The Department of Physics now officially know as the Department of Physics and Astronomy

05-06-2014

As of Feb. 21, the Department of Physics is now know as the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The change to the department is a result of growth and will bring Purdue in line with practices at major American research universities, said Jeff Roberts, dean of the College of Science.

"Since 2000 the physics department has experienced substantial growth in terms of funding, student enrollment and personnel, with 33 new faculty hires," Roberts said. "During this time we have significantly increased our efforts in astrophysics and now have nine faculty in this area. The Purdue astrophysics group is well recognized internationally and is a partner in several cutting-edge research facilities, including the VERITAS gamma-ray telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the XENON dark matter project."

The department offers five undergraduate and four graduate astronomy courses as well as an astronomy minor degree, Roberts said.

He said 46 of the top 50 American research universities listed by the Center for Measuring University Performance have large astrophysics research programs, and 40 of those have either a department of physics and astronomy or two separate departments for the subjects.

Benefits of the name change, Roberts said, include more effective student recruitment, wider department recognition among peer institutions in astrophysics research, broader departmental recognition in the Purdue community and the general public, and more popularity of the astronomy minor program and course offerings.

Prof. Matt Lister said the astronomy course base will be expanded starting in the fall. His new class will be called Observational Astronomy Techniques.

"It will teach all of the practical things to observe and reduce data," Lister added.

An on-campus observatory is the next goal for the department. Currently, students take busses out to the Cumberland Observatory or another "dark site" on the outskirts of West Lafayette.

The Astronomy program got an early boost by hosting a national Relativistic Plasma Astrophysics workshop, May 11 to 15. Led by professors Dimitrios Giannios and Maxim Lyutikov, the event drew plasma astrophysicists from around the country.

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