Points of Pride

Dr. Holland with students

The American Institute of Physics places Illinois State among the largest educators of physicists in the United States.

Our favorable faculty:student ratio of 10:1 means students get all the help they need from their teachers. Here Dr. Holland works with physics majors on homework problems.


Rainer Grobe and Charles Su co-direct the Intense Laser Physics Theory Unit. They have received more that $500,000 from the NSF and the Department of Energy, and Research Corporation. Their work, including the discovery of cycloatoms, is featured internationally in elite scientific journals. Their work has placed them as two of the world's premier theoretical atomic and optical physicists. In addition, the U.S. Patent Office awarded a patent to Grobe for his innovations in the transmission of optical signals through an absorbing medium.

ISU student in China

Dr. Shang-Fen Ren was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society in recognition of outstanding contributions to semicondictor nano-physics and her contributions to international physics, including her Undergraduate Research Experiences in China program. Here ISU Physics student Zoe Paukstys works with a Chinese student at Beijing University.

Kids in ISU Planetarium

The department's Planetarium educates and inspires more than 15,000 visitors annually, including school and community groups from Illinois.

More than 250,000 people have visited the planetarium since it opened in 1964.

  Click here to check out the Planetarium

Solar car team

The physics department is spearheading the ISU Solar Car project. Here students and faculty advisors discuss plans to modify the car body.

Student Presenting at the Argonne Undergraduate Symposium

Professor of Physics David Marx wants to open up new scientific areas that will revolutionize the entire field of nanotechnology. His research focuses on energy conversion devices including photovoltaics and thermoelectrics, particularly those incorporating novel nanoscale technologies. Marx's nanomaterials research is designed to give researchers the ability to create any desired structure on the atomic scale, including those to be used as photovoltaics and thermoelectrics.

Student Presenting at the Argonne Undergraduate Symposium

Each November the ISU Physics Department has the largest contingency of students presenting at the Argonne Undergraduate Symposium. Students come from all over the Midwest and as far as California for this premier event. There is no cost to students to attend.

Air cannon experiment

ISU Physics student Brian Brumleve is holding two tennis balls after an advanced lab experiment with an air cannon that was donated to the department by Martin Engineering.

Solar car team

The department has received two national awards from the U.S. Department of Energy for its Computer Physics courses and degree sequence. Here Dr. Matsuoka receives the award for the complete sequence.

The department ranks as one of the top two producers of physics BS degrees in Illinois. The department is in the top three undergraduate only physics departments in the nation in terms of the number of physics majors.

Undergraduate physics majors participate in faculty research programs, present at many conferences, and co-author publications in major scientific journals.

Program alumni are successful in entering graduate and professional schools and in finding physics-related employment.

The department's Physics Teacher Education program has received national attention in an American Association of Physics Teachers white paper entitled "The Preparation of Excellent Teachers at All Levels", which states that the ISU program is considered one of the most innovative and the largest in the nation (Reference: Lila M. Adair and Christopher J. Chiaverina, AAPT Planning Meeting, July 27-28, 2000, Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

The department serves as a model for undergraduate physics programs on a national level: The department was a case study at a national conference on Revitalizing the Undergraduate Physics Curriculum in 1998 and again in 2000 at a national conference for physics department chairs.

Undergraduate physics majors have high ACT scores with an average ACT composite of 27.5.

C. Robert O'Dell '59, Physics, L.L.D. '01, was a lead scientist in the development of the Hubble space telescope. He served as project scientist for the first 10 years of the telescope's development at NASA. His observations using the Hubble focused on a study of the great nebula Orion, leading to confirmation that all stars have planets or the potential for planetary systems. O'Dell is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Physics and Astronomy department at Vanderbilt Univeristy in Nashville, Tennessee.

Robert Wagner, '02, received the American Physical Society's Leroy Apker Award in 2001, making him the most outstanding physics undergraduate at a non-PhD-granting institution in the United States. Wagner, who also received a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship for 2001, published nine articles as an undergraduate in the most prestigious physics journals. His work in the University's Intense Laser Physics Theory Unit was selected as one of the five best undergraduate research projects in the U.S. by the American Physical Society in 1999 and again in 2001. Robert completed his PhD at Princeton. In 2009, he returned to the ISU physics department to work with Drs Grobe and Su as a post-doctoral researcher.

In 2006, the American Physical Society awarded Rainer Grobe & Charles Su and the Department the Undergraduate Research Prize "for their outstanding effort at creating a successful and renowned optical theory research program at Illinois State University, and for their exemplary involvement of undergraduates in this research."

In both 1995 and 1997 the Physics Department received the Undergraduate Computational Engineering and Science Award from the U.S. Department of Energy for our efforts to integrate computing into the physics curriculum.

  • The 1995 award honors the course "Methods of Computational Science" (Physics 288) as an innovative approach to computational aspects of science through applications in physics and chemistry.
  • The 1997 award recognizes our Computational Physics undergraduate degree program, one of the first in the world.