Nov 28, 2023  
2019-2020 Graduate Catalog 
2019-2020 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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Degree Programs

Programs of study leading to the degrees of Master of Science, Master of Engineering (Engineering Physics), and Doctor of Philosophy are offered through the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Please see the Departmental web site for more detailed information than the summary below.

Doctor of Philosophy

Doctor of Philosophy: Typically, a total of 5-6 years are needed to complete the Ph.D. degree for a student who enters the program with a bachelor’s degree. A dissertation presenting the results of an original investigation in a specialized area of physics is an essential feature of the program and must be completed and defended successfully. Requirements also include passing the Oral Proposal Defense within the prescribed timelines.

The program of study for each student in the Ph.D. program includes a minimum of 30 course hours. The following courses, or their equivalents, are required of all students: PHY 501 Mechanics, PHY 502 Electrodynamics I, PHY 503 Quantum Mechanics I, PHY 510 Graduate Laboratory, PHY 512 Statistical Mechanics, PHY 574 Methods of Theoretical Physics, PHY 603 Quantum Mechanics II, and PHY 624 Solid State I.

In addition to the courses listed above, students must take at least one advanced course, chosen from among PHY 575 Methods of Theoretical Physics II, PHY 598 Continuum Mechanics, PHY 598 Statistical Mechanics II, and PHY 625 Solid State II.

Students must also take at least one research specialty elective course, which must be approved by the student’s dissertation advisory committee. These electives do not have to be PHY courses, and they cannot be from among the 400-level PHY undergraduate core courses in Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Quantum and Atomic Physics, Thermodynamics, Statistical Mechanics, or Optics. In addition to class work, students must also complete a minimum of 5 thesis credits (PHY 699) and 1 credit of Responsible Conduct of Research training (INT 601). INT 601 must be completed before commencing with the fourth credit of PHY 699.

In general, additional courses beyond the above minimal requirements are expected to be included in a student’s program of study, at the discretion of the student’s dissertation committee. Each of the 400-level undergraduate core courses may be taken for graduate credit under this additional course expectation.


Master of Science

The program of graduate study for the master’s degree, which normally requires two academic years, is developed around an original investigation, the results of which are presented as a thesis which must be successfully defended.

Of the minimum of 30 semester hours required for the Master of Science degree, 24 are devoted to courses in physics and such allied fields as other sciences, mathematics, and engineering. However, the following courses or their equivalents, which are offered every year, must be included: PHY 501 Mechanics; PHY 502 Electrodynamics I, and PHY 503 Quantum Mechanics I. In addition to the 24 credits of class work, students must complete a minimum of 5 thesis credits (PHY 699) and 1 credit of Responsible Conduct of Research training (INT 601). INT 601 must be completed before commencing with the fourth credit of PHY 699.

Master of Engineering (Engineering Physics)

A minimum of 30 semester hours is required for the Master of Engineering (Engineering Physics) degree with thesis. Of the total of 24 required course hours, nine hours must be selected from a meaningful engineering course sequence. In addition, nine hours must be selected from three of the following courses: PHY 501 Mechanics, PHY 502 Electrodynamics I, PHY 503 Quantum Mechanics I, and PHY 510 Graduate Laboratory. In addition to the 24 required course credits an additional minimum of 6 credits of thesis (PHY 699) is required. The thesis may be completed in either the Physics Department or the engineering department in which the engineering course sequence is taken.

A non-thesis option exists which requires 36 approved course credits (no thesis credits). Movement from a thesis to a non-thesis degree will be under exceptional conditions and requires approval of the Department Graduate Faculty.

Students in a non-thesis program shall not normally receive financial support.


•    Astrophysics: Optical, x-ray and radio observational and computational, primarily on galaxies and clusters of galaxies.
•    Biophysics: Ultra-high resolution microscopy and spectroscopy, influenza virus infection, function and lateral organization of biomembranes coupled to the cytoskeleton, single molecule fluorescence photophysics and theoretical studies of chemically-driven microscopic motors and pumps.
•    Environmental radiation & Radon Studies
•    Surface Science: Physics and chemistry of surfaces, including microsensors, catalysis, adhesion, thin film growth, surface crystallography, phase transitions, tribology, and development of new instrumentation;
•    Physics Education Research:  Student reasoning in physics using dual-process theories of reasoning and decision-making; the teaching and learning of electronics in both physics and engineering; student use and understanding of mathematics in physics; K-12 teacher knowledge of content and students’ ideas and their use of formative assessment, particularly with energy concepts. .
•    Statistical Physics and condensed matter: Light scattering from liquid crystals and colloids.

