Montana State University

Department of Physics

Department of Physics
Montana State University
P.O. Box 173840
Bozeman, MT 59717-3840

Tel: (406) 994-3614
Fax: (406) 994-4452
Location: EPS Building, Rm 264

Department Head
Dr. William A. Hiscock


    • W.R. Babbitt; laser and solid-state physics.
    • J.L. Carlsten; laser physics.
    • R.L. Cone; laser and solid-state physics.
    • G.E. Francis; physics education.
    • W.A. Hiscock; general relativity and gravitational waves.
    • Y. Idzerda; magnetic nanostructures; spin electronics.
    • B. Link; theoretical astrophysics.
    • J.Neumeier; condensed matter; oxides.
    • A. Rebane; laser physics.
    • V.H. Schmidt (emeritus); solid-state physics.
    • R.J. Smith; surface physics.
    • S. Tsuruta; theoretical astrophysics.

Associate Professors

    • J.P. Adams; astronomy and physics education.
    • N. Cornish; general relativity and gravitational waves
    • C. Kankelborg; solar physics; experimental space physics.
    • D. Longcope; solar physics.
    • G. Malovichko; defects in optical materials.

Assistant Professors

    • J.Qiu; solar physics.

Research Professors

    • L.W. Acton; solar physics.
    • R. Avci; surface and biophysics.
    • R.C. Canfield; solar physics.
    • A. Craig; laser science and technology.
    • R. Hellings; general relativity and gravitational waves.
    • D. Klumpar; space science.

Research Assistant Professors

    • M. Drobijev; laser physics.
    • D.E. McKenzie; solar physics
    • D. Nandi; solar physics.

Adjunct Faculty

    • C. Riedel; experimental nuclear physics.
    • S. Willoughby; physics education.

Degrees Offered

M.S. in Physics
Ph.D. in Physics


Application Requirements:

The closing date for Fall admission is June 1st of each year. New graduates are accepted for Fall term only. Applications received before January 31 will be acted upon and notification of admission given by March 15. Applications received after January 31 will be treated individually on a "space-available" basis. Assistantships and fellowships will normally be awarded by March 15th.

All applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Examination General (Aptitude) Test and Subject (Advanced) Test in Physics before submitting their applications.

Program Requirements

Master's Degree

The Department of Physics grants the Master of Science Degree under two options: Plan-A (thesis required), and Plan-B (without thesis).

Plan-A Requirements:

Coursework: A minimum of 20 credits of acceptable course work is required, which shall include the following.

PHYS 594 Teaching Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 594 Research Introduction Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 501 Advanced Classical Mechanics 3 credits
PHYS 506 Quantum Mechanics I 3 credits
PHYS 519 Electromagnetic Theory I 3 credits
PHYS 566 Mathematical Physics 3 credits
XXX Electives 6 credits


PHYS 590 Master's Thesis 10 credits

A written comprehensive examination is required. A final oral examination is also required, covering the thesis and related areas.

Plan-B Requirements:

Coursework: A minimum of 30 credits of acceptable course work is required, which shall be distributed as follows.

PHYS 594 Teaching Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 594 Research Introduction Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 501 Advanced Classical Mechanics 3 credits
PHYS 506 Quantum Mechanics I 3 credits
PHYS 507 Quantum Mechanics I I 3 credits
PHYS 519 Electromagnetic Theory I 3 credits
PHYS 520 Electromagnetic Theory II 3 credits
PHYS 566 Mathematical Physics 3 credits
XXX Electives 10 credits

Thesis Requirements: None

A written comprehensive examination is required.

Program Information - Ph.D.

Coursework: A minimum of 60 credits of acceptable course work and research is required, which shall include the following:

PHYS 594 Teaching Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 594 Research Introduction Seminar 1 credit
PHYS 501 Advanced Classical Mechanics 3 credits
PHYS 506 Quantum Mechanics I 3 credits
PHYS 507 Quantum Mechanics I I 3 credits
PHYS 519 Electromagnetic Theory I 3 credits
PHYS 520 Electromagnetic Theory II 3 credits
PHYS 535 Statistical Mechanics 3 credits
PHYS 566 Mathematical Physics 3 credits
PHYS 567 Mathematical Physics 3 credits
XXX Electives 14 credits

An acceptable thesis is required. A minimum of 20 credits of Physics 690 Research is required in addition to the courses listed above

A written and oral comprehensive examination is required. A final oral examination is also required, covering the thesis and related areas.

