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ISU vs UIdaho; Comparing Undergrad Physics Programs

  1. Apr 3, 2012 #1
    At the moment I'm attending North Idaho College, and while ideally I'd be able to transfer out of state to a better University, I'm all but guaranteed a spot at either University of Idaho (UI) or Idaho State University (ISU) if that doesn't work out. So naturally I'm trying to figure out which I'd go to if it came to that.

    For various reasons (ISU is close to Idaho National Labratory, ISU has access to accelerators on campus and at their Accelerator Center [how good they are, I don't know], UI actually came close to eliminating their Physics program altogether a few years ago due to budgetary restraints, etc...) I'm inclined to prefer ISU.

    That said, I'm looking at their classes and I'm noticing some differences. That's where PF comes in! I was hoping I could get some help evaluating their Physics programs. Does their curriculum look about standard, or is it lackluster? Is anything missing from one particular school? The way they name and number their classes seems to be different so I can't be sure, but for example UI has Analytical Mechanics I and II, ISU doesn't. ISU seems to focus on nuke/particle and health physics. UI.. well I can't really see any particular specialty there. But then again I'm a novice.

    I'll paste the classes below, but for further information you can find descriptions of the courses at the following links:
    http://www.isu.edu/academic-info/current/engineer/aphysics.html [Broken]

    Phys 301 Junior Physics Lab
    Phys 305 Modern Physics
    Phys 321 Analytical Mechanics
    Phys 322 Analytical Mechanics II
    Phys 341 EM Fields I
    Phys 342 EM Fields II
    Phys 351 Intro QM
    Phys 371 Mathematical Physics
    Phys 411 Physical Instrumentation I
    Phys 412 Physical Instrumentation II
    Phys J425 Relativity
    Phys J428 Numerical Methods
    Phys J433 Thermal and Statistical Physics
    Phys J443 Optics
    Phys J444 Quantum Optics
    Phys J465 Particle and Nuclear Physics
    Phys J484 Astrophysics

    Phys 301 Modern Physics
    Phys 313 Intermediate Lab I
    Phys 403 Advanced Modern Physics I
    Phys 404 Advanced Modern Physics II
    Phys 405 Advanced Physics Lab I
    Phys 406 Advanced Physics Lab II
    Phys 409 Intro Nuclear Physics
    Phys 415 Statistical Physics
    Phys 416 Radiation Detection and Measurement
    Phys 421 EM I
    Phys 422 EM II
    Phys 430 Accelerator Physics
    Phys 442 Solid State Physics
    Phys 452 Intermediate Optics
    Phys 453 Astrophysics
    Phys 461 Mathematical Physics I
    Phys 462 Mathematical Physics II
    Phys 483 Theoretical Mechanics
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 6, 2012 #2
    Well I can't edit my post and no one seems interested in answering, so I'll rewrite my question. I went through the pages course by course and tried to figure out which courses were equivalent.. I came up with these differences:

    UI: 2 Semesters Analytical Mechanics
    ISU: 1 Semester Theoretical Mechanics

    UI: 1 Semester Intro QM
    ISU: 2 Semesters Advanced Modern Physics

    UI: 1 Semester Mathematical Physics
    ISU: 2 Semesters Mathematical Physics

    UI: 2 Semesters Optics
    ISU: 1 Semester Optics

    Furthermore there were classes that one school offered that the other doesn't. I don't possess the requisite expertise to know whether or not 'Physical Instrumentation' is the same as or similar to 'Advanced Physics Lab', but it didn't look like it so I'll include it:

    Phys 411 Physical Instrumentation I & II
    Methods and instruments used in experimental physics; electronic techniques; design problems in electronic measurement of physical quantities encountered in research.
    Phys 425 Relativity
    Introduction to the Special and General Theories of Relativity. Principle of relativity, Poincare and Lorentz transformations and their consequences. Four-dimensional formulation of relativistic mechanics and electromagnetism. Principle of equivalence and the geometric theory of gravitation.
    Phys 428 Numerical Methods
    Systems of equations, root finding, error analysis, numerical solution to differential equations, interpolation and data fitting, numerical integration, related topics and applications.

