University of Hawaii at Hilo Catalog 2013–2014


Home » Undergraduate Education » College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) » Physics

Department Chair:
Philippe M. Binder, Ph.D. (, (808) 974-7650

Natural Sciences Division Office:

Life Sciences 2, (808) 974–7383

Web: and


  • Philippe M. Binder, Ph.D.

Assistant Professors:

  • Jesse M. Goldman, Ph.D.
  • R. Pierre Martin, Ph.D.
  • Marianne Y. Takamiya, Ph.D.


  • John C. Hamilton, M.S.
  • Norman G. Purves, M.S.


  • John P. Coney, M.Ed.

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.

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; and
  • 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 student 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 through 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 is housed in the campus' Science and Technology Building which provides modern offices, classrooms, introductory and advanced undergraduate labs, and faculty research facilities that will provide students with an ideal working environment.

Students can participate in faculty-led research in nonlinear dynamics and complex systems and in the Department’s international collaborations.

The Space Grant Fellowship Program offers competitive fellowships to students of exceptional promise, usually during their senior year. The fellowships provide a full tuition waiver and $1,000/semester stipend. Space Grant Fellows conduct a proposed research project under the supervision of a faculty mentor and participate in University-wide Space Grant College symposia. Funding for travel to meetings is available from this program.

Affiliated faculty from the University Technology Park and other facilities offer a rich array of supplemental Special Topics courses which expand opportunities for students.


Rev. 3/19/13