Orange Alert

Physics Undergraduate Program Updates

Posted on: Nov. 30, 2022

Program Snapshots

  • Programs: Physics BS, Physics BA, and Physics Minor
  • Enrollments: 40 BS, 13 BA, and 2 minors
  • Awards: 36% and 22% of S.U.'s Goldwater and Astronaut Scholars over the history of the awards
  • Graduating Class of 2022: 9 majors, 4 minors

Undergraduate Programs

The undergraduate program in physics offers students excellent opportunities to do research, build transferable skills, and get a great career. Unfortunately, our numbers have been dropping off in recent years. Below, the work we outline is the beginnings of a long-term plan to update the program to make it more attractive to students, improve learning outcomes, and longitudinally track student progress and career advancement after graduation.


The advising committee also serves as the curriculum committee, and this group was very busy this year implementing plans formed last year for updating the undergraduate curriculum.

Experiencing Physics

A second suggestion for the physics majors in their first two years is to create a new set of four courses called “Experiencing Physics.” The courses proposed are hands-on experimental explorations for the physics majors that relate to the major’s course in the sequence and serve to build intuition, experimental skills, research thinking, and theoretical and computational skills to address questions. Before these courses, our majors took labs with the engineering students. Now, they have something special for themselves.

A group led by Jay Hubisz, with Walter Freeman, Simon Catterall, Britton Plourde, Joey Paulsen, and Denver Whittington worked over the past few years to create these new courses from scratch. In fall 2021, the syllabuses and request to add the courses for Experiencing Physics 1 and 2 were sent to the curriculum committee. These courses were approved!

Excitingly, we offered PHY225 - Experiencing Physics 1 for the first time this fall, taught by Joey Paulsen. They were taking by the incoming freshman - the class of 2026! We had 22 students enroll in Fall 2022. Students performed 5 longer-term experiments that combined their own ways of taking data, analyzing data, and performing computational analysis and modeling. Their final presentations were done on December 7 and it was well-attended by many Physics Department Community members!

Experiencing Physics 2 is being offered in Spring 2023, taught by Denver Whittington. The class hit the cap of 24 students, and we are thinking about how we might be able to expand the size of the class, because we have a lot of demand! Experiencing Physics 3 and 4 are currently under review by the curriculum committee, and we expect them to be approved so that the class of 2026 can continue to be the first group taking this entire sequence.

students standing at the front of a classroom with a presentation in the background

Math Methods

Last year, we put in the paperwork to offer and require a math methods course in the sophomore year of the physics major curriculum. This idea was also welcomed by our students who would like to see a math class from the physics department. This is being offered for the first time in Spring 2023, taught by Matt Rudolph. It will cover a number of essential topics and could replace differential equations and linear algebra. We will encourage BS students to consider still taking those classes in the math department as well. This course would be the pen-and-paper analog to the science and computers class, and is a staple of almost all physics programs across the nation. The working group constructed the course in summer 2021. They were Jay Hubisz, Steve Blusk, and Duncan Brown.

Major recruiting and retention

In recent years, the number of physics undergraduates in our program has been slumping. This is a trend we are working hard to halt and turn around. This year, we did many recruiting activities that it seems might be paying off already with the incoming class.

  1. Eric Coughlin taught an evening zoom class on special relativity. We had about forty interested students attend, and Eric gave a marvelous, active-based class to these students.
  2. Ava Breitbeck, class of 2022, and Hong Boem Lee, class of 2023, helped us as members of the Dean’s team, giving tours of physics, talking about the program, and explaining the community-building work we have been doing. These tours are invaluable to recruiting outstanding students to Syracuse Physics.
  3. Spring recruiting was back in person, and Physics had a table with a banner, giveaways, and demos that was attended by faculty, staff, and current undergraduates at every single event. We met with several students and their parents. We also talked to students who were not as interested in physics about why they should care. The last date, the students at the table brought some of the visiting prospective students back to the physics building for a tour. This personal touch is exemplary of our methods in physics for supporting students in physics.
  4. The last visit day was also the undergraduate research festival. We had a high amount of interest in all our posters by prospective students.
  5. We updated the website to have a checklist for the major trajectories to make the requirements clearer.
  6. The chair went to each 300-level course in the spring semester to talk about the physics BS, BA and minor. Several students signed up for the minor after that visit.

I am very excited to report that these efforts are already paying off. We had a much larger incoming class than in past years, with seventeen incoming students have listed physics as their desired major! Of these 17, 16 first-year students and one transfer. Of this group, we have a disproportionately large number of Leadership Scholars with five of your sixteen first year students recognized as Leadership Scholars. One of the incoming students is an 1870s Scholar. These are stellar recognitions, and as always, we have a higher than usual number of award-winning students (see below to see the other awards our students have been honored with this year).

