology

Prospects for Physics Graduates

In a rapidly changing environment, the key to survival is adaptability. There is no other field of study available which offers the student greater flexibility in our high-tech society. Whether a young person is contemplating a career as a scientist, an engineer, a teacher, a physician, a lawyer, or a businessperson, one can get no better grounding in fundamental and logical thinking than is possible in a good undergraduate physics program. The intellectual and cultural rewards are there, as are the opportunities for a flexible choice of careers at graduation and beyond.

Special Aspects of the Program

The Department will be housed in a new Science and Technology Building which is in the final stages of design. Construction will begin in early 2007. Modern offices, classrooms, introductory and advanced undergraduate labs, and faculty research facilities will provide students with the most modern facilities possible.

The close relationship between the Physics and the Astronomy programs and other programs at UH Hilo provide an opportunity for majors to experience first-hand the world-class astronomic, oceanographic, and geological research conducted within a short distance from the campus.

Students benefit from the Department’s international collaborations. Department faculty and student Interns are extensively involved in the All-sky High Resolution Air shower (Ashra) detector program which studies cosmic radiation by observing Nitrogen fluorescence and cherenkov radiation. The Department is a partner, along with UH Manoa Institute for Astronomy, Maui High Performance Computer Center, MIT Lincoln Laboratories, and Science Applications International Corporation in developing the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid
Response System (PanSTARRS) asteroid detection system. Projects like these provide UH Hilo students with unique opportunities to become involved in major efforts at the boundaries of science.

Under a grant from the National Science Foundation Tribal Colleges and Universities Program the department participates in the development of courses and learning opportunities for students of Hawaiian ethnicity. Opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research with faculty members are provided by the ASHRA (All-Sky Survey High Resolution Air-Shower Detector) program in collaboration with colleagues in Japan, Taiwan, and Oahu, HI.

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Physics Faculty and Staff