Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

USM cripples all STEM programs by phasing out physics degree

Posted on September 16, 2013 in Letter to the Editor, Perspectives
By USM Free Press

My name is Derick Arel; I’ve been a full time student of the University of Southern Maine for four years.  I’m a non-traditional student in my 30’s, I love learning, and I deeply value my experiences at USM and the education I’ve received.

I’m a physics major.

I’m writing in response to what I’ve recently heard about the future of my department.  I call it ‘my’ department because I feel like the physics faculty has been a second family for me.  I’ve grown so much with them that I can scarcely remember the person I was four years ago.  The small dedicated faculty of this university’s physics department consists of some of the most influential and important people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and each of them ranks among the best educators I’ve encountered.  I cannot imagine a more rewarding educational experience than the one I’ve lived in the past four years.

And so it’s puzzling and nonsensical to me when I hear that the department is apparently no longer permitted to accept new students within the major and that the future existence of the department might be in question.  This decision doesn’t affect my academic pursuits; I’m graduating this year.  But it affects the institution which has shaped me, and I feel a responsibility to weigh in on the matter.

Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences. It represents the quest to understand the deepest attainable truths about reality and life.  Further, physics is a foundational science which supports other departments such as engineering, chemistry, even biology.  A university which removes its physics department is crippling its STEM fields in the same way that removing the English department would cripple the humanities.

The thing that makes a university different from a trade school is that it fosters departments which engage in the study and creation of big ideas. These are the philosophy departments, mathematics, the humanities, and the physics departments. All of western civilization owes its existence to these areas of study.  They are arguably humanity’s most important project.  What else is a university for if not to facilitate these most lofty of human endeavors?

That the physics department is small does not indicate a lack of importance.  All physics departments are small relative to the size of their institutions.  Physics is a difficult discipline and it takes a rare kind of student with deep curiosity and drive to pursue it.  USM is THE university in the largest metropolitan area in our state.  I believe this institution owes more to its community than to directly contribute to the erosion of the United States’ position as a world leader in scientific education and research.

I deeply hope this university’s administration will reconsider the path it appears to be undertaking.


Derick Arel

 Derick Arel is a senior physics major at USM.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t need to publish. I’m a retired development Engineer once employed by B.I.C.C., one of the largest U.K. companies, but now broken down into smaller units. My work involved the application of Physical principles to solve problems in the production and design areas. The use of applied Physics has given me a wide insight, clearly not understood, by those such as yourself. My qualifications are those of an Electrical and Electronic Engineer with three patents eventually purchased by Japanese companies. Work on Concorde together with work at Nuclear Power stations in the U.K. etc etc.
    Now give me your Qualifications, I trust they are better than Einstein, who failed to obtain a teaching post at University.
    In relation to Milo Wolff, I suggest you change to a better search engine. I quote Milo Wolff purely to give you a start on the expansion of Wave Mechanics. The more complicated theory will come later.

  • isolate

    Where has your research been published? I’d like to look at it in detail.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and therein lies the error which has obscured the understanding of gravity. Talk of gravitational ‘forces’ flies in complete opposition to the manner in which Einstein visualized Gravity. A ‘force’ is our translation of the effect that matter is ‘bent’ towards matter. No force, other than that effect experienced by a Photon passing great mass. Refraction of the wave component of ‘particles’ of matter.
    Neither the Higg’s particle nor the graviton escape from our channeled view that particles are lumps of solid rather than Energy packets obeying the laws of the Physics of Light.
    Milo Wolff has been ploughing a lonely furrow for some years now and until we recognise that Matter is only Energy at ALL times, NOT an equivalent, will we move forward.

  • isolate

    Einstein did not separate space and time, but unified them. Spacetime is affected by the presence of objects in deep gravity wells and by the frame-dragging that occurs in their vicinity. General relativity deals more with the velocity of objects as they approach the speed of light.

    As John Archibald Wheeler put it so eloquently, “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.” Einstein had no more luck trying to explain gravity than Newton did several centuries before him.

    His hypothetical “graviton” was a placeholder for a mediating particle that allows the transfer of gravitational forces between objects. If there is such a thing, and if it has the characteristics ascribed to it by Einstein, proof of its existence will once again confirm Einstein’s genius.

