Richmond’s physics faculty knows that students learn best when they are challenged to uncover the secrets of nature in an independent, hands-on way. The department has built a research-rich environment that embraces all courses from introductory ones to senior research.
Introductory physics is taught in workshop format, emphasizing active learning rather than the more passive approach of lecture courses. In a given class meeting, activities will range from laboratory work, lecture, discussion, problem solving and demonstration. The goal is for students to discover the laws of nature for themselves instead of simply learning them from a professor or text. For example, to understand Newton's Laws, students use special sensors to measure the forces on different objects when they collide. Next, they apply this knowledge in a 'theory lab' where they build a mathematical model of a gas and establish the links between the pressure exerted by the gas and the collisions of the molecules that create this pressure.
Many upper-level physics classes require both individual and team projects. Students identify a project of their own (often outside the normal 'skill set' of the professor), locate the necessary equipment and resources and pursue the scientific question. In the past, students have built wind tunnels to study flight, simulated the path of a curve ball and measured the flux of cosmic rays on the Earth.
The department requires a capstone experience of all seniors. Seniors identify a question to study, present a research proposal to the faculty and other physics majors and perform the experimental and theoretical work needed to answer the question. At the conclusion of the experience, they present a final report to their faculty and peers.