Number of Faculty: 15
Current Students: 800
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The Department of Physics in the College of Science is a small department by enrollment but operates a large enterprise in terms of research and "service" education for engineering and other science departments.
The department is one of the leaders of the University in external grant funding and teaches hundreds of students from other disciplines every semester.
In addition, the department has a continuing collaboration with the Desert Research Institute's atmospheric sciences program which grants advanced degrees in atmospheric physics track B.A. degree through the Department of Physics. The department is proud of the fact that students at all levels are encouraged to become involved in research and many undergraduates have publication before graduation. Visit the Physics Department Website.
The study of all fundamental forces and processes from the sub-atomic to the "astronomic" scales is the purview of physics. For students of science other than physicists the purpose of learning physics is both the understanding of basic concepts and the application of problem solving skills developed during that process. Physics majors may be preparing for careers in basic research, teaching, medicine, engineering, law or a myriad of other careers where problem solving skills are valued. Current "hot topics" are energy and fusion research, astrophysics, atmospheric physics, lasers, plasmas, optics, nanotechnology, biophysics and radiation.
All of the fields listed above, as well as solid state physics, atomic and molecular physics, low temperature phenomenon, chemical physics and as yet unknown new specialties are being developed at this very moment. Experimental physicists design and carry out experiments to discover new phenomena and to test existing theories and models. Theoretical physicists develop new models or adjust current models to fit observed phenomena. Both must have a thorough understanding of what the other does since their combined efforts lead to progress and understanding.
Topics include chemistry and the creation and transformation of various molecules and aerosols such as Ozone, Methane, Carbon Dioxide, Soot, etc; physics and the formation of clouds from condensation nuclei, lightning, solar and infrared radiation; dynamics and air motions, jet streams, fronts, weather forecasting, inversions, ocean-atmosphere interactions; climate and long term weather conditions, climate change both because of atmospheric composition and sun output changes; and Aeronomy, the study of the upper atmosphere where ions are commonly found due to intense bombardment by the solar wind and deep UV radiation from the sun. This very rich field uses methods from physics, chemistry, mathematics, and computer Science for its foundational tools.
Atmospheric Scientists have the important jobs of forecasting the weather tomorrow and next week, of understanding our past climate and its variations and causes to better understand our future climate, of measuring and understanding air pollution and its transformations, and for helping with alternative energy strategies based on solar and wind power.
Atmospheric scientists measure properties of the atmosphere with weather balloons; they fly through and over hurricanes to measure their strength and help forecast their direction; they use satellite derived information to follow storms and quantify precipitation and cloudiness worldwide; they use very sophisticated numerical models run on large computers to simulate weather and climate, and they, by necessity, study chaos as it relates to the sensitivity of the equations of weather to starting conditions and the ultimate accuracy achievable by modeling efforts.
The Atmospheric Sciences undergraduate degree at UNR, started in 2005, derives its foundation from its parent, the Atmospheric Sciences Graduate program that was started in about 1965. Both programs are part of the Physics Department. Most of the professors in the Atmospheric Sciences courses are also professors at the Desert Research Institute where they perform research in the Division of Atmospheric Sciences, with offices in Reno, Las Vegas, and Storm Peak Laboratory at Steamboat Springs, Colo.
The professors also provide research internships to undergraduate students. The Atmospheric Sciences program has strong ties with the Geography Department through its excellent offerings in Climate Science. The first two years of the Atmospheric Sciences degree are similar to those of Physics majors, with the remaining two years devoted to specialization in Atmospheric Sciences. Students of the program are individually unique for their interests and abilities, and are advised in their curriculum choices with this in mind.