Patuxent Partnership Grants $1 Million to College for Applied Physics Track

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St. Mary’s College has recently received a $1 million gift from the Patuxent Partnership to develop an applied physics track for student wishing to major in something other than fundamental physics. The department is looking for a new assistant professor, and hopes to start classes once one is found.

The money was given to the program for multiple reasons. According to Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing, “They have been impressed with the productive research relationship between the physics lab on the Navy base and our physics faculty and students,” and it will also be a benefit to students, the community, and local research. The College has a relationship with the Naval Base going back a decade when Chuck Alder, head of the Department of Physics, was working with a researcher there, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). They later signed an Educational Partnership Agreement, so now students have completed SMPs there and can have credit internships. Students have also taken jobs there, before going on to doctorate programs.

The College previously offered a physics major with a concentration in fundamental physics. Chair for the Physics Department Professor Joshua Grossman said, “It’s the structure of the universe, the world. From black holes to particle physics. A lot is just for the sake of knowledge, a great thing.”

Now, students can major in applied physics, which is ways physics can be used to develop technology, for example. The two concentrations have some overlap, but about 25% of the material is unique to each. This will help students who want to go into industry jobs, rather than go to grad school immediately. Many companies want technical graduates, and this will better meet students’ needs, allowing a straighter path to a job once graduating with their degree.

The money will be used to support instruments and equipment used, as well as summer stipends for student and faulty research, allowing professors to help students more. A professor on sabbatical will still be able to take on SMP students with help from this gift.

This also helps to further funding. The department has received three grants over the past four years from the Office of Naval Research, totaling $700,000. They see the agreement the College has with the Base and are encouraged to help, as it has tangible benefits for students and research for the community.

Only seven or so students graduate each year and major in physics, which Grossman sees as unfortunate. Physics is, he said, “fundamental- the liberal arts of the sciences. All is built on physics. It can be used to tackle problems in all fields. It deals with quantitate problems, and can model real world situations to make predictions about the future.” Student reaction has been positive overall. First-year Marty Shay, “That sounds fun. Definitley a really cool thing to do.”

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