Department Renamed

Name change reflects evolution in curriculum, research and department as a whole.

Speaking to students at the Spring 2009 Undergraduate Seminar, department Chairman Dave Kieda declared, “None of you here will ever receive a degree from the Department of Physics.” The room filled with shocked silence as Kieda continued, “The Department of Physics is officially the Department of Physics and Astronomy!”


The change was approved by the Board of Regents on March 23, 2009 and was celebrated on June 3 in the James Fletcher Building. Physicists and astronomers alike came together over an assortment of space cake, Starbursts, Milky Way candy bars, and Starlight mints, to celebrate the landmark achievement. Kieda and Pierre Sokolsky, dean of the College of Science, both spoke briefly, highlighting the department achievements of the last year. Recognition was given to Zeke Dumke of the E.R. & E.W. Dumke Foundation, and to Steve Denkers of the Willard L. Eccles Foundation. Generous funding from both foundations have helped establish and develop the current astronomy program and its research.

Dave Kieda (right) after presenting a certificate of appreciation to Steve Denkers.

Astronomy courses were first taught on campus in the 1890s, as a part of the math department, and the university has had an on-campus observatory of one form or another for the last 50 years, but there was never a dedicated astronomy program until now. Within the department, astronomy research started with the discovery of a nova, by Professor Don Groom, and has continued for more than 35 years. For students, the department now offers a major degree program in Astronomy, and a minor as well. The title ‘Department of Physics’ is now a thing of the past. However, for the ‘Department of Physics and Astronomy’, when looking towards the future, the stars are the limit.