  • Numbers

    The faculty is with you Derrick. Getting rid of the Physics major will not solve any problems at USM, it will actually create more problems. Trying to eliminate that major is just wrong on all possible levels.

  • promytius

    remember the magic word “profits”… they’ll make more from football than fysics…

  • Derick Arel

    If you’re daughter coudln’t find a job, she just didn’t try hard enough.

    Physics students become veritable powerhouses of mathematical problem solving. They learn to program at a high level and understand advanced technology. They can analyze and manipulate large data sets. Physics graduates can break down just about any problem into small quantifiable components.

    Bachelors level physicists work in business, in engineering, and in government. Most of them have job titles with the word “engineer” in them. Or they work in software. Or they’re competitive with the kinds of jobs math majors get. There are tons of physicist involved in finance.

    A physics education is an applied problem solving education. There are jobs for those people.

  • Derick Arel

    The engineers are there. 100 level physics courses typically seat 100 or so students. The physics department is cash positive.

  • Anonymous

    What appears to be ignored is that Einstein’s theory of Gravity specifically stated that Time, or rather the rate at which Physical processes occurred, was a function of the ‘pull’ of Gravity.
    Get back to the Wave Theory of Matter and how Photons are Refracted by ‘Gravity’, not pulled, but as in the interpretation of Lensing, Matter waves are Refracted by Mass/Matter.

  • Anonymous

    You cannot get a good job in ANY science without at least a MS and more likely a PhD. She can probably get a job as a glorified technician, but it won’t be very high paying, and she will have to live in an area with an active research community, like boston, LA, SF, Research Triangle, etc. I have worked with people with BS in physics, and the jobs are rare, so employers take advantage and pay low. Sorry you daughter didn’t take the hour or so to investigate what she was going to do after graduation, as this is nothing new. If she wanted to get a good job right out of school, she should have gone the engineering route…she probably still can with just 1-1/2 or 2 years added.

    As for computers doing everything in 20 years. Sorry, they certainly will do a lot then, but the computers are only as good as the programming. Multi-physics simulations are very complex, and sometimes hardware prototyping or empirical studies are faster and cheaper. Regardless, you need to understand the science and engineering to do a good job in making the model, running, and interpreting computer results.

  • isolate

    Extremely well stated, Derick. My question is: What happened to the supply of entering students that used to keep physics programs vital? Where have they gone?

  • isolate

    Einstein’s work did indeed contain work on gravity, all of which has stood the test of time, even though his hypothetical gravitons, or gravity waves and attendant enabling boson have yet to be discovered. The conflict occurs at the nanoscale end of the universe, where Einstein’s work has turned out to be incompatible with the rules of quantum theory. Closely orbiting large neutron stars, for example, exist in a state where both or neither states appear to apply, making them a subject of intense scientific scrutiny.

  • Jay D Belford

    A degree is physics is NOT the same as a degree in (or knowledge about) “logic.” Duh ….

  • Jay D Belford

    Don’t blame the messengers … USM would teach BASKET-WEAVING if there was a market for basket weavers. My daughter got a degree in physics … only to realize in her senior year that there were NO jobs available for physics grads – unless they get a Ph.D. So she went to a 6 mos. computer school, became a network administrator, and hasn’t looked back since then. And within 20 years, computers will begin doing ALL research – whether it’s mental health, string theory, or discovering why Einstein’s ideas didn’t include “gravity.” I’ve got my bets placed on the fact that gravity is not a “force,” but the results of “warped space.” And I don’t even HAVE a degree in physics (but I got one in Architecture and another one in City Planning). Methinks USM is just a … weather-vane.

  • Beldin

    sheep that don’t know how to ask questions are easier to manage

  • Anonymous

    Frankly, I am astonished that any university would do this at a time when American competitiveness is weak, when the nation’s future may well depend on physics, and when our major global competitors are teaching more, not less, physics. Were the university leaders incompetent to put in place incentives and opportunities to promote physics?

  • Robert H. Woodman

    I sincerely hope that the university administration will reverse itself. Physics is a difficult discipline to master, but it is fundamental to all of the other sciences.

  • Carol Nemeroff

    The faculty senate agrees with you, Derick, and made this very clear on Friday.