Virginia State Council Approves Mason PhD in Physics

Posted: May 22, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

With professors already exploring the outer edges of our solar system, unlocking the mysteries of black holes and paving the way for quantum computing, a Mason doctoral program in physics is long overdue.

But starting this fall, that void will be filled. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia recently approved a new PhD program intended for students wishing to study a wide range of areas in physics and astronomy from a theoretical or experimental perspective.

Paul So
Professor Paul So will be the coordinator for the PhD in Physics.
Photo courtesy of Paul So

The physics and astronomy faculty at Mason have been mentoring PhD students for many years — first under the Computational Sciences doctoral program, and more recently under the Physical Sciences doctoral program, which is jointly administered with the Chemistry Department.

Now they will have their own, with concentrations in physics, astrophysics, biophysics and materials physics.

This program, recognized as “long overdue” by Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman, a member of the outside review team, represents a significant milestone for the department and its graduate students.

Very few physics departments in Virginia can match Mason in its current level of external research grant support.

The department also leads the nation in the number of tenured and tenure-track women faculty in a field where women have been (and continue to be) significantly under-represented.

“The research being done by faculty and students is exciting, both because of its fundamental nature — for example, their work on the basic constituents of all matter and the shape of our solar system — and because of its practical importance such as finding a cure for epilepsy, finding a more sensitive means of explosive detection or gaining a better understanding of how hurricanes intensify,” says Robert Ehrlich, chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department.

Professor Paul So will be the coordinator of the PhD program. Full descriptions of the range of faculty research can be found on the department web site at

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