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A Guide to Physics Resources available at the University of Chicago Library



Brief overview of the collection

History: The physics collection was originally located in Ryerson Physical Laboratory,  the original home of the physics department .The collection was moved to Eckhart Library when it was completed in the 1930s.  When the John Crerar Library opened in 1984 the collection was transferred there, where it presently resides.   In addition physics collections are maintained by the FermiLab and Argonne National Laboratory Libraries.  Also, the Chemistry Library included much material related to the overlap of physics and chemistry. Originally in housed in the Kent Chemical Laboratory, the Chemistry collection was later moved the George Herbert Jones Laboratory and then Crerar Library.

The Physics department was founded in 1893 with the appointment of Albert Michelson as head.  Michelson was considered the best American scientist of his time for his work in properties of light and optics.  He later won the Nobel Prize in 1907 for his contributions to physics, the first American recipient.   He appointed both Robert A. Millikan and Arthur H. Compton, both of whom eventually won the Nobel Prize for their work. Millikan’s greatest achievement was his oil drop experiment which established the discrete value of the electric charge. He won the Nobel Prize for providing experimental proof, using the photo-electric effect, for the existence of the photon. Arthur Compton came to Chicago in 1923.  His discovery of the quantum nature of the scattering of X-rays by electrons helped establish the ideas of quantum mechanics. At the University, Compton's scientific interest shifted from precision X-ray measurements to cosmic rays.

Near the end of World War II, Enrico Fermi conducted the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at the University of Chicago, reestablishing the department as a leading center of theoretical physics.  Research Institutes were established after the war, including the Enrico Fermi Institute as an “Institute of Nuclear Studies” and The James Franck Institute, focusing on interdisciplinary research in the areas of physics, chemistry, material science and later biophysics.  Faculty appointments to the institute were made jointly with the physics department.

In the postwar period, University of Chicago physicists have contributed greatly to the fields of elementary particle physics, particle physics, condensed matter, biological and high energy physics, astrophysics and cosmology. The physics department, initially small, expanded greatly with the founding of the Research Institutes and the increased emphasis on interdisciplinary research in the sciences.  Presently, physics faculty conduct research in a number of buildings on campus.  They include the Gordon Center for Integrative Science, the High Energy Physics Building, and the Research Institutes including the NSF Material Research and Science Engineering Center and Argonne National Laboratory.

Broad subject areas emphasized or de-emphasized: Astrophysics and Cosmology:

Both theoretical and experimental astrophysics are included.

 Particular areas of emphasis in theoretical physics include: big bang modeling, cosmological phase transitions, inflationary cosmology, cosmic microwave background radiation, dark matter, the formation of the universe, cosmological constants and dark energy, string cosmology, solar and stellar astrophysics, astrophysical fluid dynamics.

Particular areas of emphasis for experimental physics include: studies of the cosmic microwave background radiation spectrum and anisotropy with ground and space-based detectors, polarization in cosmic background radiation, Sunyaev-Zelodovich effect for clusters of galaxies, intergalactic radiation fields, high energy gamma ray astrophysics, and giant air shower arrays.

Atomic Physics: The emphasis of the collection is primarily in experimental atomic physics.  Areas of emphasis include quantum gases, laser cooling, Many-body physics at ultralow temperatures, ultracold molecules in Bose gases, Cooper pairing in Fermi gases, quantum manipulations of ultracold atoms in optical lattices, time reversal symmetry, atom trap trace analysis for dated cosmogenic isotopes.

Beam Physics: The emphasis of the collection is primarily in applied beam physics.  Areas of emphasis include: particle and photo beam interactions including high brightness electron beams for linear colliders and free electron lasers, beam dynamics in ionization cooling for Muon colliders and neutrino factories, novel accelerators and radiation devices. 

Biological Physics: The emphasis of the collection is primarily in experimental biological physics.  Areas of emphasis include: cellular processes, polymer networks, gene expression, cell motion, computational biology, time-resolved fluorescence, confocal microscopy, protein engineering, signal transduction, stochastic and self-assembly processes, optical and holographic traps and single-molecule biophysics.

Chemical Physics: Chemotaxis, synchrotron-based x-ray scattering, Bose-Einstein condensates, fluid dynamics.

Condensed Matter Physics: Both theoretical and experimental condensed matter physics are included. 

Particular areas of emphasis in theoretical condensed matter physics include:  macroscopic dynamics of materials, interfacial singularities, and non-linear processes.  stochastic behavior in dynamical systems, self-organization in polymers, colloids and cells. Physics of magnetic and superconducting material, physics of low dimensions, Fermi and non-Fermi liquid states in many body systems, High temperature superconductivity, quantum phase transitions, phase ordering kinetics, Non-perturbative phenomena in electronic systems, correlated electronic systems, magnetism, states of granular material, glass-forming liquids, magnetic flux lattices, integrable models of statistical mechanics, quantum field theory.

Particular areas of emphasis in experimental condensed matter physics include:  optical and electronic transport in nanocrystals and arrays, the quantum Hall effects and other effects at ultra-low temperatures, vortex tunneling, metal insulator transitions, magnetic quantum critical points, symmetry-breaking and fluctuations in superconductors, nonlinear dynamics and flow properties of granular materials,  scaling behavior of liquid flow,  mathematical analysis and computer simulation of singularity formation,  supercooled liquids and glasses,  kinetics and dynamics of colloidal suspensions, holographic traps, cell regulation, self assembly and morphology of ultrathin polymer films.

Elementary Particle Physics: Both theoretical and experimental elementary particle physics are included.  

