Physics & Astronomy

At Hanover College, we study and learn physics to understand how nature works at the most fundamental level. By conducting experiments and constructing theories, physicists search for the underlying order in vastly diverse phenomena, from the very smallest objects to our entire universe of stars and galaxies.

Your professors will share with you how physicists near and far, ancient and modern, have made the tremendous advances in understanding the world in which we live. They will also introduce you to their own research interests in physics and astronomy.

"My experience in the physics department has been valuable. Classes were taught by outstanding faculty and the curriculum was very competitive. What I liked the most was the encouragement and support from the department in pursuing areas of personal research in addition to regular course work. I received proper guidance that I needed as an undergrad and help in finding an internship at a prestigious institution. All in all, I’m very happy with my decision to study physics at Hanover College and recommend the same to prospective physics students."

Shasta Shakya '07

The discoveries physicists have made have pushed the frontiers of human understanding of space, time, matter and energy into ever more exotic and profound realms. All of our technologies, from microchips to gigantic rocket ships, rest on these discoveries. Physics has touched, often profoundly, every other intellectual discipline of human beings — chemistry, biology, geology, history, philosophy, economics, psychology and even theology have not escaped the consequences of the discoveries and laws of physics. Still, there is much for physicists to learn and understand.

Exciting new discoveries are expected in physics in coming years that will further transform human thought and our way of life. It is clear that the more technologically complex the world becomes, the more informed and sound must be the decisions and choices we make in moral, spiritual and political matters — matters that we can no longer consider in isolation from scientific knowledge and the knowledge physicists have won from the universe in particular. At Hanover, you will share this great physics adventure with your professors and fellow students.

Your professors will try to foster in you a love of physics for the beauty and simplicity of its ideas. In addition, you will find that your professor never fails to bring out the practical importance of physics. Typically, upper level physics classes have fewer than five or six students, which makes student-faculty interaction lively, friendly and very supportive.

You will be part of a community of scientists that nurtures, nourishes and is adaptable to your skills in physics. A personalized program shaped by electives, seminars and directed studies — theoretical and experimental — will allow you to pursue your interests at different levels.

In addition, your professors will encourage you to get involved with or initiate research projects that suit your own needs and preferences. They will be happy to discuss larger questions about your goals and show you what you can do with physics after graduation as you head to a career. This is the essence of our program: attention to you and your interests, one-on-one with your professors.

"The time I spent at Hanover College as a student in the physics department (1989-1993) was a great experience for me. My professors encouraged me to question authority and dogma so that I could advance in my studies and become an independent thinker. This allowed me to pursue research experiences as an undergraduate that I may otherwise not have had. In addition, the courses I completed allowed me to compete and set myself apart from my colleagues in graduate school as I earned my doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics."

Dr. Sean Points '93

When you graduate with a physics degree, you will be ready for employment, applying your knowledge to a very wide variety of vocations in science, technology, business or any number of other fields needing the special skills you will have learned at Hanover. These include critical thinking, rigorous reasoning and logic, and communicating articulately. Should you choose post-graduate study after Hanover, you will be well-prepared to pursue higher degrees at some of the best universities in the country.

Real world learning

The department offers paid employment to all its majors, including positions as tutors or lab assistants, so you can develop special skills associated with your career plans and extend learning beyond the classroom setting.

You will have access to four well-equipped labs and two astronomical observatories where you can conduct research alongside your distinguished professors. Physics students regularly intern during the summer at other research colleges or universities. They also have been funded to:

  • Travel to Brazil and study at Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Conduct biophysical research at the Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Study radio astronomy at Green Bank National Radio Observatory
  • Conduct frontier research at CalTech detecting gravitational waves


Hanover hosts two observatories for students and the community. The larger of the two observatory buildings was built in 1992. It contains a classroom seating for 16 and a telescope that contains a 7.5" refracting telescope acquired by the College in 1887. It is currently used for astronomical viewing of celestial objects by students in College astronomy classes, and by visitors who are on campus for special days like Family Day, Legacy Day, Alumni Day and Homecoming. It is equipped with a small camera, and filters allowing safe viewing of the sun.

The smaller observatory is used by faculty and students to do astronomical research. It houses a 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope and allows detailed photometric, spectroscopic and photographic investigation of astronomical objects. The instrument is currently used to do photometric investigation of variable stars and asteroids.

What do physics majors study?

  • Classical mechanics
  • Thermal physics
  • Electricity and magnetism
  • Optics
  • Modern physics
  • Advanced laboratory

Some of the electives available include quantum mechanics, special relativity, history of physics and astronomy.

