A&M-Commerce Building Reputation as Solid Choice for Future Physicists

In a world driven by technology and innovation, a degree in physics is a gateway to limitless possibilities. With the study of physics offering numerous benefits and opening doors to career paths across industries, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University-Commerce is building a reputation as a top destination in Texas for all types of physicists.

A Solid Foundation

Studying physics—the branch of science concerned with matter and energy and how they relate to and affect each other over time and space—instills a rigorous, analytical mindset as students delve deep into complex theories and mathematical models to build a foundation for critical thinking and problem-solving. Transcending academia, this foundation is an invaluable cornerstone for personal and professional success.

The skills students gain during their studies position physics graduates to excel in research and academia, technology and engineering, healthcare and biotechnology, finance and business, and more.

Ascending the Ranks

Dr. Kurtis Williams, interim head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, says the university is an affordable choice for future physicists seeking a quality educational experience. Faculty and students are conducting research in several fields, including surface physics, thin-film characterization, stellar and nuclear astronomy and astrophysics.

Williams noted that data from the American Institute of Physics indicated that A&M-Commerce produced the third-most master's degrees in physics for exiting graduates in the 2021-2022 academic year among all reporting physics departments in the nation. For institutions where a master's is the highest degree offered, A&M-Commerce ranked first, with 39 exiting graduates in 2021-2022.

“During that timeframe in the U.S., one out of every 25 exiting master's degrees in physics came from A&M-Commerce,” Williams said. “That's an impressive testament to the quality and hard work of our students and faculty.”

A female student looking up to the sky with a telescope.

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Regional Resonance

The university's influence in the field of physics reaches throughout Texas and beyond.

The A&M-Commerce chapter of the Society of Physics Students continues to rank as a top chapter within the national organization. The department also hosts an annual 10-week summer research experience open to community college students in the mid-south U.S. who are interested in physics and astronomy.

A woman in a physics classroom demonstrates the effects of the Van de Graaff generator.
(Demonstrating the hair-raising effects of the Van de Graaff generator. | Texas A&M University-Commerce Office of Marketing and Communications.)

In March 2023, A&M-Commerce hosted the 2023 Joint Spring Meeting of the Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (TSAAPT), the Texas Section of the American Physics Society (TSAPS), and Zone 13 of the Society of Physics Students.

This premier meeting of physicists from across the state drew industry-leading keynote speakers from nationally recognized institutions, including the California Institute of Technology, University of Colorado Boulder, The University of Texas at Austin and others.

“The 2023 Joint Spring Meeting provided a stage for our students to present their research to physics students and faculty from across the state,” said Dr. William Newton, associate professor for the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M-Commerce.

“Particularly, our students engaged with top physicists involved in some of the world's most cutting-edge physics projects, including the LIGO Gravitational Wave Detectors,” he said.

Additionally, Newton noted that many of the region's high school physics teachers were able to network and share ideas with national experts in physics education at the meeting.

Hands-on Learning

A&M-Commerce brings the cosmos to the classroom with advanced facilities designed to enhance learning and help students prepare for the workforce.

The Keith D. McFarland Science Building is home to the university's planetarium, utilizing a Digistar 7 fully digital projection system in a 40-ft dome to provide students and visitors with amazing tours of space. The Planetarium is supported in part by two endowments gifted to the College of Science and Engineering by alumna Georgia M. Dorrough.

The building also hosts the Organic Semiconductor Lab, where students experiment to understand and create materials used in flexible electronics, and the Surface Physics Lab, where students examine how things interact on the surface to understand how different materials behave at small scale. Students also have access to a new desktop scanning electron microscope, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant secured by Dr. Heungman Park.

A wasp head viewed at a microscopic level.
(The head of a wasp is imaged with the university’s new tabletop scanning electron microscope during the instrument’s setup. No wasps were harmed for this picture; the subject was discovered deceased in a building stairwell. | Texas A&M University-Commerce Department of Physics and Astronomy.)

Located five miles south of campus, the university's observatory offers students unique opportunities to explore the universe through advanced telescopes, including the research workhorse, a Planewave CDK 700 27-inch telescope. The observatory's newest addition, a Planewave CDK 600 24-inch telescope, saw its “first light” in December 2023. First light images confirm that the telescope can track the sky, focus and take quality images.

A black and white image depicting stars in the Triangulum Galaxy.
(A “first light” image taken with the A&M-Commerce observatory’s new Planewave CDK 600 24-inch telescope depicts the Triangulum Galaxy. Also known as Messier 33, the galaxy, which neighbors the Milky Way galaxy, is located about 2.8 million light years away. | Texas A&M University-Commerce Department of Physics and Astronomy.)

Students also benefit from the university's participation in the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA). The SARA consortium operates three 1-meter-class telescopes providing participating institutions with remote access to unrivaled mountaintop views from the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile and the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in Spain's Canary Islands.

These research-grade telescopes are used by A&M-Commerce undergraduate and graduate students to study properties of asteroids, measure the rapid rotation of white dwarf stars and observe the chaotic conditions around cataclysmic variables—“vampire” stars that gravitationally suck gas from their companions.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of physicists and astronomers is projected to grow five percent between 2022 and 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. The median wage for physicists in 2022 was $142,850 with the highest earners nearing $220k annually.

Earning a bachelor's or master’s degree in physics from A&M-Commerce positions graduates to venture into careers where their ability to convey complex information in a clear manner is invaluable.

A&M-Commerce physics graduates have found success in a wide range of careers, including aerospace engineering, software engineering, electrical engineering, medical physics, data science, and high school science education. Graduates may also choose to further their education in graduate physics and astronomy programs either at A&M-Commerce or around the country.

From uncovering the universe to revolutionizing industries, a degree in physics can pave the way for an exciting and fulfilling career. Focusing on groundbreaking research, hands-on learning and a robust academic experience, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M-Commerce is dedicated to igniting scientific minds and empowering its graduates to shape the future and push the boundaries of human knowledge.

Ready to take a quantum leap toward your future in STEM? Explore the possibilities waiting for you in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at A&M-Commerce!

Featured image by SergeyBitos. | Adobe Stock.