Why I Majored in Physics

Zoe Haggard '21

Since taking an introductory astronomy class in high school, I became interested in astrophysics and thought about majoring in college. On the other hand, my high school physics class didn’t resonate in the same way and felt almost boring at times. But, as I was hoping to major in astrophysics, I decided to register for introductory physics for majors in the fall of my first year. For the first time, physics seemed interesting to me; the class helped to outline and motivate the foundation of modern physics, such as quantum mechanics and special relativity. Before this class, I had never heard of these concepts before: I just though physics was classical problems of motion. In this way, this physics class excited me with what physics had to offer. Really, I’m majoring in physics now because I am interested in how physics can be applied to problems in astrophysics.

I think the last few years at Pomona and the Pomona Physics Department have given me the analytical skills necessary to approach a wide variety of problems and research. At Pomona, there are ample research opportunities, and professors are always looking for students to help. Although research is a daunting thing, I’ve found that my classes and the support of my professors helped me to gain the confidence to begin research at Pomona and at other institutions. During my second-year, for instance, I joined a student group working on Pomona’s adaptive optics setup, Kapao. While there were many ups and downs to this work and the learning curve was steep, with the help of my professor and my peers, we were able to work out frustrating kinks in the code and system. This research at Pomona, I think, prepared and gave me to confidence to work at MIT’s Haystack Observatory over the summer on a project concerning the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). My project focused on developing a satellite-based EHT and optimizing an array.

Christina Dong ’22

I am currently a physics and dance double major on the regular physics track, and I knew I wanted to do this double major even when applying to Pomona! To be honest, I didn’t grow up dreaming to become a physicist or a scientist, but I became interested in physics’ potential to explain why and how the universe works the way it does. Physics can be really difficult, but I absolutely love the challenge and those “a-ha!” moments when I finally understand a concept. It really satisfies my love for learning.

The Physics Department at Pomona is such a close-knit and collaborative environment and is a huge reason why I continue to be a physics major. During the zoom era, we try to connect with each other as much as possible through weekly social hours, movie nights, and game nights. I’ve been able to get to know my peers outside of academics, and we’re all really supportive of our interests outside of physics, like art or philosophy, as well. One other thing that I appreciate about our department is how much we work on making physics more inclusive. Through events like the Decolonizing STEM Symposium or courses that have community partnership components, such as Electronics, the physics curriculum at Pomona also emphasizes thinking about the current lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in physics. I have found this to be incredibly valuable to my physics education.

Last summer, I virtually participated in an NSF REU at Harvey Mudd College (HMC) with Professor Josh Brake at the Biophotonics Lab. With other REU and HMC students, we started a project to create a speckle imaging system that could image through scattering media. Speckle imaging is a type of computational imaging system, which images things without a lens and utilizes a computer to reconstruct an image of an object.

Rohan Lopez ’22

I chose to major in physics because there are a lot of really fun questions to explore, that often intersect with other disciplines. It’s given me a toolkit that has been useful in all areas of my life.

The physics major is really fun because of interesting topics that are covered often literally within the first week of introductory courses. I love having mentor groups to work on problems together—the collaborative approach to physics really makes it engaging. Within the department there are a lot of different resources to explore interests too.

Another physics major Jeremy Adams and I have been working on a toroidal air plasma project in the Estella basement for the past few years. Right before having to go home last semester, we determined the optimal configurations for vortex ring formation and maximum thrust for applications in small spacecraft propulsion. When we return to campus, we hope to explore plasma in a spindle cusp magnetic field.

The Physics Department gets better and better every year, and even if you don’t want to major but are interested in learning some cool topics, definitely take a class!