Cooperative Research

A major interdisciplinary research organization at the University is the Frontier Institute in Sensor Technologies (FIRST)  in which research opportunities exist in high technology areas related to surfaces, interfaces, and thin film materials. Specific information is available at

Departmental faculty also participate in collaborative research and K-20 STEM professional development with the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) .

Research Facilities

The Frontier Institute in Sensor Technologies (FIRST) unites researchers from the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Chemical and Biological Engineering in many projects spanning aspects of surface and interface science, thin films, sensors, microsystems, and nanotechnology. Current facilities include thin film synthesis, electron and optical spectroscopies, scanning probe microscopies, X-ray and electron diffraction, focused ion beam-scanning electron microscopy, fluorescence microscopy, device fabrication (Class1000 clean room with photolithography, metallization, wet and dry etch, PECVD, sputtering, mask generation, and packaging), and sensor testing (gas delivery systems, electrical and microwave test equipment, and data acquisition/integrated electronic test suites).


Biophysics and Optics: Three laboratories include a superresolution localization microscopy facility and four F-PALM microscopes, image processing computer cluster, tunable femtosecond pulsed Ti:Sapphire laser and optical parametric oscillator (OPO), cell culture facilities, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) thermal cycler, and other equipment for molecular biology, confocal and two-photon laser-scanning microscopes, fluorescence correlation and cross-correlation microscope, fluorimeter, spectrophotometer, Krypton-Argon and Argon ion lasers, numerous diode lasers spanning visible wavelengths from 400-700 nm, and optical tweezer.


The Physics Education Research Laboratory has facilities and equipment for conducting research on the learning and teaching of physics, including a classroom intended for curricular activities based on physics education research (PER) and dedicated clinical interview space to ensure the anonymity and privacy of students participating in our research work (as required by our institutional review board for testing with human subjects).


Astronomy/Astrophysics: The Emera Astronomy Center consists of two observatories, a planetarium, and a multi-purpose classroom space. The Jordan Observatory houses a PlaneWave CDK20 (20 inch) telescope on a German Equatorial Mount with an Apogee Aspen CG16M CCD camera with 7 slot filter wheel for imaging and photometry. The telescope and dome both can be remotely controlled. Additionally, the facility has an historic Alvin Clark refractor (8 inch) housed in a roll-off roof observatory for visual observations. The Jordan Planetarium is a 10 meter 4K digital planetarium with 50 seats which can show a variety of astronomy and science visualizations, real time astronomical data, and full-dome films. The planetarium conducts regular public programs, school programs, and numerous special events. The facility has a multipurpose classroom housing a number of interactive displays and is used for astronomy labs and other university courses.



In addition to satisfying the general admission requirements of the Graduate School, candidates for advanced degrees in physics should have earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics or a closely related discipline with a 3.0/4.0 GPA in physics and mathematics courses. Typical classes beyond the introductory level include mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical and thermodynamics, as well as laboratory courses in these areas and electronics. Mathematics should be completed at least through differential equations.

Candidates who have majored in other physical sciences or mathematics are encouraged to apply. For these candidates we would like to see substantial advanced physics courses. 

Admission to the degree programs is competitive. We primarily admit students for the Fall semester with only occasional openings for the Spring semester. We begin review of completed applications in late January (apply through the Graduate School). We consider all eligible applicants for support. If support is not required, please be sure to note that in the application.

We require the GRE exam and the GRE Physics exam. As the Physics exam is offered infrequently we will consider applications without the exam.  The TOEFL or equivalent (see Graduate School website) is required for International students. The Graduate School requires a minimum iBT TOEFL score of 92 (7.0 on IELTS) to be considered for support as a TA.


Financial Assistance

Teaching assistantships are available for the academic year and include remission of tuition for up to nine credit hours per semester and three credit hours in the summer session. These appointments provide for approximately half-time teaching and half-time study. Teaching assignments usually involve six contact hours per week. Some summer support is available for students in the program, but it is expected that students and advisors obtain summer research assistantships.

Research assistantships from grant funding are also available to provide graduate stipends and tuition support, information about these research assistantships is available directly from individual faculty members.

The University of Maine supports a number of University fellowships and tuition scholarships, primarily for current graduate students.


Students are primarily admitted starting in the Fall semester (September). Applications for admission in the Fall (September) should be complete by January 5. We occasionally have openings for Spring semester (January). Contact the Graduate Coordinator. Late applications are accepted.  Online Application.

Additional Information

Individual faculty may be contacted via their email addresses below. The department’s home page is
Email the Graduate Coordinator.
Department physical address: Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Maine, 5709 Bennett Hall, Orono, ME 04469
Telephone at (207) 581-1039.

