Physics at Oberlin is a diverse academic program. We offer a rich selection of physics and astronomy courses and ample opportunities for active student research involvement.



Our faculty are both scholars and teachers who devote their careers to making important contributions to their disciplines through writing and research. They are committed to undergraduate education and teach everything from first-year seminars to advanced courses. Physics and astronomy faculty engage in research in such areas as radio astronomy, optics, materials physics, and theoretical physics.

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Department Overview

A dictionary might define physics as “the science that deals with matter and energy,” but in fact it is not practical to set any limits upon physics “by definition.” Physicists study everything from galaxies to subatomic particles, from window glass to living things, in an attempt to understand the basic principles of nature and their effects on the world in which we live. Students studying physics at Oberlin find a lively, diverse program with faculty interested in both undergraduate teaching and physics research, with a rich selection of physics and astronomy courses, and with ample opportunities for both formal and informal physics education, including active student research involvement.

Our program is large enough to offer a first-rate education, yet small enough to encourage close student-faculty interaction. The course offerings cover the fundamental areas of physics as well as other topics ranging from electronics to astrophysics. Guest speakers visit campus about once a month to give lectures and to talk informally with students. Frequent lunch gatherings generate lively discussion between students and faculty concerning recent happenings in physics.

About a dozen physics majors graduate each year. The majority of our majors pursue further study in physics or other scientific fields (such as engineering or biophysics); recent graduates are currently attending a variety of institutions such as Columbia, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, the University of Arizona, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Illinois, and the University of Wisconsin. A number of other graduates have pursued careers in high school science teaching. Still others have found rewarding jobs in industry, in computer programming, or in something completely different.

Each year, about one-third of the senior majors participate in the honors program, for which they adopt a research project of their own choosing. Many students select projects related to faculty research, while others pursue even more independent investigations.

Our faculty members engage in research in a variety of areas including radio astronomy, optics, materials physics, and theoretical physics. During summers and the academic year, many students assist faculty with their experiments. Students recently accompanied faculty members to Puerto Rico for radio astronomy observations and to Maryland for neutron scattering measurements.

The physics and astronomy department is primarily located in the Wright Laboratory of Physics, which houses offices, classrooms, teaching and research laboratories, and a machine shop and an electronics shop. The ground floor of Wright houses an impressive laboratory facility with updated electrical, air, and chilled water services. The upper two floors were renovated in 2001 and 2002.

Departmental apparatus includes a femtosecond frequency comb, two high-vacuum chambers for thin film deposition, two high precision infrared spectrometers, several closed-cycle helium cryostats, a vibrating sample magnetometer, a reflecting telescope with a state-of-the-art CCD camera, an electrically shielded room, and several computer labs. A multipurpose X-ray diffractometer is shared with the chemistry department.

The Oberlin College Observatory and Planetarium are housed separately in Peters Hall, with ample opportunities for student involvement.

Physics and Astronomy News

A student stands with his hands in his pockets.

Exploring Interstellar Waves

October 12, 2020
Jakob Faber ’21 explored ways to broaden the scope of branched flow with the goal of introducing work that has been done in radio astronomy and radio geophysics into the field.

Physics and Astronomy Facilities

david love lounge, science center

David Love Lounge

Located on the second floor overlooking the Science Center Commons, the David Love Lounge is a prime spot for quiet studying.
Observatory Dome

Observatory and Taylor Planetarium

In the dome atop Peters Hall, an observatory features a telescope with a 14-inch aperture for viewing comets, stars, planets, and other astronomical phenomena.
exterior view of walkway and entrance to science center

Science Center

The Science Center houses the departments of biology, chemistry, neuroscience, physics, and the science library.
two students sitting at table with backs to each other.

Science Library

Part of the Science Center complex, the college opened a spacious library with materials devoted to astronomy, biochemistry, biology, botany, chemistry, geology, neuroscience, physics, and zoology.
Vibrating Sample Magnetometer

Vibrating Sample Magnetometer

This instrument measures the magnetic properties of materials in fields from 0 to 2 T and in temperatures from 4K to 300K.
Wright Physics Lab

Wright Laboratory of Physics

Oberlin’s physics building is named for aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose younger sister, Katharine Wright Haskell, attended Oberlin and taught them about physics. The building is part of the Science Center complex.
Photo of Wright Lecture Hall

Wright Lecture Hall

Wright Lecture Hall, also referred to as the physics auditorium, has a seating capacity for 90. It is on the second floor of the Science Center.