Master’s degree in physics revived after 12 years

The first master’s degree in physics was received at Wichita State in 1950, according to a list of past master’s degrees in physics. Not one year went by without a WSU student receiving a master’s in physics until 2007, when all master’s degrees in physics abruptly stopped.

“Historically, we had a successful program,” said assistant physics professor Mathew Muether.

Ron Matson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the physics program usually made it by with the minimum requirements, but in 2003 the physics master’s program, a two-year, research-based program, was officially suspended by the Kansas Board of Regents because it did not meet the required minimum number of graduates.  

Matson said he was able to justify the proposal over the summer because there was a small amount of funding available to get it started.

“[They] put together a very persuasive set of materials,” Matson said.  

Hired in August of last year, Muether chaired the committee that submitted the five-page proposal to revive the master’s program, which included 50 pages of appendices.

“They (Matson and Provost Anthony Vizzini) hope that a strong physics program will help other programs (engineering, geology, math),” Muether said. “[They] hope it can enhance the university as a whole.”

Muether cited a broad range of STEM-related career paths, a strong foundation for STEM disciplines on campus and a master’s in physics being one of the top earning master’s degrees in his proposal for reinstatement of the master’s program.

Holger Meyer, director of the physics program, said they have been waiting for the opportunity to reinstate the program, but setbacks like the 2008 recession and a group of physics professors leaving for other universities kept that from happening.

Enrollment increased after Professor Nickolas Solomey was hired in fall 2007, Meyer said. Fall physics course enrollment went from 736 in 2007 to 1,140 in 2014, according to Muether’s proposal.

The addition of Muether and assistant professor Terrance Figy in the last few years made it possible to reinstate the master’s program and get the graduate program moving.

“We were strapped for faculty,” Meyer said. “[We now have] eight tenured faculty, which is still small compared to Kansas University and Kansas State, even though enrollment [here] is higher.”

Muether looks forward to having master’s students so that he can get more research done.

“There’s a huge amount of topics I want to explore,” he said.

Every physics professor will assist with the new program based on the upcoming master’s students’ interests and what field of research they want to study.

“There’s a huge amount of fields of study in physics you can go into,” junior Bryce Kendall said. “… You can go into astrophysics, particle physics, you could do solid state physics … the study of condensed states of matter, which gives rise to super computers and helps build new cellphones.

“The more you study physics the more applications it has.”

Kendall said you could even figure out the fastest way of cooking a steak with physics.

Senior Sam Richardson said he is interested in the new program because it means he could do research on the graduate level.

“The week [the master’s program] announcement came out all the students were talking about it, excited,” Richardson said.

Matson and Meuther said they hope the rebirth of the master’s program brings in more students.

“Just another couple of weeks and people will be able to apply for the spring semester [master’s program],” Meyer said. “Anyone interested should contact us.”

The Physics Department office is located in Room 046 in Jabara Hall. Call 316-978-3190 for more information.