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About Us

Our Mission

Physics & Astronomy

The mission of the University of Utah Department of Physics Astronomy is to advance knowledge about the appearances and interactions of energy and matter and of celestial objects and phenomena. We strive to share this knowledge with students and the wider community through a continuous effort in undergraduate and graduate teaching and by achieving research excellence in theoretical physics, experimental physics and astronomy.

In pursuit of our mission, the University of Utah Department of Physics Astronomy supports the highest levels of research and teaching among its faculty members. We strive to enable the success of undergraduate and graduate students by creating an academically excellent, efficient and comfortable learning environment. The Department supports the utilization of its accomplishments for the benefit of organizations and individuals in the local as well as global community.

Our Research Areas

Our research is split into two separate factions, experimental and theoretical. Click here to learn more about our overall research.



Our Academic Programs

Number of People in Department

To learn more, check out our Undergraduate Handbook.

Our Department By The Numbers

Number of People in Department

Our History

1915 The first observatory was built on campus. It was later torn down in the late 1960s to build the current James Fletcher Building.
1921 Thomas J. Parmley was awarded the first physics degree in the department in 1921. He went on to become a Professor of Physics at the University of Utah and retired in 1997. It is estimated he taught more than 50,000 students.
1927 The Department of Physics was officially founded, consisting of Professor Orin Tugman (Chair), Professor Thomas Parmley, an undergraduate student as a lab assistant, and one secretary.
1931 - 1987 J. Irvin Swigart, Professor of Physics joined the department. The lecture hall in the James Fletcher Building (JFB 101) was named for him, and his portrait hangs in the lecture hall. It is estimated that he taught over 40,000 students.
Oct. 4, 1957 Russia launched Sputnik and physics as a discipline became more important. Physics Departments across the U.S. began expanding, and jobs in physics became more in demand.  
1959 Jack Keuffel joined the faculty.
1961 The Engineering Hall changed its name to the South Physics building and the Physics Department moved into the building.
Autumn 1967 The first classes were held in the newly built James Fletcher Building.
1970 The College of Science was formed--previously it was part of the College of Letters and Science.
1974 Don Groom discovered new nova, initiating astronomy research.
July 2005 - Now Z. Valy Vardeny appointed Director of the Dixon Laser Institute.
March 2009 "Department of Physics" changed to the "Department of Physics & Astronomy."
May 2009 Million-dollar renovation project started on JFB, SP, and on the 4th floor of INSCC. The renovation added 5 research labs, among others.
August 2009 Adam Bolton and Inese Ivans joined the faculty as tenure-track Assistant Professors. Doug Bergman joined the faculty as a tenure-track Associate Professor. Gordon Thomson joined the faculty as a tenured full Professor and was named the first Keuffel Endowed Chair.
January 2010 Shanti Deemyad, Saveez Saffarian, and Michael Vershinin joined the department as tenure-track Assistant Professors.
2011 Pearl Sandick, Anil Seth, and Zheng Zheng joined the department as tenure-track Assistant Professors.
August 2012 Dmytro Pesin joined the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professor.
Fall 2013 Vikram Deshpande and Sarah Li joined the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professors.
Fall 2017 Daniel Wik and Gail Zasowski joined the department as a tenure-track Assistant Professors.
Summer-Fall 2018 Claudia De Grandi and Yue Zhao joined the department--Dr. De Grandi as an Assistant Professor (Lecturer), and Dr. Zhao as an Assistant Professor.
Last Updated: 12/21/18