Physics, the science that studies matter and energy in its varied forms, has a very long history. Counting descriptive astronomy as a subfield of Physics, it goes back into prehistoric times, when observation of the heavens was driven by navigational needs as well as by religious motivation. It had reached a high standard by the time of the classic cultures in the Mediterranean, around 400 B.C. Physics proper at that time was indistinguishable from philosophy. The birth of Physics as a modern natural science is traditionally equated with the work of Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642), who is credited with putting Physics on an experimental basis, and with insisting that the comparison with the actual behavior of nature must be the ultimate check for all concepts and theories within Physics. Among the most significant later developments were Newton’s classical mechanics in the 17th century, Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism in the 19th century, and Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity, as well as quantum theory, in the 20th century. There are no signs of this development abating. New discoveries continue to enhance and change our understanding of the universe we live in on a daily basis.
The role that Physics has played, and continues to play, in shaping our current society can hardly be overstated. All of the technological achievements that we rely on daily, from power generation, over transportation, to communication, are based on our understanding of the physical laws of nature that has been achieved within the last 400 years. In order to maintain and improve mankind’s standard of living it is imperative that we continue to study Nature and gain a better understanding of her laws.
We, in the Department of Physics at the University of Oregon, are committed to this process of creating and disseminating new knowledge, and preserving the knowledge created by previous generations of physicists, through the Humboldtean principle of combining research and teaching. Our roughly 30 faculty members, including one member of the National Academy of Sciences and 14 Fellows of the American Physical Society, are all engaged in research that ranges from very fundamental questions to work that spins off high-technology companies. They instill their excitement about new discoveries in their research in our students, both in the classroom and in the research laboratory, and train the students to become part of the exciting intellectual endeavor we call science.