When the College of Utah (eventually Utah State University) was established as a Land Grant College in 1884, Physics was part of the first announcement of courses offered. Physics and Mathematics were combined as one department for many years.
The first Ph.D. Physicist was Frank L. West, University of Chicago, who came in 1908. The department had three Ph.D. professors by 1935 and a handful of Physics majors but was reduced to a very small group by 1940 due to the demands of impending World War II. The group was led by Dr. Willard Gardner, a world-famous soil physicist, and the efforts of the department were spent on military training programs. The first doctorate degree was given in 1950 despite these difficulties.
The year 1957 brought several changes. Utah State Agricultural College became Utah State University, and the Physics and Mathematics Departments became separate entities. Three years later the Physics Department moved from Widtsoe Hall (1914) to a new building housing Physics and Engineering.
A program of upper atmospheric studies was initiated as an interdepartmental unit in 1969 as the Center for Research in Aeronomy (CRA), primarily involving the Departments of Physics and Electrical Engineering. The program expanded to become the Center for Atmospheric and Space Science (CASS) in the College of Science. The staff and programs expanded over the next 18 years, and in 1987 a new building for Science and Engineering Research was completed (picture above). It permanently houses the Department of Physics and CASS together with other University facilities.
The Department of Physics provides education at the BS level to about 100 undergraduate students and at the MS and Ph.D. levels to about 35 graduate students. We also provide service classes in introductory physics, general physics and astronomy to large numbers of non-majors. The department has active research programs in space physics, plasma physics, condensed matter physics, complexity, gravitation, field theory, and physics education. Our programs are supported by 15 tenure-line faculty positions, 13 research faculty positions, and a staff of four.
Faculty and Student Awards