Financial Assistance

Seifert Scholarships are available to qualified domestic graduate students. A number of graduate teaching and research assistantships also are available. The period of appointment for teaching assistantships is August 15 to May 15. See the Graduate Assistantships sections for detailed information on appointment criteria.

Research Groups

Our research facilities include a new building housing state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment. External collaborations bring national and international experts to the department and open opportunities for research to be conducted at other world-class laboratories around the globe. On-campus, interdisciplinary research programs include the departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, the Center for Biofilm Engineering and others. Research collaborations with local industries are also actively pursued. Collectively, our research groups foster interactions among the faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, research scientists, visiting scientists and other departments. Details of the research, as well as other aspects of the physics graduate program, are described on the Physics home page (

Astrophysics, Relativity, and Cosmology (ARC)

The ARC group studies extreme astrophysical phenomena such as black holes, the big bang, and neutron stars, and uses them to further our understanding of fundamental physics. The incredible conditions that occur in these astrophysical environments far exceed those attainable in any Earthbound laboratory. Our research involves many branches of physics, including general relativity, particle physics, fluid dynamics, magnetohydrodynamics and plasma physics. Current research in the ARC group focuses on two areas: gravitational wave astronomy and neutron star interiors. Other areas of study include determining the size and shape of the universe, investigating quantum effects in strong gravitational fields, and energy extraction from rotating black holes. Neutron stars are excellent laboratories for studying matter in extreme environments - a teaspoon of neutron star material has a mass of several hundred million tons. The ARC group studies the role of magnetic fields, superfluidity and crustal rigidity in neutron stars, and how these factors may be related to star quakes and spin glitches. Gravitational wave astronomy is an exciting new area of research that is poised to open a new window on the Universe. The ARC group is investigating how the space-based LISA gravitational wave detector and the ground based LIGO detectors can be used to study violent astrophysical events such as the collision of two black holes.


The field of biophysics today comprises a wide variety of topics which do not have a single identifiable definition. The topics cover more than the mere application of physical principles to biological systems. Ultimately the field aims to understand life itself, which involves highly dynamic, organized and collective processes that survive and thrive in highly fluctuating environments. In a sense biophysics is the field of exploration taking place at the boundaries of physics and biology. The Department of Physics has several faculty members with interests in biology, who collaborate with a number of other departments on campus including Biochemistry, Microbiology, Biology, Center for Biofilm Engineering, and Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. Interest in biophysics is growing rapidly in parallel with the growth in the number of undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students with multidisciplinary backgrounds involving physics and biology. The three groups in the Department of Physics with strong interests in biophysics issues have access to a large number of facilities both in Physics and in the many traditional biology and bio-chemistry laboratories located on campus and to the expertise in these facilities.

Condensed Matter Physics:

The Department of Physics pursues an exceptionally broad spectrum of fundamental and applied research in condensed matter physics. The topics include defect characterization, ferroelectrics and piezoelectrics, fuel cells, interfacial growth, magnetism (bulk and thin film), nanotechnology, phase transitions, spintronics, superconductivity, structural studies using x-ray and neutron diffraction, and specimen synthesis including single-crystal and thin-film growth. State-of-the art experimental facilities at MSU enable measurements to temperatures as low as 0.3 K. We are leaders in the measurement of thermal expansion, using a novel device developed at MSU that is capable of detecting sub-angstrom length changes of specimens to study phase transitions and critical phenomena with superb resolution. Our Ion Beams Laboratory conducts experiments on thin films and buried solid-solid interfaces to reveal fundamental properties and growth mechanics of importance for fuel cells and electronic devices. Ceramics for fuel cells are fabricated and tested for their electrical properties. The spectroscopy group investigates defects in advanced materials at the atomic level using a host of techniques such as EPR, ENDOR and optical spectroscopy, with the goal of engineering new properties for novel applications in photonics and information technology. The Center of Bio-Inspired Nanomaterials utilizes biological molecules as templates for the synthesis of nanoparticles with unusual physical properties; this interdisciplinary effort thrives on close collaboration among biologists, chemists, and physicists at MSU. Some experiments are also conducted at facilities such as the High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Physics Education Research:

