Physics – Albright College


The power of physics lies in its ability to take us to new worlds beyond our imagining. Make your own discoveries at Albright College!

Whether in the search for new particles such as the Higgs boson, or the creation of new states of matter such as the Bose-Einstein condensate, or the discovery of universal properties like the accelerating cosmic expansion, physics provides a way to explore the universe beyond our everyday senses.

At Albright, students gain tools and master techniques needed to discover these worlds through a cutting-edge curriculum and modern facilities. Learn how to explore the universe and distinguish between what is true and what is not.

What Can I do With a Major in Physics?

The Department of Physics aims to introduce non-science majors to the process and concepts of physics, prepare pre-med students to succeed on the MCAT and in medical school, and train physics majors for graduate school and careers. Our track record is impressive:

  • 100% of Albright physics students who apply are accepted to graduate school
  • 100% of Albright physics/secondary education students pass the PRAXIS exam
  • More than 75% of Albright physics students who take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score 780 or higher (out of 800) in math
  • Albright students become smarter by taking the physics curriculum, improving their IQ on average from 130 to 134 (based on SAT and GRE scores)
  • More than half of Albright physics students complete at least one research project
  • 50% of Albright physics students choose high school teaching as a career

Student Learning Outcomes/Department Goals

Albright Physics students learn to:

  1. Communicate effectively in a scientific context by a.) reading, b.) writing, and c.) speaking from a pedagogical/popular level to an appropriate professional level (e.g. scientific-journal quality papers, research presentations).
  2. Employ strong conceptual skills for solving problems.
  3. Successfully model physical reality in diverse contexts with a broad range of mathematical tools.
  4. Show proficiency at designing, implementing, and analyzing experiments.
  5. Proficiently use commercial software packages for project design, problem-solving, and equipment control.


Even in hard economic times, a physics degree provides a near-guarantee of employment. Physicists are trained to be versatile and flexible, and employers know that physics graduates tend to be among the best and brightest. Not surprisingly, physicists have an unemployment rate of less than 2% (5% for new B.S. graduates), with an average starting salary of about $50,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Albright physics graduates have been very successful in finding the employment they desire. Among the companies that have hired Albright physics graduates are:

Bethlehem Steel
East Penn Manufacturing
Edmund Optics
Fidelity Investments
Litton Electronic Devices
Lockheed Martin
Meadowlark Optics
The SI Organization
The Vanguard Group


Karen A. Campbell, Ph.D.
P. Kenneth Nase M.D. '55 Chair of Biology; Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dean of the Faculty


Brian J. Buerke, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Physics, Department Chair


Devon B. Mason, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Physics


Pamela G. Artz, Ph.D. '87
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry


Christian S. Hamann, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry


Ian J. Rhile, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Department Chair


Nicholas A. Piro, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry


Matthew D. Sonntag, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry


Bryce J. Brylawski, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology


Andrew I. Samuelsen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology; Department Chair


Adam R. Hersperger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology


Erin Ventresca, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biology; Health Sciences Advisor


Ian Cost, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology

The Department of Physics offers a flexible course of study that prepares you for success in a wide range of technically related fields. Opportunities after graduation include graduate study, industrial research and development, engineering, teaching, technical management and software development. We’ll give you an excellent education in the fundamentals of physics, with special emphasis on strong mathematical skills, advanced laboratory training and collaborative student-faculty research.
You can choose from among three major tracks of study:

  • General physics, in preparation for graduate study in physics or for work in industry
  • Optical physics, in preparation for a career in industrial research and development or engineering, or for graduate study in physics/optics
  • Secondary education certification in physics, in preparation for certification by the state of Pennsylvania as a high school physics teacher

Physics majors interested in graduate programs are encouraged to take courses beyond the basic requirements. Since requirements for graduate programs vary, you are encouraged to seek advice from faculty members in the department. Students interested in pursuing teacher certification in physics must consult the chair of the Department of Education regarding specific requirements for the program.


