Department of Physics & Astronomy
Wagner Physics Center
One Trinity Place
San Antonio, TX 78212-7200
At Trinity, the Department of Physics & Astronomy participates in interdisciplinary work in two main ways: through our Engineering Science and Physics Double Major program, and through courses and research projects focused on the life sciences. View the detailed course plan here.
The Engineering Science and Physics Double Major has been offered since 2001. It has proved especially attractive to students with interests in fields like Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Students in these fields are attracted by the very powerful combination of a nationally-ranked engineering program known for its strong design emphasis with rigorous advanced physics courses like electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and optics. They realize that this background gives them a major advantage in industry or graduate school in virtually any area of nanotechnology and electronic, quantum, and optical devices, like, for example, your cell phone or favorite "i-gadget". A perfect example is 2010 graduate Afton Geil, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Engineering at the University of California at Davis, doing research on graphics processing unit (GPU) computing.
The application of physics to the life sciences has become a major emphasis in our department in recent years. Three of our seven faculty - Dr. Jennifer Steele, Dr. Daniel Spiegel, and Dr. Kelvin Cheng - have all been highly interdisciplinary scientists for their whole careers. All three contribute to the teaching and research efforts related to the life sciences. Biological and medical applications of physics are covered in introductory courses for majors and non-majors, and an upper divison Biophysics course is open to a wide range of science majors. Research projects include the following:
- Dr. Steele is developing new nanoscale techniques in her lab to enhance light emission from fluorescent molecules. This has potential applications in new biomedical sensors.
- Dr. Spiegel is studying the problem of "biomixing", which deals with how bacteria and other small organisms stir water as they swim through it, thus affecting diffusion of molecules in the water. Remarkably, this effect in the oceans may be comparable to the effects of winds and tides, and thus it may play a major role in environmental oceanography.
- Dr. Cheng focuses on the molecular biophysics of protein-neuron interactions that are the underlying mechansim of neurodegnerative diseases like Alzheimer's. He is establishing new experimental and computational facilities for this work at Trinity.