The Physics and Astronomy Education Group endeavors to improve teaching and learning at all levels. Graduate Students pursue a Ph.D. in physics with a principal research focus on science education. Students whose primary research is in other areas may pursue a minor in science education. Members in this group have extensive expertise in: improving learning in large lecture courses; research driven curriculum development; WWW-based instructional strategies; K-12 teacher education and authentic student assessment strategies and project evaluation. Working in this group prepares students for continuing research in the growing number of physics education groups across the country, teaching at two and four year colleges and universities and for careers in educational material development.

Optics and Lasers:

Research in optics and lasers at MSU extends from exploring fundamental physics to development of optical instruments and photonic devices. Research areas include: developing and studying new types of optical materials, sensors, and lasers; using optical crystals as novel photonic processing devices; exploring the non-linear response of molecules to laser pulses shorter than a trillionth of a second; and applying advanced laser and non-linear optics technologies to remote sensing and medical applications. Collaborations with researchers in the Optical Technology Center, Spectrum Lab, and Bozeman's growing optics industry provide enhanced research opportunities.

Spectrum Laboratory

The Spectrum Lab was established in 1999 to advance the opto-electronic technologies emerging from the research laboratories of Montana State University and foster their transition to Montana companies, while providing enhanced educational opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students. Teams of research scientists and students in Spectrum Lab and from science and engineering departments across the campus collaborate on research including photonic signal processing, lidar, quantum computing, laser development and stabilization, and optical material engineering and characterization.

Solar Physics

The MSU solar physics group is engaged in undergraduate and graduate education, public outreach, and solar research, including observation, data analysis, theory, and instrument development. In both research and graduate education, we collaborate closely with the solar group at the Lockheed-Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, and the Solar & Stellar X-ray Group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. We are actively involved in several international collaborations, including: analysis and operations of the X-ray Telescope for the Japan/US/UK Hinode mission; design calibrations and observations planning for the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory; construction of space experiments for flight on rockets and satellites, using the facilities of MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory; day-to-day operation and scientific utilization of the NASA Transition Region And Coronal Explorer (TRACE) mission; the Max Millennium program, a key element of NASA's Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) mission; observational studies of solar magnetic fields, using the facilities of the National Solar Observatory and Mees Solar Observatory; scientific utilization and archiving of the results from the Japan/US/UK Yohkoh mission for studies of high-energy solar physics; theoretical and computational studies of solar magnetic fields; and the Yohkoh Public Outreach Project (YPOP), funded by NASA to create high quality public access to the Yohkoh/SXT data and other solar data via the Internet and educational products for the K-12 community.


The Space Science and Engineering Laboratory at Montana State University is an interdisciplinary center of expertise with faculty, staff and facilities for space research and space technologies. The laboratory enables students and faculty in the science and engineering disciplines to conduct space science research through the development of space hardware instrumentation. SSEL was started under the auspices of the Physics Department at MSU in November, 2000. SSEL strengthens existing programs at MSU in solar-terrestrial physics, microelectronics, optical mechanisms, composite and ultra-light structures, bio-films and remote sensing.


The Montana Space Grant Consortium embraces the goals and objectives established by the National Space Grant Program, working within a national network of colleges and universities to expand opportunities for Americans to understand and participate in NASA's aeronautics and space programs by supporting and enhancing science, and engineering education, research, and outreach programs. To achieve these goals, the Montana Space Grant Consortium awards fellowships and scholarships to students pursuing aeronautical or space related studies and also awards stipends to students pursuing space-related research at all member campuses.


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