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    College of William & Mary
  Oct 22, 2017
2014 - 2015 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics Department



View the Physics Faculty. 

The Physics Program

The Physics Department offers graduate study and research which leads to the Ph.D. degree. The department consists of thirty instructional faculty members, fifteen additional physicists in purely research positions, and 60 full-time graduate students. Additions to the research areas listed below include plasma and non-linear physics and related research includes accelerator physics (in cooperation with Jefferson Lab) and material characterization (in cooperation with NASA-Langley Research Center). The department offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses of instruction. It also has strong links with the Applied Science Department and Computational Science Cluster.

Atomic and Optical Physics

Experimental research areas include intense laser-matter interaction, femtosecond laser physics, slow and stored light, ultra-cold quantum gases (Bose-Einstein condensates and degenerate Fermi gases), and the study of biological systems using AMO techniques. The theory program includes the study of classical trajectories and chaos in atomic and molecular systems and their correlation with quantum mechanics.

Computational Physics

Research in this area includes the studies of turbulence, macroscopic nonlinear systems, soliton theory, wave propagation, signal processing, Monte Carlo simulations, ab initio calculations and lattice quantum chromodynamics. These studies have applications within many fields of physics, including laser science, wave dynamics, quantum computing, plasma physics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics and particle physics.

Condensed Matter Physics

There are active experimental and theoretical programs in superconductivity, magnetism, thin film deposition, carbon nanomaterials, nuclear magnetic resonance and ultrafast laser studies of materials. A new ultra-high field NMR facility with a 17.6 Tesla magnet, available at only a handful of other schools, provides opportunities for structure and dynamics studies in physical and biological materials.

Nuclear and Hadronic Physics

William & Mary has an active program in nuclear and hadronic physics, complemented by its proximity to Jefferson Lab. This state-of-the-art facility provides a high-energy electron beam used primarily for studying the substructure of the proton and neutron at the quark and gluon level. Current experimental and theoretical research is focused on understanding the basic properties of the nucleon, including the origin and distribution of its spin, charge and magnetic moment. Also at Jefferson Lab, the experimental nuclear group is embarked on precision experiments to search for physics beyond the Standard Model at the TeV scale.

High Energy Particle Physics

Particle physics research is aimed at possible new physics that lies beyond the current standard model of known elementary particles and their interactions. Theoretical research includes work on grand unified theories, supersymmetry, extra spatial dimensions and cosmology. The experimental high energy group is active in the search for neutrino oscillations using a neutrino beam produced at Fermilab, currently the largest protonantiproton collider in the world. The department maintains labs for detector construction and testing, a polarized target lab and a computing farm for large-scale data analysis.

General Description

The mission of the Physics Department at the College of William and Mary is the creation and dissemination of knowledge of the physical world through teaching, research, and public service.

The Department is committed to excellence in its teaching. At the graduate level, the Department offers a full complement of courses consistent with the requirements of a doctoral program. The department recognizes that faculty research activity is an essential ingredient in sustaining excellence in teaching.

The Department carries out experimental and theoretical research in many subfields, and the results are communicated in refereed journals, in conferences and seminars, and in books. The active participation of graduate and undergraduate students in research is integral to these efforts and is a major component of their education. Mission is to understand the fundamental origin and the mathematical description of physical phenomena. Graduate students learn to conduct original scientific research in physics. Currently the Department of Physics and federal grants support active research in the following areas:

Focus/Specialization of Program

  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical physics, experimental and theoretical: Ultrafast lasers, stored light, ultra-cold quantum degenerate gases, laser biophysics, Rydberg atom spectroscopy and semiclassical theories.
  • Computational Physics.
  • Condensed Matter Physics, experimental and theoretical: First principles calculation of piezoelectrics (Center for Piezoelectrics by Design), Quantum Monte Carlo simulations, magnetic multilayers, surfaces and interfaces, muon spin rotation, and solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (high field NMR Lab), metallic thin films, magnetic nanostructures.
  • Nuclear and Particle Physics, experimental and theoretical: Measurements of the structure of the nucleons and nuclei via electromagnetic and electroweak interactions, hyper-polarized nuclear targets, searches for physics beyond the standard model via electroweak interactions, particle theory, supersymmetry, extra dimensions and Higgs physics, neutrino masses and mixing, long baseline neutrino oscillations, neutrino interactions on nucleons and nuclei, particle astrophysics.
  • Plasma and nonlinear physics, theoretical: turbulence simulations, the basic theory of linear and nonlinear waves in plasmas and fluids, and cardiac dynamics.
  • Strong links with the interdisciplinary Applied Science Department.

Among the many components of public service, departmental members give lectures to general audiences, organize public telescope viewings, offer courses for high school teachers seeking further advanced training, and write books to explain physics to the general public. The Department also serves the wider national and international communities through scientific leadership in various organizations, service on review panels, and on advisory committees.


The Department follows the general College-wide admission rules; it requires applicants to submit their scores for the GRE subject test (Physics) as well as the GRE general test. Although exceptions are made, it is recommended that graduate students begin their course work in the fall semester. However, new students who will be supported during the academic year may receive research assistantships for the summer before they begin their formal course work if funds are available.

Programs and Course Descriptions

Description of Courses

Unless otherwise noted, all courses are graded using standard grading [A, B, C, D, F] scheme (See Grading and Academic Progress  in the section entitled ‘Graduate Regulations ’) and may not be repeated for credit (See Repeated Courses  requirements in the section entitled ‘Graduate Regulations ’).