Graduate Faculty

R. Dean Astumian, Ph.D. (Texas-Arlington, 1983), Professor. Design of microscopic mechanical and electrical pumps and motors powered by non-equilibrium isothermal chemical reactions.


David J. Batuski, Ph.D. (New Mexico, 1986), Professor. Astronomy, Astrophysics, Observational cosmology; largescale structure in the universe; weak gravitational lensing studies of dark matter in superclusters of galaxies; dynamics of superclusters; radio sources in galaxy clusters.


Neil F. Comins, Ph.D. (University College, Cardiff, 1978), Professor. Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology & String Theory, Physics and other Science Education, Relativity & Gravitation, Observational and theoretical astrophysics; galactic evolution and stability; stellar systems; general relativity; astronomy education.


Saima Farooq, Ph.D. (Kansas State University, 2016), Lecturer. Physics and other Science Education. Research on teaching and learning, curriculum development and assessment, primarily at the introductory level. Critical thinking in physics labs; student reasoning with experimental data, methods, analysis, and the treatment of uncertainties.


Charles T. Hess, Ph.D. (Ohio, 1967), Professor. Biophysics, Geophysics, Medical, Health Physics, Nuclear Physics. Environmental nuclear physics; health physics; radioactivity studies.  


Samuel T. Hess, Ph.D. (Cornell University, 2002), Professor. Biophysics. Experimental and theoretical biophysics; super-resolution fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy; function and lateral organization of biomembranes; influenza virus infection; single-molecule fluorescence photophysics.


Robert J. Lad, Ph.D. (Cornell, 1986), Professor. Condensed Matter Physics, Nano Science and Technology. Surface physics; thin films; sensor technology; materials science; ceramics; electronic materials; photovoltaics; material characterization.


James McClymer, Ph.D. (Delaware, 1986), Associate Professor. Condensed Matter Physics, Optics, Other. Digital imaging and light scattering from equilibrium and nonequilibrium transitions in liquid crystals and complex fluids.

Susan R. McKay, Ph.D. (M.I.T., 1987), Professor. Nonlinear Dynamics and Complex Systems. Theoretical condensed-matter physics; nonlinear systems and transitions to chaos; phase transitions and critical phenomena; spin glasses; amorphous magnetism; quenched disorder; pattern formation; systems far from equilibrium; applications of network theory.


Robert W. Meulenberg, Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara, 2002), Associate Professor.  Condensed Matter Physics, Materials Science, Metallurgy, Nano Science and Technology. Experimental condensed-matter physics: electronic structure of nanoscale materials; surface and interfacial physics of nanostructures; magnetic materials; applications of synchrotron radiation to materials science.


MacKenzie R. Stetzer, Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania, 2000). Associate Professor. Physics and other Science Education. Physics education: research on teaching and learning, curriculum development and assessment. Student understanding of analog electronics in physics and engineering. Troubleshooting in electronics. The development of student reasoning skills and metacognitive skills in physics and the application of findings and theories from cognitive science to student reasoning in physics.


John Thompson, Ph.D. (Brown, 1998), Professor. Physics and other Science Education. Research interest: Physics Education. Research on teaching and learning, curriculum development and assessment, primarily at the upper division (thermal physics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum mechanics). Student use of mathematics, mathematical methods, and mathematical reasoning in physics (e.g., differentials, derivatives, and integrals in single variable, multivariable, and vector calculus); analysis via specific difficulties, symbolic forms, and conceptual blending.


Michael C. Wittman, Ph.D. (Maryland, 1998), Professor. Physics and other Science Education. Physics education. Research on teaching and learning. Learning theory development, curriculum development and evaluation, use of mathematics in physics, and teacher knowledge of student thinking, both at the college and the K-12 level, in particular middle school. Student and teacher understanding of energy and accelerated motion in middle school and in high school.


Lipping Yu, Ph.D (North Carolina State University, 2009). Assistant Professor. Materials Science, Metallurgy, Nano Science and Technology. Inverse materials design; defects in solids; semiconductor physics; energy materials (e.g., photovoltaics, catalysts, batteries, supercapacitors); flexible 2D electronics; surface and interface physics and chemistry; application of density functional theory and high-throughput computation.

Research and Associate Graduate Faculty

George Bernhart, Ph.D. (Maine, 1994), Lecturer/Research Scientist (FIRST).

Thomas Stone, Ph.D. (Maine, 2010). Associate Professor of Mathematics and Physics, Husson University. Theoretical condensed matter physics.


Cooperating Graduate Faculty

Jayendra C. Rasaiah, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh, 1965), Professor. Statistical mechanics of electrolytes and polar fluids, computer simulation studies of solutions, fluctuation-dominated kinetics in heterogeneous media, theory of electron transfer reactions, and molecular biophysical chemistry.


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