From subatomic particles to supernova

physics classPhysics is at the center of many fields of scientific inquiry. Why? Because physics attempts to explain the natural world around us (both here on earth and beyond) and inside us on a molecular level, which is why physicists are needed in engineering, medicine, astronomy, and computer science. 

The analytical and problem-solving skills of physics graduates are highly valued across occupations. 

“I believe that the purpose of college is to give students the experiences they need to succeed in the real world. Cornell College’s academic calendar is ideally suited to this task because it allows students to engage in more real-life experiences than they could under the semester system.” -Derin Sherman, Professor of Physics
physics research
Exploring plasma structures surrounding newly formed massive stars

From theory to the lab

As a Cornell physics major, you are introduced to the foundational theories of physics—classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics—and to the ways physicists "do" physics, as you engage in hands-on activities in our lab courses.

Refine your lab techniques

You’ll work in the lab in different areas of physics, building up your experience in preparation for a future career in a lab setting if that’s your path. Eventually, you’ll spend an entire block researching a physics topic of your choosing. Working with a small team, you will plan, design, construct, and carry out your own experiments. This hands-on approach to learning is essential to preparing you for a STEM career.

Ingenuity in action: research opportunities

Cornell’s Ingenuity curriculum manifests the academic flexibility and hands-on preparedness you get studying One Course At A Time. Built into this flexibility are many opportunities outside of the classroom to conduct research. You might participate in the Cornell Summer Research Institute, working directly with faculty. Or you might work with the Berry Career Institute to be a Cornell Fellow and receive assistance and funding for a research placement elsewhere in the United States or another country in a physics-related field that is of specific interest to you.

Recent block-long student research projects

Mechanical analogue of an ion trap
Muon detector to test the theory of relativity
Schlieren imaging to image ultrasonic standing waves
Radio waves to measure the temperature of the sun
Measuring the size of atoms using the Ramsauer-Townsend effect and electron diffraction

Previous off-campus student research placements

Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany, laser stabilization in an extremely sensitive interferometer for the possible detection of gravity waves
Indiana University, searching for forces beyond the Standard Model
Los Alamos National Lab, New Mexico, built and programmed a white-light spectral-interferometer to calibrate spectrometers for an ultrafast dynamic ellipsometry experiment

physics video
Developing new physics videos for YouTube
massive stars
Exploring plasma structures surrounding newly formed massive stars
Rosette nebula research

Pierson Pahl '19

Physics major

"The physics and engineering professors I had at Cornell showed a genuine interest in my success, and an enthusiasm for their fields and the subject matter of my classes. A benefit of studying STEM subjects on the block plan is that I was never forced to prioritize studying for one class over another due to time constraints or scheduling conflicts."

Learn more about One Course At A Time