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Reed’s Physics curriculum provides rigorous preparation for those who plan to pursue careers in physics, engineering, astronomy, computer science, environmental science, and oceanography.

Introductory physics courses survey the field from a broad perspective and lay the groundwork for more concentrated study in the last two years. In upper-level courses, students study classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electrodynamics. Optional courses include optics, thermal physics, astrophysics, general relativity, and more.

Reed’s physics department hosts regular physics seminars, has a 12″ Meade LX200 ACF telescope available for late-night stargazing, and offers dual-degree programs in engineering, computer science, and applied physics.

Physics majors at Reed conduct independent research, collaborate closely with their faculty advisers, and frequently pursue graduate degrees. According to the American Institute of Physics, our department produces more physics majors than any other small liberal arts college. Reed ranks third among top undergraduate institutions for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn doctorates in the physical sciences.

“The physics department is great because the professors are great. They know the material like the backs of their hands, and they teach it to you in such a way that you can’t help but learn it.” NAOMI GENDLER ’16

Professor profile

Professor Lucas Illing

Nonlinear Dynamics & Amo Physics
photo of Professor Lucas Illing working in a physics lab

Professor Lucas Illing studies nonlinear dynamic phenomena and the emergence of structure, complexity, and computational ability in systems of interacting adaptive components.

Lucas addresses how systems transition from equilibrium to a state of complicated non-repeating oscillations as parameters are changed, and how to determine the value of those parameters from measured output.

Lucas also teaches courses on optics and quantum mechanics. Experiments in his lab range from mechanical systems, such as a chaotic water wheel whose slow movements can be observed with the naked eye, to optoelectronic oscillators whose light intensity fluctuates on timescales of nanoseconds or less.

Download Physics Flyer as a PDF

James Borders Physics Fellowship

This fellowship supports Reed physics majors who intend to go to graduate school. The first student who received the fellowship collaborated with visiting professor Owen Gross ’04 to examine neural information coding in the earliest stages of auditory perception. The fellowship requires students to write up the results of their research, helping them to hone their presentation skills.

Outside the Classroom

Two physics majors, Anya Demko ’14 and Allie Morgan ’14, used their scientific knowhow to create a temporary musical installation. Anya and Allie built a series of lasers and phototransistors on a spiral staircase on campus, turning the steps into a giant, twisting keyboard spanning two octaves on a C major scale. Each time your foot landed on a tread, it interrupted a laser beam, triggering a musical tone. Anya wrote her thesis on the dynamics of an inverted pendulum, and Allie wrote her thesis on relativistic strings and Ehrenfest’s Paradox.

What Do Alumni Do?

Etch Process Engineer
Jireh Semiconductor Inc.
Asa McNaughton ’21

PhD Student in Physics
Harvard University
Kees Benkendorfer ’21

Software Engineer
cPacket Networks
Sam Ginnett ’21

Adjunct Research Assistant
Portland State University
Quinn Morgan ’21

PhD Student in Astronomy
Dartmouth College
Martin Ying ’20

Test Technician
Coherent, Inc.
Rebecca Xie ’20

PhD Student in Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics
Columbia University
Amelia Chambliss ’20

Quantitative Analyst
Josh Dey ’20

Quantum Researcher
Washington University in St Louis
Kater Murch ’02

Elizabeth Robinson ’82