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UW-Eau Claire A National Leader in Graduating Physics Majors

RELEASED: Dec. 2, 2008

EAU CLAIRE — The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduates more physics majors than most other colleges in the country, according to a recent American Institute of Physics study.

UW-Eau Claire has graduated an average of 11 physics majors per year during the three-year timeframe (2005-07) included in the American Institute of Physics study. Just 23 of the 510 bachelor's degree-granting departments at U.S. colleges and universities graduated more physics majors during that same time period, the study states.

Eight students graduated from UW-Eau Claire in physics in 2005, 14 in 2006 and 13 in 2007. The 11 graduates-per-year average is well above the national average of 4.5 physics graduates per year from other comparable institutions, according to the institute's study.

"We're attracting bright, ambitious students who are excelling in college and beyond," said Dr. Erik Hendrickson, professor of physics and astronomy and chair of the physics and astronomy department. "Our department has strong academic programs, exceptional opportunities for students to interact with faculty, and state-of-the-art equipment. More students are recognizing the value of these experiences and what they mean for their future careers."

Faculty who are committed to teaching and doing scholarly work that includes students has helped the department build a strong reputation among current and future students, said Dr. Nathan Miller, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

"We've worked hard to create a department where students feel a sense of community," Miller said. "By working on physics together with other students and faculty, students gain confidence in solving problems."

The quality of the faculty attracted her to the physics major, said senior Amy Raplinger.

"The faculty are passionate about what they do, which rubs off on students," said Raplinger of Green Bay. "They're energetic and help us understand the material. They've given me so many opportunities to grow as a student, especially through student-faculty research."

The physics department's willingness to partner with other institutions helped him build a strong academic foundation that prepared him for graduate school, said Jonathan Watson, a 2004 physics graduate who is a scientist in the Air and Missile Defense Technology division at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center.

"The physics program provided a breadth to my undergraduate studies that I would have missed in more specialized engineering programs," said Watson, who has a master's from MIT. "The program provided a level of flexibility in working on technical problems that I wouldn't have otherwise. This is the result of numerous factors, including a strong technical course of study with hands-on experiences, good relationships with engineering departments at other universities, and the benefits of a liberal arts education."

The department's research program gives students opportunities to better understand the field of science and to work with cutting-edge technology that is often available only to graduate students at large research institutions, Hendrickson said.

"The equipment allows for creative projects on everything from nanoparticles to icicles, from x-ray photoexcitation of atoms to x-ray telescope imagery of stars, and from the friction of the soles of firefighter boots to the spinning of asteroids," Hendrickson said. "These experiences help us prepare students to excel in industry, graduate school or teaching."

The increased number of physics majors has helped ensure there are students at every stage of their academic careers doing many different kinds of projects and that those students have a variety of career goals, Miller said.

"It's important that upcoming majors see the opportunities we have here for students, and the kinds of jobs and graduate programs students go to once they leave here," Miller said.

Data also show that a growing number of physics majors are female, Miller said.

"It's been our goal to have a welcoming department for all our students, and I think this has paid dividends in terms of the numbers of female physics students we have," Miller said.

While the number of physics majors is impressive, so too is the quality of the students who are entering the programs, said Dr. Lauren Likkel, professor of physics and astronomy.

"Some of the university's brightest students are in our department," Likkel said. "They're accomplishing a great deal as students and then doing incredible things once they leave here."

For more information, contact Dr. Erik Hendrickson at 715-836-5834 or, or Dr. Nathan Miller at 715-836-3165 or



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