Requirements for the General Physics track:
First Year:

  • MAT 131, 132
  • Students with strong high school preparation may take PHY 201, 202

Second Year:

  • PHY 201, 202
  • MAT 233, 334
  • PHY 255 (formerly IDS 255)

Third Year:

  • PHY 203, 251, 340

Fourth Year:

  • PHY 262, 351, 431, 441, 490

Requirements for the Optical Physics track:
First Year:

  • MAT 131, 132
  • Students with strong high school preparation may take PHY 201, 202
  • OPT 101 (optional)

Second Year:

  • PHY 201, 202
  • MAT 233, 334
  • PHY 255 (formerly IDS 255)

Third Year:

  • PHY 203
  • OPT 241, 261

Fourth Year:

  • OPT 324, 431
  • One from OPT 101, 362, 400, 442, PHY 262
  • PHY 351, 441, 490

Secondary Physics Education

Physics Majors preparing for a career in education take Physics courses and a series of Education and other courses specified by the Education Department to meet Pennsylvania Department of Education regulations. As early as possible in their college experience, candidates for teacher certification in English should consult the Requirements section of the Education website and the chair of Education regarding specific course requirements. The Physics Education certification is a grades 7-12 program.

Co-Major in Physics

  • PHY 201, 202, 203
  • PHY 340, 351
  • PHY 441
  • MAT 131, 132, 233
  • PHY 255 (formerly IDS 255)

Co-Majors in Optical Physics

  • PHY 201, 202
  • OPT 241, 261
  • OPT 431
  • Two from OPT 324, 362, 400, 442, PHY 351, 441

A student may combine optics with any other major. However, the high level of computational background required for most optics courses favors combining with mathematics.

The mathematics courses required are:

  • MAT 131, 132
  • MAT 233
  • MAT 250, 334, 435, 438
  • MAT 491

PHY 102
Modern Astronomy
This is an exposition of a wide variety of topics in modern astronomy including celestial motion, stellar spectra and evolution, galaxies, solar systems and cosmology. Three hours of lecture and three-hour laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

Modern Optics and Technology
This course is a survey of basic properties of light, diffraction, holography, interference, imaging and applications to modern technology including telescopes, lasers, CDs, fiber optics and optical data storage. The course satisfies the general studies lab science requirement. Three hours of lecture and three-hour laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 104
Fundamentals of Physical Science
This course introduces students to phenomena in the physical world and helps them understand the relationships that govern these phenomena. Topics include the structure of matter, chemical bonds and reactions, laws of motion and gravity, electromagnetism, and the study of heat, sound, and light. Three hours lecture and three-hour laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 105
Topics in Physics
This course is for non-science majors. It is a practical introduction to physics and science in everyday life. This course considers objects from our daily environment and focuses on their principles of operation, histories, and relationships to one another.  This course provides a broad survey of physics topics including mechanics, thermodynamics, mechanical waves, E&M, light, nuclear and modern physics. Three hours lecture and three hours laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 107
Are We Alone?
Since before recorded history, humans have looked up into the starry sky and asked this question.  If so, why?  If not, where might life exist outside of the Earth?  Both answers are mind-boggling and, to quote Isaac Asimov, equally frightening.  In this course we will study how life may have arisen on Earth; how we discover planets around other stars; what makes a planet habitable; and how we search for life in our universe.  Three hours lecture and threehours laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 184
Concepts of Physical Science
This is a course particularly focused on the needs of teachers in elementary and middle schools. The main focus is to have students learn by doing, that is, they will, in support of the lectures, carry out activities and demonstrations in various areas of the physical sciences. For each concept presented in the lecture class the students will carry out quantitative activities, which demonstrate the validity of the concept. They are required to keep a careful record of not only lecture notes but of their activities. Thus, at the end of the course each student will have produced a reference notebook of lesson plans, covering both theory and supporting activities/demonstrations, which are invaluable in teaching physical science in grades K through eight.

PHY 191
Fundamentals of Earth and Space Science
Introduces students to the structure and processes of the planet Earth and its relationship to the larger Universe.  Topics include formation of Earth, types of rocks, plate tectonics, the water cycle, oceans, interaction with celestial bodies, atmosphere, and climate. Three hours lecture and three hours laboratory per week. GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 201
General Physics I
Calculus-based introductory course in general physics, covering mechanics, wave motion, and sound.  Six hours per week in workshop format.
Prerequisite: MAT 131 (or equivalent with Physics Department permission) GENERAL STUDIES FOUNDATIONS-NATURAL SCIENCE

PHY 202
General Physics II
Calculus-based introductory course in general physics, covering electromagnetism and heat. Six hours per week in workshop format.
Prerequisites: PHY 201 and MAT 132 (or equivalents with Physics Department permission)

PHY 203
General Physics III
Introductory course in general physics covering various aspects of modern physics, including relativity and quantum theory. Satisfies the Foundations general education requirement for Natural Science. Three hours of lecture and three-hour lab.
Prerequisite: MAT 131 (or equivalent with Physics Department permission)

PHY 251
Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics
This course explores thermodynamic systems and variables; the laws of thermodynamics; thermodynamic potentials and applications; ideal and real gas relations; changes of phase; introduction to probability theory; elementary kinetic theory of gases; micro and macro-states of simple quantum-mechanical systems; Fermi-Dirac, Bose-Einstein and Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics. Four hours of lecture per week.

