The University was founded in 1842 and the first Professor of Physics was hired in 1920. Prior to 1934 the department was devoted entirely to teaching service courses for other academic areas, and this remains an important part of our teaching function.


An M.S. degree program in physics was established in 1934, an undergraduate degree in 1937, and a Ph.D. program in 1939. The first major research efforts were the construction of a Van de Graaff electron accelerator in 1934 and a somewhat larger one in 1939. These were used in some important early work in the electrodisintegration of nuclei.


By the early 1940s the department had eight faculty members, all with Ph.D.‘s. The major areas of research interest were nuclear physics, high-polymer (rubber) physics, theory, and electron emission from metallic surfaces. These remained the primary areas of interest until the early 1960s by which time the faculty had grown to about 20 members. With the retirement of senior faculty, research in high-polymers and in electron emission had come to an end by the early 1960s.


In the 1960s several faculty in high energy physics (both experimentalists and theorists) were hired. A small program in low temperature physics was started. An important development of this era was the establishment of the Nuclear Structure Laboratory with an eight-MEV tandem accelerator. During this period research in theoretical atomic physics developed which led to the hiring of experimentalists in this area during the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1980s several faculty members active in semiconductor physics were also added, and in the 1990s we began to develop an astrophysics faculty.


Today the department includes 44 teaching & research faculty members; 20 research faculty members; a number of specialists and postdoctoral researchers; more than 100 graduate students and ~100 undergraduate physics majors; and a number of supporting staff members. Whenever they needed to, the research groups have reinvented themselves and have successfully reset their focus towards the newest research directions.

Nuclear Physics for instance, has been moving into the area Nuclear Astrophysics; this change was very successful and the group is well-known and well-funded.

Astrophysics shows great progress as well. This area couples naturally into Notre Dame’s new involvement with the Large Binocular Telescope and the Steward Observatory facilities. This area also includes the already mentioned, nuclear astrophysics (e.g. nucleosynthesis in the early universe and in supernovae) and particle astrophysics (e.g. missing mass in universe). The Center for Astrophysics at Notre Dame University (CANDU) serves as a focus for this effort. A new center involving nuclear astrophysics researchers at Notre Dame and Michigan State, JINA-CEE has also been established.

Biophysics is a very broad area and ranges from atomic-scale understanding of biochemical process to pattern formation and complexity. We view this as a very promising and important area to move into.

The Center for Network and Data Science (CNDS) is an interdisciplinary research center that focuses on fundamental network and data science with applications ranging from biological to physical to social to health systems. A driving theme of CNDS research is advancing fundamental science and knowledge while generating societal impact. CNDS is training the next generation of data scientists to guide data-driven discoveries.

We encourage the establishment of groups and centers that cross departmental and college boundaries. This often happens naturally, but also fits the current funding climate.