From database dated 2016-08-17 15:53:06 last edited by Andy Duncan. McMaster University Physics & Astronomy

Message from the Chair

Physics & Astronomy Chair Graeme Luke
Dr. Graeme Luke


Welcome to this site describing the Department of Physics and Astronomy at McMaster University.  Our department is committed to the McMaster tradition of strong, innovative undergraduate and graduate teaching programs linked to strong, innovative research programs, where the integration of the two creates a whole that is greater than the parts.  We are a medium-sized department of 25 full time, research-active faculty, more than 70 graduate students, and about 10 postdoctoral researchers.  The Honours Physics undergraduate program now encompasses about 30 students in each year, and continues to grow.  We interact as well with thousands of undergraduate students through foundational and outreach courses in physics, astronomy, and general science education.  More information concerning these integrated activities can be found throughout the website.


Highschool and Level 1 undergraduate students who are considering pursuing an Honours B.Sc. degree will find that Physics and Astronomy offers one of the most flexible and broadly applicable programs.  The core Honours Physics program offers ample open electives to qualify for a minor in any area of interest;  past students have obtained minors in Music, French, Philosophy, Chemistry, and Mathematics, or for pre-requisites for medical school.  Alternatively, students can use these electives to follow suggested course lists for Theoretical Physics, Experimental Physics, or for a formal Specialization in Astronomy, Biophysics, or Co-operative Education (Co-op).  Small class sizes in the specialist courses ensure individual attention and mentoring.  In our larger, foundational courses, we stress modern interactive peer-teaching methods that target a conceptual understanding.  Honours Physics students benefit greatly from research opportunities through Co-op, summer research positions, and a senior project course working one-to-one with a faculty member.

Graduate students are involved in forefront research areas during their thesis research.  The major research fields within the department are:  Astrophysics, Atomic/Molecular/Optical Physics, Computational and Theoretical Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Soft-Condensed Matter and Biophysics.   The department also has a research group in Subatomic Physics in partnership with the Perimeter Institute.  We offer M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in all these areas.  The department continues to renew and refocus its research efforts, with six outstanding appointments in the last five years:

  • Dr. Duncan O'Dell works on the theory of ultracold atoms, and has joined the Atomic/Molecular/Optical physics group.  He received an Early Researcher Award (2009) from the Province of Ontario.
  • Condensed matter physics has been augmented with the appointment of Dr. Sung-Sik Lee, who has expertise in the implications of string theory in condensed matter systems.  He has been awarded an Early Researcher Award (2010) by the Province of Ontario.
  • The Astrophysics group has been enhanced by the addition of two members.  Dr. Laura Parker is an observational cosmologist, who won the Polanyi Prize (2009) from the Province of Ontario, and an NSERC University Faculty Award.  Dr. Ethan Vishniac, an astrophysicist, is the editor of the premier journal in astronomy/astrophysics, The Astrophysical Journal.
  • Dr. Michael Rheinstadter was appointed in the area of Soft Condensed Matter and Biophysics, through an award and partnership with the Neutron Scattering Group of the National Research Council at Chalk River.  His experimental work investigates the dynamics of living and artificial membranes.
  • Our most recent appointment is in Particle Physics, in partnership with the Perimeter Institute.  Dr. Itay Yavin joined the department in July, 2011 and is an Associate Member of Perimeter Institute.

Graduate students benefit from McMaster's strong support system for graduate studies.  All full-time graduate students are assured of an adequate stipend, including a teaching assistantship in support of the undergraduate teaching program, and a research fellowship paid by the supervisor's research grant.  Many hold major external or internal scholarships.

Interdisciplinary research is a great strength of the department, which has many links to other departments in the Faculties of Science, Engineering, and Health Sciences.  Departmental members direct a number of important interdisciplinary institutes. Examples are the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research  (Director: Dr. Bruce Gaulin), which provides access to the most complete crystal growing laboratory in Canada, as well as an impressive array of electron and scanning probe microscopy, a He liquifier and sample preparation equipment.  The Origins Institute (Director: Dr. Ralph Pudritz) provides a forum for collaborative research on the origins of space and time, of the elements, of life, of consciousness ....   The McMaster site of SHARC-Net (Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network) (Director: Dr. Hugh Couchman) provides access to advanced computational infrastructure.

We would be happy to have you visit and experience the stimulating environment of the department.  I hope that you find this website useful and informative.