BYU boasts one of largest physics programs in the country

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    By Christianne Salisbury

    Albert Einstein, Bill Nye the Science Guy and the Absent Minded Professor have many BYU students following in their footsteps.

    A recent report in the American Institute of Physics said BYU’s physics program awarded the second largest number of bachelors degrees of any school in the United States.

    The AIP’s annual “Survey of Enrollments and Degrees,” released in August, conducted during the 1999-2000 academic year, includes all degree-granting physics departments in the United States including University of Utah, Penn State, and Boston University.

    Based on the strength of BYU’s physics program, the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics, comprised of the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers, is already using the school as a model for student retention.

    Robert Clark, a BYU physics professor is conducting a survey to determine which factors caused students to select and participate in the physics program.

    “Retaining majors doesn’t seem to be a problem for this department,” Clark said.

    A mass e-mail to all physics majors will take place within the next couple of days, he said.

    “Right now we can only speculate,” Clark said.

    Dale Kitchen, 23, a senior from Fairview Heights, Ill., and the president of Society of Physics students, said he thinks students are attracted to physics because they feel welcomed.

    “Students feel like professors are willing to give up their office time to interact with students,” Kitchen said. Beth Cummings, 20, a junior from Houston, majoring in physics, said the physics department is very supportive of students and there’s a lot of personal interaction with the faculty.

    Elke Jackson, 20, a junior from Gig Harbor, Wash., majoring in physics, compared physics to a different language.

    “A lot of people are afraid of physics because it looks far beyond them so they assume it’s hard. But like learning any language, it takes time,” she said.

    As a child Jackson wanted to know how things worked.

    “I wanted to know why Captain EO is 3-d at Disney World,” she said. “It sparked in me the desire to know how the world works and how it fits together.”

    R. Steven Turley, chair of the physics department, says BYU’s large and increasing number of physics majors run counter to the trend facing most physics departments in the United States.

    Since the mid-1900’s, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually by physics departments nationwide has declined from close to 5,000 to less than 4,000.

    “We try to offer well taught introductory courses, to encourage effective faculty-student mentoring and to integrate new students into departmental activities,” he said. “Another component is engaging them in significant undergraduate research experiences.”

    Joshua Holt, 22, a junior from Debuque, Iowa, majoring in physics, said that physics makes you understand counter intuitive things that don’t make sense normally.

    “The glory of physics is overcoming the difficulty of the concepts and understanding how the concepts really work instead of how we’ve come to accept it,” he said.

    Some students are attracted to physics because of its many gospel parallels, said Camille Call, 20, a sophomore from Tucson, Ariz., majoring in physics said.

    “I was going to be Pre-med but I was converted,” she said.

    Physics opened my mind to a new way of thinking that carries over into every aspect of my life, Call said.

    “It helps you to appreciate the amazingness of all creations,” she said. “It’s not like a lot of classes where you have to memorize a lot of things – you just have to think.”

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