    Phys 405 Advanced Physics Lab
    Experiments in radiation detection and measurement, nuclear spectroscopy including x-ray and gamma spectroscopies, neutron activation and ion beam methods.
    Phys 416 Radiation Detection and Measurement
    Lecture/laboratory course emphasizing practical measurement techniques in nuclear physics.
    Phys 430 Accelerator Physics
    The physics of direct voltage accelerators, betatrons, synchrotrons, linear induction acceleration; high current accelerators; electromagnetic particle optics, free electron lasers, and synchrotron light sources.
    Phys 442 Solid State Physics .
    Introduction to the field of solid state physics emphasizing the fundamental concepts. Topics usually covered are crystal structure, x-ray diffraction, crystal binding energies, free electron theory of solids, energy bands.

    My question is this: Is one program clearly better than the other? Is one or are both blatantly lacking in some area? I'm trying to figure out if the classes are different enough to prompt my choosing a school based on its curriculum (if I stay in-state), or if they're similar enough to pick based on largely non-academic factors... like location, recreation, funding, etc.

    Thanks for reading.
  4. Apr 7, 2012 #3
    I am not really qualified to answer, but I don't see a clear difference.
  5. Apr 10, 2012 #4
    I got my BS in Physics from Washington State University -- which is just a hop, skip, and a jump from UI -- within the last couple of years, so I will try to offer a little insight.

    No matter what future you're planning for yourself in physics, be it grad school or industry, there are three "meat and potatoes" topics within physics that you want to make sure you definitely get. These are Classical Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, and Quantum Mechanics. Lab experience is important, but you want to make sure you get a strong background in those three areas. UI seems to have two solid semesters in classical mechanics and E&M, while ISU has one semester in classical mechanics and two semesters in E&M. Thus ISU seems to be a little lacking in mechanics. From my own experience, one semester in mechanics really is not enough. Also from my experience, any course entitled "Modern Physics" is probably a bunch of bull. There is a lot that can be crammed into the genre of "modern" physics, so I would be inclined to think that these courses at ISU might be a gloss-over of everything that happened in physics during the last 100 years, even though they probably focus on quantum mechanics.

    Even though UI seems to only offer one quantum course (Intro QM), there are actually a number of courses that could serve as a "Quantum II," even though they are not called that, such as Quantum Optics and Particle and Nuclear Physics. Also, UI has a partnership with Washington State University that allows UI students to take certain courses at WSU. Currently, WSU allows UI students to take:

    Phys 450 Into to Quantum Mechanics
    Phys 463 Solid State Physics

    And maybe, if you ask:
    Phys 461 Atomic/Molecular Physics
    Phys 465 Nuclear Physics

    The Atomic/Molecular physics class really is like a second semester of quantum.

    WSU Physics Catalog: http://www.catalog.wsu.edu/Pullman/Courses/ByPrefix/Phys

    If your goal is to attend grad school one day, then UI might be a good option, since they have the partnership with WSU that mitigates a lot of the weaknesses that they have.
  6. Apr 10, 2012 #5
    Thanks for the insight. ;) I'm aware of the connection between WSU and UI, I always figured it was to make up for shortcomings in the UI physics department; I know UI has had some funding issues in the past, even going so far as to consider dropping their undergrad physics program altogether. Do you remember if UI undergrads were working with you in labs, observatory, research etc (outside of those few WSU-UI cooperative classes), or were they primarily restricted to their own university?

    I'm conflicted between the superior funding and facilities of ISU, and the greater diversity in research subjects at UI. It seems like I'd be committing myself (at least for a few years) to nuclear~ topics at ISU, as they don't really do much else. I'll be emailing a few select professors at each institution, but I'm narrowing down my questions here first so as not to annoy them TOO much! Aheh.

    Thanks again.
  7. Apr 11, 2012 #6
    I don't remember seeing any UI students in my classes or in any of the labs, but I think that some professors might be willing to take you on to do research.
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