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Furman recognized for number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in physics

Last updated October 27, 2015

By News administrator

You don’t need to understand the dry friction equation to figure out why you don’t know many physics majors: There just aren’t very many to know.

According to American Institute of Physics’ calculations, 7,526 people nationwide earned a physics bachelor’s degree in 2014. That’s a tiny percentage of the total number of diplomas handed out, but it’s also the highest number ever.

Furman physics department chair William Baker, Ph.D., says the typical school awards around five degrees every year, making Furman’s 10 well above average and earning the University a mention on the AIP’s annual list of bachelor’s-only departments averaging 10 or more physics diplomas per year over a three-year period.

“Right now, the trend has been up. It follows all of STEM education,” Baker, who has been at Furman since 1994, said when asked if more kids are majoring in physics. “People are more aware that STEM degrees are just a degree you want to have. That’s what’s happening.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and emphasizing study in those fields has been a nationwide education focus for some time. The AIP recognition is an attempt to encourage departments, but with or without it Furman physics has never been more popular.

“We’re doing very well. One count says we’re going to graduate 20 in 2017,” Baker said. “That’s even more glorious, and that’s plenty for the size of the faculty we’ve got.”

Indeed. Undergraduate research is a big focus for the six professors, but the quality inevitably suffers with too many students competing for attention.

“When you do independent research with them, you can only do one or two per professor or they’re falling over each other’s feet in the darn lab. So at two apiece, that’s 12,” Baker said. “Three apiece, we’re running 18, so that’s clearly a max right now.”

Furman has been emphasizing science for some time now, but as a liberal arts school it still fights bias in those circles against the quality of its programs. Earning mention by the AIP helps counter the misconception that its graduates can’t compete.

“You hear that. For example, an employer, the very first thing they think is, well, we’d rather recruit from Georgia Tech or Clemson, so you have to turn your gears and say, hey, our kids can do the same thing,” Baker said. “Let me compare course by course . . . Physics degrees open doors to people like Georgia Tech for engineering, medical schools, and, believe it or not, patent lawyers. A lot of our kids go into engineering for some strange reason rather than pure physics.”

Learn more about the Furman Physics Department

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