Physics and Astronomy
Physics and Astronomy
Department Information: 
N-273 ESC

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers graduate training in a variety of subjects including acoustics, astronomy, atomic and molecular physics, condensed matter, optics, plasma, and theory. The department provides abundant opportunities and support for its students and expects them to experience the excitement of discovering new knowledge as they contribute to the on-going development of these age-old disciplines.

Three degrees are offered through the Department of Physics and Astronomy: Physics—MS, Physics—PhD, and Physics and Astronomy—PhD.

The average number of MS and PhD students in the department is twenty-two and fourteen, respectively. The expected time to complete a degree is two to three years for the MS and five to six years for the PhD.

Fax:  (801) 422-0101

Chair:  Richard R. Vanfleet
Graduate Coordinator:  Eric W. Hirschmann

Resources & Opportunity: 

Within the department there are currently six recognized research specialties: Acoustics; Astronomy; Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics; Condensed Matter Physics; Plasma Physics; Theoretical and Mathematical Physics.

Acoustics. The acoustics research program at BYU is cross-disciplinary, involving the treatment of both fundamental and applied problems in acoustics and vibration using analytical, numerical, and experimental means.  It focuses primarily on acoustic signal processing, active and passive noise and vibration control, aeroacoustics, architectural acoustics, audio acoustics, nonlinear acoustics, outdoor sound propagation, and sound-structure interactions.  Many resources are readily available for the effective simulation, measurement, and control of physical systems.  In addition to strong computational facilities, the program has acoustical laboratories with extensive state-of-the-art measurement equipment, two anechoic chambers, two reverberation chambers, and a variable acoustics chamber that can be used for experimental studies.

Astronomy. Optical photometric and spectroscopic research at BYU is conducted at our own observatories using telescopes ranging from 0.3 to 0.9 m. There is frequent use of Hubble Space Telescope and Spitzer Space Telescope data and data from observatories in Arizona, Canada, Chile, and South Africa as well as from national and international radio observatories. Topics of current research include evolution of variable stars, especially classical and dwarf Cepheids; the extragalactic distance scale; photometric standard systems; interstellar reddening; old and young galactic star clusters; high mass x-ray binaries; pre-main sequence objects; active galactic nuclei; galaxies in or near cosmic voids; brown dwarf atmospheres; transiting planets; interferometric and single dish studies  of MASER and molecular emission from star forming regions, late-type OH/IR stars, supernova remnants, AGN, and starburst phenomena; and theoretical studies of black holes and neutron stars.

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics. Computational and experimental studies of ultrafast laser high harmonic generation, quantum measurement, atom and ion interferometry, strongly coupled plasmas, atomic spectroscopy, optical properties of materials in the EUV, thin film deposition and characterization, EUV and x-ray optics, neutron detector development, and quantum optics.

Condensed Matter Physics. Condensed matter physics studies the macroscopic and microscopic properties of the “condensed” phases of matter: metals, insulators, semiconductors, superconductors, nanostructures, liquids, and so forth. Nationally, this is the largest and most active area of physics research. Our interests at BYU center on the electronic, magnetic, optical, structural, and dynamic properties of nanostructures and solids, using experimental, theoretical, and computational methods. Our current activities include creation of new nanostructured materials and their study by scanning probe microscopy, magnetometry, and electron-based microscopy and spectroscopy; X-ray and neutron-scattering; computational studies of novel alloys and nanostructures; group theoretical methods applied to phase transitions in crystals; motion and structure of defects in crystals; optical and magnetic resonance studies of electrons and spin coherence in semiconductor nanostructures; magnetic memory and reversal processes in ferromagnetic thin films; and dynamics of superparamagnetic nanoparticles.

Plasma Physics. Plasma physics research, both experimental and theoretical, centers on nonneutral plasmas.  We have both pure-electron and pure-ion plasma experiments.  Our pure-ion plasma experiments are currently centered around measuring the half-life of Beryllium-7 in an ionized state.  We also have substantial numerical modeling efforts in support of that goal.  Our pure-electron plasma studies are aimed at understanding normal modes of oscillation in these plasmas in both the linear and nonlinear regimes.

Theoretical and Mathematical Physics. This group studies the foundations, techniques, and applications of relativity, quantum, and information theory. We develop numerical, algebraic, and analytic approaches to understand complex problems. Current projects include mergers of and energetic emissions from compact objects in general relativity; critical phenomena in nonlinear field theories; coherent behavior in dynamical systems; interaction between radiation and matter; molecular dynamics of defects and impurities in clusters and solids; spin systems and quantum entanglement. Our computational resources include extensive supercomputing facilities on campus and allocations at national supercomputing centers.

Financial Assistance: 

Qualified graduate students receive financial aid that may take the form of one or more of the following: teaching assistantships, research assistantships, scholarships (including the John Einar Anderson Scholarship and Copley Fellowship), internships, university-sponsored fellowships, or tuition awards. The amount of financial aid given depends on individual merit.