Optional directed studies on a variety of topics may include:

  • classical mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics
  • mechanics of fluids and continuous media, mechanics and thermodynamics of propulsion, aerodynamics, astrodynamics
  • mathematical methods in physics, topology and manifolds
  • solid state physics
  • relativistic quantum field theory, general relativity and cosmology
  • intermediate astronomy, astrobiology


Previous graduates' career and professional placements have included:

  • Systems Analyst, Lexmark Corporation (Kentucky)
  • Nuclear Engineer, BWX Technologies, Inc. (Virginia)
  • Astronomer, Cerro Tololo Observatory (Chile)
  • Physics Teacher, Plainfield Community School Corporation (Indiana)
  • Department Chair: Atmospheric Sciences, University of Chicago (Illinois)
  • Manager of Information Technology, Eli Lilly (Indiana)
  • Environmental Engineer, Woodward-Clyde Corporation (California)

Graduate school placements have included:

  • Ball State University
  • Brown University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Indiana University School of Dentistry
  • Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Medical College of Ohio
  • Notre Dame University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Purdue University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of California-San Diego
  • University of Cincinnati School of Medicine
  • University of Colorado
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Miami
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Washington, St. Louis
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Wright State University

In addition, students have received offers from institutions such as:

  • Texas A&M University-College Station
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Yale University

Physics Courses

PHY 161
General Physics I
Introduction to mechanics, fluid mechanics, waves, and sound. Uses basic algebra and trigonometry. Lecture and laboratory. Satisfies the SL CCR and partially satisfies the SM CCR and satisfies the QL ACE.
PHY 185
General Physics II
Introduction to electricity, magnetism, and light. Lecture and laboratory. Prerequisite: 161. Satisfies QL ACE.
PHY 225
Modern Physics
Introduction to relativity and quantum machanics. Applications in atomic, nuclear, and particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. Prerequisite: 185
PHY 226
Ancient Thought to Modern Science
The beginnings of science and the evolution of scientific ideas, with philosophical perspectives, from the Babylonians and pre-Socratics through the Hellenistic years, to medieval times, to the Scientific Revolution and beyond. Emphasis is placed upon the role of developments in natural philosophy, which was the precursor of classical and modern physics. Partially satisfies the HS CCR.
PHY 320
Thermal Physics
Introduction to fluid mechanics, temperature and heat, kinetic theory, the laws of thermodynamics with applications, phase space probability distribution and approach to equilibrium, equilibrium ensembles. Prerequisite: 185.
PHY 331
Classical Mechanics
Newton's laws, projectiles and charged particles, momentum, angular momentum, energy, oscillations, introduction to rigid body motion, Lagrangian formulation. Prerequisite: 161.
PHY 332
Electrostatics, electric currents, magnetostatics, electromagnetic induction, Maxwell's equations, conservation laws, electromagnetic waves. Prerequisite: 185.
PHY 340
Theoretical and experimental study of the properties of light: wave mo- tion, propagation of light in media, geometrical optics, polarization, interference, diffraction, Fourier optics and coherence theory. Prerequisite:185.
PHY 341
Advanced Physics Laboratory
Experiments in upper-level physics topics requir- ing measurement using optical, mechanical and electrical devices; report writing including standard methodologies and techniques in data handling, analysis and display. Offered alternate years. Prerequisite: Phy 225.
PHY 408
Senior Thesis
A two-semester equivalent of 471. .50 unit each.
PHY 409
Senior Thesis
A two-semester equivalent of 471. .50 unit each.
PHY 432
Quantum Mechanics
Hilbert space, wave function and the Schrodinger equation, 1-dimensional problems, states and operators, the postulates of quantum mechanics, angular momentum and spin, quantization, uncertainty, central potentials and the Hydrogen atom, motion in an electromagnetic field. Prerequisite: 225.
PHY 433
Advanced Quantum Mechanics
Approximation methods, several-electron atoms, Zeeman effect, Stark effect, molecules, time-dependent phenomena, central potential, scattering theory, supersymmetric quantum theory, state and measurement in quantum mechanics. Prerequisite: 432.

Astronomy Courses

AST 111
Life in the Universe
An introduction to physical conditions and dynamics in the known universe as they permit or preclude life, examining the compatibility of presently ac- cepted cosmology and cosmogony with the dynamics and time scales of evolutionary change in living systems viewed as quantitatively circumscribable processes.
AST 165
Stars and the Universe
An in-depth introduction to the physical processes occurring in and causing the dynamical evolution of stars, to the dynamics of galaxies, and to physical processes and the evolution of a variety of cosmological models of the universe. Laboratory work emphasizes hands-on experiences including data collection and manipulation. Partially satisfies the SM/SL CCR and satisfies the QL ACE.
AST 166
The Solar System
Explores current understanding of the solar system from its formation to possible final states. Study of the planetary system and the sky both as a system offering humans objective truths and as a battleground of competing human conceptions of the system of the world. Partially satisfies the SM/SL CCR and satisfies the QL ACE.
AST 237
Intermediate Astronomy
Equilibrium structure of stars; dynamics and evolution of galaxies; origin, structure, and dynamics of the universe.