Math for Chemistry and Physics
The physical applications of analytic and numerical methods are studied in such topics as differential equations, Fourier series, Laplace transforms, matrices, complex numbers and vectors. Prerequisite MAT132 (formerly IDS 255)

PHY 262
This course is an introduction to electronic components and circuits, including power supplies, amplifiers and digital logic circuits, and the integration of electronics with software.
Prerequisite: PHY 202, MAT 131

PHY 301
Mathematical Physics I
This course covers a variety of mathematical tools needed in upper-level physics courses. The focus is on the applications of mathematics to interesting physical situations. Topics covered may include vector and matrix algebra, series expansion, calculus techniques in physics, vector calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, complex numbers and probability in physics.
Prerequisite: MAT 132 or permission of the instructor

PHY 302
Mathematical Physics II
This course is a continuation of PHY 301 and covers a variety of mathematical tools needed in upper-level physics courses.
Prerequisite: MAT 132 or permission of the instructor

PHY 340
Classical Mechanics
This course examines fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics; conservation theorems; central forces; motion in non-inertial frames; rigid-body motion; and Lagrange’s and Hamilton’s equations. Four hours of lecture per week.

PHY 351
Electromagnetism I
This course looks at electrostatics and magnetostatics in vacuum and in material media; Maxwell’s equations; energy and momentum in the electromagnetic field; electromagnetic waves; and special relativity. Four hours of lecture per week.

PHY 391
Selected Topics in Physics
Topics are determined by the needs of the students and the availability of faculty. Some possible topics are advanced mathematical physics, electromagnetism II, modeling and simulation in physics.

PHY 431
Advanced Physics Laboratory I
This is an introduction to the techniques of experimental research in the areas of electronics, electromagnetism and modern physics. Measurement technique and error analysis are emphasized. Two three-hour lab periods each week.

PHY 441
Quantum Physics I
This course is an introduction to non-relativistic quantum mechanics; wave functions, amplitudes and probabilities; the superposition of quantum states; and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. It also explores time evolution including: the Schroedinger equation, stationary states, and two-state systems, and motion in one-dimensional potentials including: tunneling, particle in a box and harmonic oscillator. Four hours of lecture per week.

PHY 490
Senior Seminar in Physics
This is a seminar specifically designed for students admitted to the department’s honors program. Topics are determined by instructor.

PHY 491
Selected Topics in Physics and Optics
Topics are determined by the needs of the students and availability of faculty. Some possible topics are Quantum Physics II, Advanced Lab II and topics dealing with current trends in physics and optics.

OPT 241
Geometrical Optics
This course studies optical instruments and their use, including first-order Gaussian optics and thin-lens system layout. Lectures and laboratory exercises examine photometrics theory applied to optical systems such as the eye, magnifier and microscope, matrix optics and the nature of Seidel aberrations. Three hours of lecture and three-hour laboratory per week.
Prerequisite: MAT 131

OPT 261
Wave Optics
This course covers complex representation of waves; scalar diffraction theory; Fresnel and Fraunhofer diffraction and application to measurement; diffraction and image formation; optical transfer function; coherent optical systems, optical data processing and holography. Three hours of lecture and three-hour laboratory per week.

OPT 324
Lasers and Applications
This course includes fundamentals and applications of laser systems, such as optical amplification, cavity design, beam propagation and modulation. Emphasis is placed on developing the basic principles needed to design new systems, as well as an understanding of the operation of those currently in use.
Prerequisites: OPT 261 and 323, MAT 334 recommended

OPT 362
Electromagnetic Theory
This course explores vector analysis; Maxwell’s equations, energy flow in electromagnetic fields, dipole radiation from Lorentz atoms, partially polarized radiation, spectral line broadening, dispersion, reflection and transmission, crystal optics, electro-optics and quantum optics. Prerequisites: PHY 202, MAT 233, and MAT 334

OPT 400
Applied Optics
Application of optics to current technology in optics, covering topics such as advanced detection systems, semiconductor optoelectonics and optical system performance specification.
Prerequisites: OPT 261, 323 and 324 (may be taken concurrently)

OPT 431
Advanced Optics Laboratory I
Intensive project-based laboratory course with experiments on optical imaging systems, testing of optical instruments, diffraction, interference, holography, lasers and detectors. Two three-hour lab periods per week.

