Physics Mission Vision Statement

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Mission Statement (A statement about what Physics Does)

The mission of the Idaho State University Department of Physics is to pursue cutting edge research in both fundamental and applied physics, and train of the next generation of physical scientists, technicians, and educators.

Vision Statement (A statement about what Physics aspires to be)

The community of physics scholars at Idaho State University envisions a department of physics that is commensurate with our peer institution, yet distinguishes itself by supplementing traditional fundamental physics training with a concentration in nuclear physics. Our goal is to increase our ranks from six faculty to at least twelve faculty, reflecting the average workforce within physics departments at our peer institutions. Removing our current workforce disadvantage will facilitate our aspiration of having fully qualified educators in every physics classroom, eliminating our current reliance on both instructors from outside our program and recently graduated students. We seek to capitalize on the proven technique of increasing enrollment using active programs of research. We foresee increasing our ranks with faculty that engage in local research that involves students from all levels of the education process.

Physics Strategic Plan


The Idaho State University Department of Physics is actively engaged in a variety of cutting edge research pursuits, all of which focus on the use of experimental nuclear physics techniques to address problems in both fundamental and applied science. Major efforts include:

  • nuclear non-proliferation and homeland security
  • radiation effects in materials and devices
  • nuclear reactor fuel cycle physics
  • accelerator applications
  • biology
  • fundamental nuclear and particle physics.
Strategic Plan

ISU’s strategic plan has six complementary goals. These are summarized by Access, Learning, Research, Service, Faculty, and Support.

Goal 1

The department’s primary mission is to provide quality research and education in the physical sciences. Our plan to improve graduate and undergraduate access includes delivery of more courses in Idaho Falls, and to add more emphasis to our undergraduate program. Our goal is to create new degree programs and emphases that are:

(a) consistent with and build upon our existing strengths in nuclear science,

(b) are “low cost”, in the sense that in addition to requiring little additional financial and human resources, they do not add to our teaching burden,

(c) consistent with the broader ISU mission of health sciences and,

(d) boost enrollment in our programs.

One of the degree programs that we propose to add is a D.A. program for students that wish to pursue a career of teaching in high schools or 2-4 year colleges. Similarly, we plan to pursue an M.A. program that is also focused on careers in teaching. In both cases, the coursework would utilize existing classes. The new degree emphases that we wish to pursue are a “bio-science” track to our B.A. physics degree for health-science and teacher career options. In addition, we wish to pursue a pre-med focus to our B.S. program which is designed for students that are interested in medical school. This would be particularly attractive to those who wish to become medical doctors since physics majors have a higher acceptance rate to medical schools than from any other discipline. Both of these emphases should bolster our enrollment and make a degree in physics accessible and useful to a wider range of students at minimal cost.

Goal 2

By making our courses more accessible to a wider variety of students, we seek to double our number of undergraduate majors and student enrollment and thereby increase ISU’s contribution to the scientific and intellectual capital of Idaho. We note that we have more than doubled both our graduate and undergraduate enrollment in the last three years, and we seek to do this again in the coming five years. At the same time, we aim to raise the caliber of our students through active recruiting both locally and internationally. We feel that the previously mentioned degree initiatives will greatly increase the number of students of local origin whom we serve. At the international level, we are actively pursuing formal agreements with institutions at Tbilisi State University (Georgia), Kharkov National University (Ukraine), and the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil). These agreements will involve the participation of bright and highly motivated students from around the world, and the ISU Department of Physics seeks the support of the ISU administration in these efforts. Since the great strength of the modern research university is its interweaving of the research and teaching missions, a high priority for our department will be the recruitment and retaining of faculty with strong interests in both research and gradu- ate education. In particular, we seek to recognize and reward, to the extent possible, the mentoring of graduate students.

Goal 3

We will continue to raise the research profile of our department in a manner which enhances, rather than detracts from, our teaching mission. First, this will involve increasing our faculty numbers. Secondly, we seek to increase and diversify our external funding. Approximately 85% of the regular, tenure track faculty in the department have external funding, averaging about $400 thousand per faculty member per year and resulting in a prolific record of scientific publications. However, much of the external funds coming to physics faculty (through the department or the IAC) are either directly or indirectly DoD or DOE funds, and these are typically short-term (1-year) contracts. We need to diversify to other sources of funding such as the NSF, NASA, NIH, and the DHS (Department of Homeland Security). In addition, we have a strong need to fully utilize the physics department base- ment laboratory space. When the Physical Sciences building remodel was completed in 2002, a large amount of space (approximately 4000 square feet) in the basement was left unfinished. The current finished lab space is already at capacity. With the arrival of several new faculty in Fall 2006 and our emphasis on experimental physics, the conversion of this space to laboratory facilities is crucial. In addition to faculty and graduate research, finishing this lab space is also important for serving our un- dergraduate B.S. students' senior project research.

Goal 4

The ISU Department of Physics plays an active role in service to the com- munity. We will continue our extensive program of outreach to elementary and high school students which includes numerous public physics lectures and demonstrations, as well as a summer program involving high school students in research. The Department will also seek to continue its contribution to the local econ- omy. One local company, Positron Systems, has already spun off from work done by faculty in our department. Also, plans are underway to commission a cyclotron for the production of isotopes for medical applications in a local hospital. We seek to contribute to the local economy is less direct ways, as well. As part of our goal of making the ISU Department of Physics a powerhouse of nuclear physics research, we are organizing two scientific conferences to increase our profile in the scientific community. For the summer of 2007, we hosted both the meeting of the Northwest Section of the American Physical Society and the AccApp (Accelerator Applications) conferences. The later conference is expected to attract on the order of 300 physicists from around the world, thus contributing to business at local hotels and restaurants.

Goal 5

In addition to good skills in classroom teaching, we will particularly focus on recruiting faculty who have a strong interest in mentoring graduate students and whose research interests are in line with the departmental focus of nuclear physics. We will also recruit those who will provide promising opportunities for ob- taining external funding and will enable students to obtain skills which are of value in the job market. We plan to do this by leveraging external grants and contracts to pay for them. In this regard, our connections to our external partners (such as INL, Jefferson Lab, Sandia, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley Lab- oratories) are important. We note in particular that the Jefferson Lab administration has supported a faculty member in accelerator physics. The further pursuit of such opportunities will be an key part of our strategy in the upcoming five years.

Goal 6

Our support staff are of value to our Department in a number of respects. The secretarial staff often provide a public face to our students and play an important role in generating a helpful and pleasant atmosphere conducive to high student retention. As a department with a heavy emphasis on experimental work, our technical staff are also essential. In this regard, we seek to stabilize the budget of the Idaho Accelerator Center to provide a more secure source of funds which will enable the long term retention of experienced and qualified technical staff. In conclusion, the tra jectory of the ISU Department of Physics that has been established over the course of the last several years has been a good one. In the next five years, we plan to continue our trends of increased enrollments and external research funding, and the addition of more first rate faculty. At this stage, the Department is by no means “mature” in the sense that there are still a great many things which will be done to improve it further. With the goals laid out here, we believe we will enhance our effectiveness in executing our research, teaching and service missions.