Academics Blog

Archive for the Category Physics


Space Science and Engineering Minor

Name: Jessica Noviello

Year: Class of 2014

Majors: Earth and Planetary Science, Physics

Minors: Space Science and Engineering, Math

Hometown: Smithtown, NY

If you were anything like me as a child, you fantasized about going to exotic places to discover the inexplicable, amazing secrets of our world. If you’re anything like me now, you’ll still working towards discovering or inventing something that will revolutionize science and engineering as we know it. I may not be able to help with everything, but I’d like to turn your attention to the area above your heads that is called the atmosphere, and, far more importantly, the cosmos that extends far beyond our imagination. In one word: space.

Johns Hopkins has had a good relationship with the final frontier since NASA was started on July 29, 1958. Between the Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, MD and the Space Telescope and Science Institute (STScI) right across the street from the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, Hopkins has been on the cutting edge of breathtaking experiments and novel technological devices for years. Despite the depth of our professors’ collective works and understandings, the Hopkins students were only vaguely familiar with current research. Only those who had completed internships through the physics or mechanical engineering departments were involved with space projects.

Michelangelo, a huge piece of equipment that used to be attached to the International Space Station (ISS). We even saw the Discovery shuttle still in the hanger before it was flown to DC.

Three professors sought to change this, so in Fall 2011 Professors Warren Moos and Steven Murray taught the first class of Introduction to Space Science and Technology (171.321). The class was an overview of space project management, balancing scientific and engineering requirements to achieve a goal, and general rocket science. The class requirements were straightforward; a semester to complete a group project, one midterm, weekly homework, and a final. To accomplish these goals, the class was broken down into six groups of five on the very first day and assigned a task, which they could complete with any materials and tools they wanted, so long as it was under $100 million. The professors took care to assign people from different majors in the same group, so everyone could have an area of expertise on the team. The homework and finals were like those of any other class at Hopkins.

The best part of the class, by far, was the guest speakers who came in to give their talks on their backgrounds in space and atmospheric science. We welcomed John Mather, a Nobel laureate in Physics; John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and current NASA Chief Scientist; Elizabeth Turtle, a computer scientist at APL; and Benjamin Zaitchik, an extremely accomplished atmospheric scientist right here on the Hopkins campus in the Earth and Planetary Science department. Professors Murray and Moos also have experience in the field, specifically on the Chandra X-ray Observatory satellite which has allowed us to understand black holes on an entirely new level. The talks were inspirational and motivating, if not absolutely mind-blowing.

A total of 30 students rode the Cosmic Mayflower, becoming pilgrims for what is known today as the Space Science and Engineering minor. As one of those pioneers, I am pleased to present it to you here. The requirements are unique in that you are able to choose four out of five of your classes for the minor, as long as they form a cohesive program oriented towards space research or aerospace engineering. My classes are in the Earth and Planetary Science department, where I’ve taken Remote Sensing of the Environment, Planetary Surface Processes, and Isotopic Geochemistry, and will be taking Past and Future Climates. These classes will allow me to understand the data I will see in the context of known planetary systems, and notice when an anomaly appears.

just a few of us in front of the giant NASA logo they had on their property

Despite the freedom to choose your own classes for your concentration, there are some non-negotiable aspects. Any student pursuing the minor must take the Introduction to Space Science and Technology class, and it is suggested you do it first so you can submit a plan for your space minor track. Other departments that are included as acceptable for the minor are: Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Physics, and Biology. You must also plan to have an internship in a space-related field to gain the work experience necessary to the field after graduation. For more information about the minor please contact Joseph Katz or Charles Bennett, and see this website: http://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/acad/ugrad/minor_ss_eng

My interest in physics and space sent my friends and me to Florida last March to get a behind-the-scenes look at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. I plan to go somewhere equally amazing in the future, and perhaps one day launch a satellite or walk on Mars. It is certainly not something I will give up. I’m very excited to see this program take shape at Hopkins, and I am proud to be the first person approved for this minor. I know I won’t be the last. If you’re anything like me, then you know what it feels like to look up at the stars and wonder what more we have to learn. I hope we never stop.



Name: Andrew Yip

Year: Class of 2011

Hometown: Alexandria, VA

Major: Physics


So I originally chose to major in Physics because Hopkins doesn’t have Astronomy or Astrophysics. It turned out to be for the better because having a solid foundation in physics is crucial to understanding astronomy. Also, with the more exposure I get to condensed matter and particle physics, the more I am thinking that they might be more interesting career options than I originally thought astronomy was. Being a Physics B.S. student is definitely challenging, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose it. We all complain about how our classes are probably the hardest in the school, but in the end, we all accomplish a lot and feel pretty good about it. Also, the department is great, it’s small enough so that a lot of professors will get to know you, but also prestigious and has a great building.


The best part about the major is probably the majors-only physics classes. As opposed to the huge general physics classes, the intro courses for physics majors are around 25 or less students, which makes it sort of like high school again in the sense that it’s really easy to ask questions and to get to know the other physics majors. It hasn’t even been two years now, but the group of physics majors that I have come to know here are pretty close.

There is a lot of history to this department. As I took more classes, I learned that Henry A. Rowland, who the department is named after, was arguably the greatest American physicist of all time, and most discoveries in this country can be linked back to him. One of his graduate students actually discovered the Hall Effect right down the street.

There is more to the department and the major here at Hopkins than the history. My favorite aspect of the Physics & Astronomy department at Hopkins is the annual Physics Fair held in the Spring. As a major, my fellow students and I get to volunteer to help out with the event, which is sort of a combination of a carnival and an open house designed to get the public to interactively learn and have fun.

Bloomberg-small Another huge perk that we have is our own undergraduate computer lab on the 4th floor of Bloomberg (PUC for short). During finals week when people are scrambling to find a space in the library or a quiet place to study, all of us physics majors just go to PUC lab and it’s usually almost completely empty — plus there are tons of blackboards and huge tables to lay all your stuff on (and upperclassmen to tutor sometimes).

To sum it all up, being a physics major at Hopkins is probably one of the more glamorous things to do academically; it’s challenging, has its perks, and looks great on grad school applications. When I graduate, I plan to go to graduate school for physics, and eventually be involved in education, whether it be teaching at a university, or even a television show.


Click here to access more information about the Physics Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and Physics question thread.