Jun 14, 2024  
2024-2025 Undergraduate Catalog 
2024-2025 Undergraduate Catalog

Physics Department

Yongchen Sun, Chair
201 Akeley-Lawrence Science Center
(605) 658-6826




Dongming Mei, Nuclear Physics, Astrophysics
Joel Sander, Particle Physics, Astrophysics

Associate Professors:

Jing Liu, Nuclear Physics, Astrophysics
Yongchen Sun, Laser Spectroscopy, Condensed Matter Physics

Assistant Professor:

Varun Vaidya, Nuclear and Particle Physics 


James L. Tracy, Particle Physics

Emeritus Faculty:

Christina Keller, Condensed Matter Physics
Vernon McBride, Laboratory Coordinator


Physics B.S.


Applied Physics



Physicists are relationship experts. It’s their job to explore one of the most fundamental relationships of all - the one between matter and energy. Physicists help us understand the world at its most fundamental level, from the smallest particles to the universe itself. These fundamental ideas underlie all of the basic sciences, and are invaluable in applied science and engineering disciplines.

Students majoring in physics at USD take a traditional undergraduate physics curriculum that requires courses in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, supplemented with electives in a broad range of physics subfields. Our home in the College of Arts and Sciences imbues the program with the rich tradition of the liberal arts. Students graduating with a B.S. in physics are expected to speak and write well, possess critical thinking skills, and have an interdisciplinary perspective that will serve them well in all aspects of their lives.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility located in western South Dakota provides undergraduate students with a unique opportunity to become involved in research activities probing cutting edge questions in physics such as the nature of dark matter. A new specialization in applied physics will provide students with practical experience in producing materials used in producing radiation detectors.

Physics has broad applications in a number of fields and physics grads are in demand in a variety of occupations.  USD’s physics graduates have continued on in graduate programs in physics, chemistry, and mathematics; have entered medical and law schools; and have found employment in industry.


Please contact the department for additional information about available scholarships and awards. Also see College of Arts & Sciences  for college/school level scholarships.

  • G.I. Moller Scholarship
  • Robert L. Adams Astronomy Award

Student Learning Outcomes for Physics (B.S.)

  1. Students will demonstrate competence in applying the principles and theories of physics governing the motion of macroscopic objects, including topics in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, and optics.  
  2. All students must demonstrate competence in an experimental setting by collecting data and applying the scientific method within a laboratory setting.  
  3. Students will be able to articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and experimental evidences for physics laws and phenomena, both orally and in writing with undergraduate research focused on experimental, as opposed to theoretical projects for a smaller group of physics majors.   
  4. Students will acquire an understanding of the academic & professional integrity.   
  5. Students will recognize when there is a need for information and identify, locate, evaluate and effectively and responsibly use and convey that information to address the need or problem at hand. 
  6. Students will interact with other students and evaluate the effort put into team tasks, interactions with others, and the quantity and quality made to team discussions. 
  7. Students will comprehensively explore issues, ideas, artifacts and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion, and combine or synthesize existing ideas, images or expertise in original ways reflecting a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk taking. 
  8. Students will design, evaluate, and implement a strategy to answer an open-ended question or achieve a desired goal. 
  9. Students will be able to systematically explore issues, objects or works through the collection and analysis of evidence that results in informed conclusions or judgments, and break down complex topics or issues into parts to gain a better understanding of them.