A message from the Department Chair,
Dr. Monika Kress

As I write this on April 24, 2020, we have been sheltering-in-place for over a month. COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States. Fall 2020 registration begins in a couple of days.

Our university, local, and state leadership have not specified the size or manner of gatherings that may occur come August. Their delay is necessary as they must respond to data that evolve from one day to the next. They are cautious about planning too far ahead because they serve different communities that involve many competing interests.

SJSU leadership has, however, requested that all courses that can feasibly be conducted online, should be conducted online, including all lower-division labs.

The science is clear: staying home saves lives. This virus will still be with us in the Fall. Therefore, regardless of any future leadership directives that may permit small gatherings, all physics and astronomy courses will be 100% online for the entire Fall 2020 semester. This includes all labs: Physics 2a, 2b, 50, 51, and 52.

I am making this decision now so that students can make informed decisions well in advance of the Fall semester. Students have the right to feel confident that their physics and astronomy classes will not suddenly switch formats from online to in-person or vice versa.

Making this decision now also enables our department to prepare a high-quality online learning experience for all of our students.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is a small community with a very specific mission: to provide a safe and supportive learning environment in which students can meet the learning goals of their courses.

As a physicist, I am acutely aware of the importance of experiments and data collection. However, any benefit gained by in-person labs is far outweighed by the risk of exposure to the potentially deadly virus that circulates in our community today and will inevitably continue to do so in Fall 2020.

Therefore, the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy are committed to using our creativity and resourcefulness to make the online experience as engaging and effective as possible. We will use these four months to prepare to be online in fall and to adopt the best of the practices that we have identified during the spring.

Advanced labs are perhaps the greatest loss to our students. These labs are the capstone experience of our physics program, in which students gain hands-on experience using state-of-the-art equipment, working closely with faculty in class sizes of 6 or 8. We opted not to offer our advanced lab (PHYS 120B) this fall due to the likelihood of future directives limiting in-person contact.

Our department will prioritize offering advanced labs in Spring 2021, in accordance with future decisions coming from University, state, and local leadership.

To the extent permitted by that leadership, and at my discretion and that of faculty researchers, we do expect to allow student lab research (Physics 180, 298, 299) in Fall 2020, which can provide similar opportunities for students to gain the hands-on experience that would normally be gained in our advanced labs (Physics 120B and 120C).

I welcome any ideas you might have as we cope with this unprecedented situation. Please feel free to email me.