You are here

About Physics

Physics is the natural science that studies the nature and properties of matter, and its motion and behavior through space and time. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its basic goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

Overview and History

The University of Washington has taught Physics since the late 1800's. A distinct Department of Physics is first listed in the 1905 general catalogue. Some notable portions of the Department's history are recounted here.
The Department moved into the present Physics/Astronomy Building (PAB) in 1994. The current state of the Department of Physics is summarized in the department fact sheet.


The Department of Physics offers instruction at all levels including introductory general education, baccalaureate preparation for scientific and teaching careers, and doctoral and post-doctoral education. The department encourages the involvement of undergraduates in research; currently more than 180 undergraduates participate in research within the department.


Ongoing research in the Department of Physics covers many areas. These include searches for new particles and forces, connections between quantum information and gravity, and studies of the collective behavior of many particle systems ranging from nuclei to nanostructures to living cells to neutron stars. See our research pages for more information.


The Department of Physics currently has about 60 faculty and 35 postdoctoral research associates. Department faculty have been the recipients of numerous national and international honors. These include the 1989 Nobel prize awarded to Hans Dehmelt, the 2016 Nobel prize to David Thouless, and the 2021 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics awarded to Eric Adelberger, Jens Gundlach and Blayne Heckel.

Physics/Astronomy Building