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Saint Mary’s announces new physics major

| Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Saint Mary’s department of chemistry and physics will offer majors in the field of physics in addition to the existing chemistry major.

Ian Bentley, associate professor of chemistry and physics, said there was a fair amount of student interest in having physics as a major.

“Everyone that I would talk to about it knew of a student that was interested,” he said. “You add those all up and see that it’s quite a few students who have been interested in physics, not just one.”

According to Bentley, the department discussed the potential of creating a physics major, especially to support the students in the engineering dual degree program with Notre Dame. The program allows Saint Mary’s students to graduate with a degree from Saint Mary’s before transferring to Notre Dame for a fifth year to earn their engineering degree.

Chris Dunlap, chair of chemistry and physics at the College, said when Bentley was hired in the fall of 2014, there was no physics major or minor. However, in order to best address the needs of students — particularly those in the dual degree program — the department chose to create a major program instead of just a minor.

“A minor was not going to match the needs,” Dunlap said. “Between engineers who wanted a more applied approach to the mathematics and a group of students who were really interested in physics, we at the department decided we would move forward with the major.”

Bentley said the department will offer two different degrees with three possible majors as well as a minor. There will be a physics Bachelor of Arts degree, a physics Bachelor of Science degree and a physics and applied mathematics (PAM) Bachelor of Arts degree, Bentley said. The two PAM degrees are offered through the math department while the BS and BA in physics will be through the department of chemistry and physics.

Bentley said the Bachelor of Arts degree requires between 34 and 38 credit hours, the Bachelor of Science requires 60 credit hours, and the PAM degree required between 49 and 53 hours. The minor requires between 17 and 18 credit hours.

Dunlap said the construction on the science hall was intended to renovate some labs and also to accommodate the new major.

“The basement [of the science hall] is all physics space,” Dunlap said. “We have the same amount of space dedicated for physics as before, but now it’s its own floor.”

Bentley said there are currently two students declared as PAM majors and one student as a physics major, all three of which are in the dual-degree program. He said there are also about three to four first years who have physics as an intended major.

Adding this major may increase enrollment, Dunlap said, specifically in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

“What we’ve done is we’ve filled in a hole in the STEM fields that Saint Mary’s has had forever,” Dunlap said. “We’ve never had a physics major at Saint Mary’s … This is a very exciting time for the STEM departments because it gives us another option for our students to pursue.

“We never really knew how many students might have come to Saint Mary’s if this were available because we’ve never had it,” Dunlap said. “We’re really interested to find out now how many students are out there who might be now attracted to physics at a women’s college.”

Bentley said this will help students in the duel degree program because it will offer a wider range of applicable majors and will open doors for students to enter the mechanical and electrical engineering fields.

“I think it makes it feasible for students who are interested in applying mathematics,” Bentley said. “I think we’re hitting that niche that, to some extent, we missed before. If you’re thinking about mechanical engineering or electrical engineering, the most feasible route was to major in math. Now we have [physics] which is more applied.”

Sophomore physics and mechanical engineering major Erin Patterson said she was deciding between majoring in chemistry or in mathematics when she first heard about the physics major and realized that it worked better for the dual-degree program.

“I wanted to apply math not just write proofs and definitions,” Patterson said. “I considered the different types of engineering that paired best with these majors. After talking with Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s professors and Saint Mary’s students, I found I shared some of the same interests and disinterests with mechanical engineers, and I knew physics paired well with mechanical engineering.”

Rachel Bonek, a sophomore PAM and electrical engineering major, said she originally planned to be a math and engineering major, but with the new PAM major, it made more sense for her degree.

“I am excited that another science major is offered at Saint Mary’s,” Bonek said. “I think it’s important to continue to increase the number of women in math and science, and having the physics major here will definitely help.”

 

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

Contact Nicole