OPT 442
Quantum Theory of Optics
This course is an introduction to quantum mechanics in the context of modern optics and optical technology. Wave mechanics applied to electrons in crystals and in quantum wells are discussed. Other topics include: absorption and emission in semiconductors and the optical properties of materials; Shrodinger equation; potential wells; barriers; electron in a periodic potential; energy bands; and Fermi statistics.
Prerequisites: PHY 202, 255

Facilities & Equipment


Completely renovated and expanded, Albright’s Science Center offers more than 78,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratory and classroom space. The Department of Physics is housed entirely within the facility, on the first and ground floors.

All physics facilities are available for use by undergraduate physics students and include the following spaces:

Modern physics laboratory
Advanced optics laboratory with darkroom
Electronics laboratory
Physics research laboratory
General physics laboratory

Shared facilities (with biology and chemistry):

G.I.S. laboratory
Undergraduate research laboratory
Electron microscopy suite
Student lounge
Science library and lounge


The physics facilities are fully equipped with a variety of research-grade equipment, all of which is available for use by undergraduate physics students conducting research projects. The equipment covers research needs in a wide range of fields:

Condensed Matter

Atomic Force Microscope (AFM Workshop)
Scanning Tunneling Microscope (Nanosurf)
Scanning Electron Microscope
Transmission Electron Microscope

Astronomy and Astrophysics

LX200-ACF 12” telescope (Meade)
4” Polaris telescope (Meade)
P.S.T. solar telescope (Coronado)
Neutral density solar filters

Computational Physics

Z400 Workstations (Hewlett Packard)
Industrial-grade software

LabVIEW (National Instruments)
COMSOL Multiphysics
Mathcad (MathSoft)
KaleidaGraph (Synergy Software)

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

Nd:YLF pulsed laser system
Acousto-optical modelocker
Optical autocorrelator
Spatial light modulator (Meadowlark)
Scanning Fabry-Perot interferometer
Abbe refractometer
High-speed 1-GHz avalanche detector
High-speed PIN diode photodetectors
Amplified photomultiplier
Infrared viewers
CCD cameras
Line CCD camera
Digital power meters
Galilean 5x beam expander
Optical chopper
Optical fiber equipment
Single-mode optical fiber (km length)
Photonic crystal fiber
High-power and tunable diode lasers
IR and visible-light lasers
Assorted optical components and support equipment

Student Scholarship

At Albright, we consider student research to be a vital complement to the physics curriculum. There’s no better way to see physics in action than to work on your own research project. Albright physics faculty have diverse interests and are eager to work with you on any questions that stir your curiosity.

Through the Albright Creative and Research Experience (ACRE) program, students receive stipends and room and board to work with faculty on research projects of their choosing. Projects can be completed either during the summer (10 weeks) or the Interim (three weeks in January) terms.

Students may also receive grants for research at universities and laboratories beyond Albright; for example, through NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants. Albright physics students have been very successful in receiving both ACRE and REU grants, with over half of our graduates participating in at least one such project.

Recent projects include:

“A Weak-Coupling Expansion for a Settling Rod in a Viscoelastic Fluid”
“Application of Multi-Mode Analysis to a Modified Dollar Auction”
“General Relativistic Investigation of the Twin Paradox”
“The Effect of Error on Rational Cooperation in the Traveler’s Dilemma”
“A Quest for Potential Efficiencies in the Development of Hybrid Vehicles”
“Development of a Procedure for Analyzing Carbon Nanotubes”
“Laser Range Finding with Amplitude Modulated Beam and Phase Shift Measurement”
“Optical Tweezers: Grasping Matter with Light”
“Transmission Properties of Light through an Optical Fiber”
“Optical Symbol Recognition Using Holography”
“Applications of Computer Animation in Physics Education”
“Measurement of Superluminal Propagation of Light through a Tunneling Barrier”