Student with lab equipment
Program Overview

Physics and Astronomy

Study the fundamental questions of the universe.

Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

Fundamental Questions, Versatile Methods

What is matter made of? How long has our universe existed? How does a bicycle work? What about a battery or a laser? From subatomic particles to distant galaxies, physics provides a way to understand how and why the world works the way it does. At Oberlin, our students are encouraged to ask their own open-ended questions and test their ideas through hands-on undergraduate research, supplemented by a curriculum that combines theory and laboratory classes, from classical and quantum mechanics to electricity and magnetism, astronomy, optics, electronics, and more.

A Unique Learning and Research Community

The Oberlin physics community is a special place. We offer a broad curriculum with research opportunities for every student. We are small enough that our eclectic group of students get to know each other through daily “cookies and tea.” The absence of a graduate program means students get to work alongside their peers and professors at the forefront of research. The department is successful in acquiring large national grants that fund research equipment, travel opportunities to facilities around the world, and salaries for students over summer and during the school year. Our students have unmatched opportunities to roll up their sleeves and belong to an intimate and supportive learning community where they are encouraged to bring all of themselves to the study of the universe.

100% of tenured faculty have co-authored articles with their students
$880,000 in active National Science Foundation grants awarded to members of the department.

Featured Courses

PHYS 051

Einstein and Relativity

How can the speed of light be the same for someone on the sidewalk and someone driving down the road? How can before and after differ for those two people? Don't just calculate the answers to such questions, learn to understand them.

Taught by
Dan Styer
PHYS 242


Explore the analog and digital worlds through circuit design and construction. Transmit sound through light waves, build amplifiers and filters, make a digital thermometer using a microprocessor, and much more. Course starts with the basics and culminates in a final project of your own design.

Taught by
Jason Stalnaker
ASTR 302

Galaxies and Cosmology

Dive deeply into an understanding of galaxies and their evolution, in the context of an ever-expanding Universe. How do we use color & shape to learn a galaxy’s history? On larger scales, learn how distances are measured to ancient galaxies, and how this taught us about the Universe’s evolution.

Taught by
Jillian Scudder
PHYS 312

Quantum Mechanics

If insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” then down at the quantum level the universe is insane. Explore the concepts and mathematics behind the beautiful theory of quantum mechanics which explains this bizarre behavior that governs so much of our modern technology.

Taught by
Stephen FitzGerald

Student Profiles

Exploring Interstellar Waves

As part of a summer research project, Jakob Faber ’21 investigated the mysterious properties of interstellar radio waves.

Jakob Faber

NSF Fellow and Athlete

Rainie Heck ’20, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship to support doctoral research.

Rainie Heck

What does Physics at Oberlin look like?

A professor and student work with glowing lab equipment.

Angel Nunez and Professor Jason Stalnaker aligning their laser frequency comb for a two photon spectroscopy experiment.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna
Daniel inspects a tool in the lab.

Daniel Mukasa designed a copper sample mount for his honors project. Daniel is currently a Ph.D. student in Caltech’s material science department.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna
Professor Scudder makes a point during a lecture.

Professor Jillian Scudder explaining to her introductory astronomy class what the colors in a beam of light tell us about the universe.

Photo credit: Matthew Lester
Professor and students enjoy a light moment in the lab.

Professor Yumi Ijiri with her research students Ian Hunt-Isaak ‘17 and Jason Heitler-Klevans ‘17 taking a break from contemplating magnetic nanoparticles.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

Next Steps

Get in touch; we'd love to chat.

A nighttime view looking into the busy, lit up atrium of the science center.