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WPI Class of 2025!

Congratulations on being accepted to WPI and it is great to hear you are interested in Physics!  Before exploring the information below, directly below is a link to a video where I and four other physics majors describe both WPI and the Physics program.  You'll find physics students engage in a wide range of activities on campus, such joining a research group, joining other students in the WPI Chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) activities, becoming a Peer-Learning-Assistant for a course, participating in outreach activities, or joining one or more of the over 230 student organizations on campus that include many cultural, music, or performing arts clubs. 

I am Doug Petkie, the Department Head and Professor of Physics in the School of Arts and Sciences at WPI, and I would like to tell you a little bit about physics, the physics department, and the departmental programs.  Before I do that, if you have any questions that I can answer via video conferencing, please email me at or to set up a meeting.  

The department is composed of 19 full time faculty, 4 staff, nearly 100 undergraduate majors, and about 25 graduate students.  Our areas of study lead to bachelor’s degrees, minors, master’s degrees, five-year BS/MS program, certificates, and a PhD is found on the departmental home page, with clickable links.  

Physics is a foundational science that remains at the forefront of advancing our understanding of the universe as well as developing technologies that make our lives better.  Physicists have a high level of curiosity that drives them to look inside the ‘black box’ of anything that they are studying to understand how it works.  A deep set of problem-solving skills is a result of this curiosity, deep inquiry, and ability to reason that translates to just about any career field that includes physics, other STEM fields, medicine, legal careers, teaching careers, business, and entrepreneurship. 

The endeavors we pursue from a physics framework are quite broad.  For instance, on the grand scale, the world celebrated the detection of the first gravitational wave in 2016, one hundred years following the development of general relativity by Albert Einstein in 1916.  The gritty pursuit was accompanied by the development of many technologies that society now benefits from that include the new types of lasers, the implementation of quantum sensing (quantum mechanics was developed after general relativity), new materials, as well as computational techniques used to analyze the signals.  To make new discoveries first takes the development of new ways of doing things that benefit everyone!  Another exciting field is biophysics where physics and biology team up to provide an understanding of how biological materials can form micron-sized motors for drug delivery.  A third example is how we are beginning to use light and photons to complement and expand the capabilities of microelectronics that will lead to new ways to encrypt information, develop chemical and biological sensors for new medical instruments, as well as making contributions toward the development of the quantum computer and quantum sensing.  The integration of theory, practice, and impact, embedded in our educational programs at WPI, is also in a wide range of careers that physicists pursue.  

We offer a wide range of core physics courses and electives and we are constantly introducing new courses from faculty initiatives or those requested by students.  Our regularly offered undergraduate and graduate courses are listed on the Courses page off our main webpage.  A sample schedule shows the rigor and flexibly of our curriculum.  Students meet with advisors to tailor their schedule to meet their goals and we frequently offer independent study courses in unique areas of study, such as quantum information science or general relatively. 

WPI is a project based curriculum and during your senior year, you will complete your Major Qualifying Project.  An archive of past physics MQP projects is located at Digital WPI.  During the MQP, students work with faculty or external organizations on a research topic and culminates with the final report and a public presentation during Project Presentation Day.

We also have a strong Physics Teacher Preparation Program that is funded as a PhysTEC Comprehensive Site.  We work closely with the STEM Education Center so that students graduate with a BS in Physics or Applied Physics, or a degree from a closely aligned majors, AND graduate with a Massachusetts Initial Teaching License.  Students in this program work with WPI faculty as a Peer Learning Assistant to assist faculty in teaching courses and with the Teacher-In-Residence from a regional high school.  A flyer for the program can be found here.  Just the spring, WPI won a $1.1M grant to fund $20k scholarships for students that commit to teaching in high-needs school districts.  The announcement can be found here

The Physics Department resides in Olin Hall that hosts of the faculty offices, teaching labs, student project space, and research labs.  Faculty and students do research at several other facilities at Gateway Park includes the Lab for Education and Application Prototyping (LEAP), the Life Science and Bioengineering Center, and Robotics Engineering.

A WPI Chapter of the Society of Physics students is an informal social and professional outreach network that provides information and resources for physics students to explore their research and career interests.  We also have an annual Sigma Pi Sigma awards ceremony to recognize outstanding scholarship and service of persons who have excelled in physics.   

Feel free to contact me, the WPI students in the video, or the WPI Admissions Staff if you have further questions that we can help answer.  I look forward to seeing you at WPI in the Fall as the class of 2025!

Prof. Doug Petkie

Department Head, Physics