The physics department at Kenyon is small—graduating an average of six to eight majors every year—and that means students have extraordinary access to the six full-time members of the faculty. The department's novel introductory course, comprising a first semester of classical physics followed by modern physics second semester, ensures that students will study the exciting ideas of relativity and quantum mechanics their first year.
The small size of the department also means that students have expanded opportunities to use the very best equipment. Housed in Rutherford B. Hayes Hall, the department boasts spacious x-ray and optics laboratories as well as five labs devoted to student-faculty research. In their first year, physics students perform X-ray diffraction, transmute elements, and look at matter-anti-matter annihilation—extraordinary activities for the beginning student.
Every fall, the department offers a seminar on a topic of current research interest. Recent topics have included nanoscience and materials science. Quantum information theory and medical imaging are on tap in the next few years.
The department offers two minors, in physics and astronomy, and together with the mathematics department is a major contributor to an interdisciplinary program in scientific computing. In addition, the department offers courses designed for non-science majors, including astronomy and geology. Students help staff Kenyon's observatory, which features a CCD-equipped, computer-controlled, fourteen-inch Celestron telescope.
Faculty members are active researchers, and the department has a strong student-faculty summer research program. Physics students also do research at other institutions during the summer, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The department offers a physics colloquium every Friday. Researchers from outside the College are invited to talk about their work, students discuss their summer research projects and their senior-exercise topics, and alumni share their latest exploits. There is plenty of opportunity to see what is going on in the wider world.
Many students comment on the supportive atmosphere of the department. They have lunch with faculty members every Friday and serve on search committees for new faculty members. Physics is a rigorous discipline and students work hard, but everyone enjoys the challenge and has fun in the process.