More evidence that our major numbers might be on the rise is that the number of students enrolling in PHY216 (Physics 2 0 Electricity and Magnetism, taught by Jack Laiho) exceed the class room size. We have moved the class to a bigger room to accommodate all the students. As described above, we are currently limited by the number of students we can have in Experiencing Physics 2. We are working on ways to increase the course enrollment caps and may need to offer additional sections or find a bigger room outside of the Physics Building. These are all great problems to have and points to signs of increased student enrollments!

Society of Physics Students

The Society of Physics Students (SPS) has been an essential mechanism for rebuilding and maintaining the community in the physics department this year. We have a group of enthusiastic leaders who run weekly meetings and special events throughout the semester.

2021-2022 Leadership

  • President: Matt Cufari
  • Vice President: Daniel Paradiso
  • Treasurer: Jamie Harford
  • Secretary: Nathan Magers
  • Social Chair: Anthony Mazzacane

2022-2023 Leadership

  • President: Hong Beom Lee
  • Vice Presidents: Tanner Demaree, Nathan Magers
  • Secretary: Michael Perry
  • Treasurer: James Harford
  • Social Media Chair: Anthony Mazzacane

Undergraduate research

Undergraduate research is a major strength of our department and program for students and their parents. Despite our small number of majors, most of the senior students are engaged in research of some sort. Our undergraduate research excellence was on display this year at the College of Arts and Sciences virtual Undergraduate Research Festival. We had thirteen undergraduates present their research in person at an event at the Life Science Complex on April 22, 2022.

Undergraduate students presenting at the Undergraduate Research Festival included Jakub Kochanowski, Hong Boem Lee, Daniel Paradiso, Matt Cufari, and Nathan Magers, who presented in the morning session.
Undergraduate students presenting at the Undergraduate Research Festival included Jakub Kochanowski, Hong Boem Lee, Daniel Paradiso, Matt Cufari, and Nathan Magers, who presented in the morning session.
Jenna Cammerino presented her research on gravitational waves as a poster in the afternoon session.
Jenna Cammerino presented her research on gravitational waves as a poster in the afternoon session.

The schedule for physics department presentations was:


Session A – 10:00-11:00 a.m.
Room LSC 106

  • Daniel Paradiso (PHY) – Prototyping and Data Collection with the SciMAD Cosmic Ray Detector
  • Jakub Kochanowski (PHY) – Biofilm Adaptation and Stiffness Matching on Soft Substrates

Session C – 2:00-3:00 p.m.
Room LSC 106

  • Erin McCarthy (PHY) – No Large-Scale Demixing Due to Differences in Diffusivity at High Densities
  • Chance Baggett (PHY) – Simulating Gamma Flux Through Lead in Geant4


Milton Atrium
10:00 a.m.-12:00 noon

  • Matt Cufari (PHY) – Using the Hills Mechanism to Generate Repeating Partial Tidal Disruption Events and ASASSN-14ko
  • Diego Luna (PHY) – Impacts of Background Enzyme on Liquid-Liquid Phase Separation of UBQLN2
  • Hong Boem Lee (PHY) – The Effects of Ionic Strength in MAP65 Binding to Microtubules
  • Nathan Magers (PHY) – Near-UV Scattering and Absorption by Nanoparticle Colloidal Suspensions for a Novel Liquid Scintillator Detector

Milton Atrium
2:00 p.m.-4:00 noon

  • Oduduabasi Isaiah (PHY) – Understanding Vimentin’s Impact on Cell Matrix Adhesions
  • Nedine Abdelhamid and Carina Boyce (PHY) – Inhibition of Katanin- Induced Microtubule Severing
  • Sophia Martin and Niaz Goodbee (PHY) – Microtubule Self-organization by a Crosslinker and the Effects of Salt Concentration
  • Nicolle Laines and India Aikens (PHY) – Self-organization of an Active Matter Microtubule System
  • Jenna Cammerino (PHY) – Understanding the Core Collapse Supernova Mechanism with Gravitational Waves


As mentioned above, we have an outstanding group of undergraduate students doing the physics major. The following students have been recognized for their outstanding work:

Graduating Class of 2022

We had nine majors (BS/BA) and four minors graduating in 2022. Majors are Ava Breitbeck, Catherine Campbell, Victoria Corrado, Nicholas Crane, Isabella Lee, Daniel Paradiso, Ethan Stocham, Isaiah Alexis, Paul Franco. Minors are Sean Manzella, Tyler Marston, Romeo Michelson, Aparajita Rao.

After the College of Arts and Sciences graduation, we had a luncheon for physics students and their families. We had an excellent turn-out and had a wonderful time celebrating our students. We will make sure to order even more food next year!