Particular areas of emphasis in theoretical elementary particle physics include: field theory, string theory, gauge theory, solitons and topological structures, low-energy supersymmetry, CP violation, heavy quark physics, confinement in QCD, quantum theory of black holes, extra dimensions, fermion mass hierarchy, integrable systems, D-branes, non-commutative geometry, large extra dimensions, the AdS/CFT correspondence, inflationary cosmology, the cosmological constant problem, CP violation, B physics, baryogenesis, and supersymmetric model building.

Particular areas of emphasis in experimental elementary particle physics include: properties of the top quark, supersymmetric particles, W and Z Decay, Pbar-P interactions and center-of-mass energies, K Decays, hyperon rare decays, electroweak interactions at LEP and Mw, new physics including Higgs Boson and supersymmetry, high energy pp interactions, Muon colliders and neutrino factories.

General Relativity: The emphasis of the collection is primarily theoretical.  Particular areas of emphasis include: black holes, asymptotic structures, mathematical foundations of general relativity, quantum gravitation, quantum field theory, lower dimensional gravity, alternative theories.

High Energy Physics: The emphasis of the collection is primarily experimental high energy physics:  Particular areas of emphasis include: proton-proton collisions, supersymmetric states, high energy particle collisions, identities and properties of particles, neutrino mixing matrix, CP violations in neutrino oscillations, K-long particle decays, accelerator design, beam dynamics, high-brightness sources, beamline instrumentation, detector optimization, calorimetry prototypes, physics and detectors,  micro-channel plates (MCP-PMTs).

Ion and Electron Microscopy: The emphasis of the collection is primarily applied physics.  Particular areas of emphasis include: high resolution scanning ion and electron microprobes, imaging microanalysis, ion mass spectrometry, application of imaging microanalysis to ceramics, visualizations of dynamic processes and biological matter.

Nuclear Physics: Nuclear many-body system, nuclear structure and interactions, nuclear reactions in astrophysics, nuclear matter, nucleosynthesis, low energy interactions and symmetries, cooling and trapping of rare isotopes, non-nucleonic degrees of freedom in nuclei and quark description phenomena.


Description of academic program:

Undergraduate education at the University of Chicago is organized by The College. Physics course requirements for a B.A. degree can be completed in three years, although students are encouraged to take physics courses starting in their first year.  The program of study includes a strong emphasis on experimental and theoretical physics and requirements include courses in quantum physics, quantum mechanics, experimental physics, statistical and thermal physics.   A physics degree with a specialization in astrophysics is also offered.  Although the Physics Department doesn't offer a terminal master's program, a student can specialize in physics in the master's program offered by the Physical Sciences Division. The University of Chicago Physics Department offers the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in a number of areas of experimental and theoretical physics. Entering students typically have undergraduate degrees in physics or related fields.  Ph.D. requires candidacy exam, includes a few recommended core courses and demonstrated competency in experimental physics.



Physics collections are managed primarily to meet the needs of current University of Chicago faculty, staff and students.  Collections support undergraduate and graduate instruction, graduate research through the Ph.D. level, and faculty research.  Faculty and students in the Department of Physics, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the James Franck Institute are the primary users of the collection, but faculty and students from other departments in the Physical Sciences Division and the Biological Sciences Division rely on the collection for support of their research and teaching, particularly in areas of interdisciplinary interest.  Other more occasional users of the collection include unaffiliated or independent researchers, Crerar Corporate members, researchers from affiliated laboratories and institutes (e.g., Argonne National Laboratory), as well as University faculty, staff and students from departments outside of the Biological Sciences Division and Physical Sciences Division.

Collecting guidelines

Levels of selection: (comprehensive, research, instructional support, basic information; for a description of these levels, see the general policy statement.)

Collection is done at a research level for the following areas (see broad subject areas emphasized above):

Astrophysics and Cosmology, Atomic Physics, Beam Physics, Biological Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Elementary particle physics, General Relativity, Ion and Electron Microscopy, Nuclear Physics.

Collecting is also done to support the teaching and learning needs for college and graduate students of physics and includes introductions to major areas of study in physics, biographical and historical overviews of physics (20th and 21st century) and material related to physics.

Type of materials included & excluded:  Very few types of materials are excluded altogether, although undergraduate textbooks and textbook problem solutions manuals are collected very selectively.  Purchases of textbooks and solutions manuals are usually those used in particular courses currently taught at the University.  Anthologies of previously published materials are generally not collected, unless the collection contains a reasonable quantity of previously unpublished material, or extensive editorial additions, such as annotations, essays, comprehensive bibliographic compilations, or significant prefatory material.  Conference proceedings, particularly those that are not part of established monographic series are collected selectively, often at the request of a University researcher.  Professional handbooks, laboratory manuals, and popular works in physics are generally not collected or collected very selectively. 

Physical formats included & excluded: No formats are entirely excluded, although some formats present significant access and preservation challenges and are avoided when possible.  Web access is strongly preferred over physical electronic media (e.g., CD-ROMs).  Video and audio formats are acquired very selectively, with preference given to the most current accessible technology available (e.g., currently DVD preferred to VHS formats).  Microform formats are assessed for readability issues prior to selection, particularly in the case where original print works contained color or grayscale images, or dense mathematical formulae, which do not reproduce well in microform.  For journals and reference works, web-based electronic format is preferred over print formats.  Except in extremely rare cases, a new journal title will be selected in electronic format without any print equivalent.  For more peripheral subject areas, such as many areas of applied physics, journals available as electronic resources with current issues embargoes (up to one year) or selected as print-only subscriptions may be acceptable.  Journals in subject areas where no current research or teaching is taking place are lowest priority, and access through interlibrary loan services is acceptable for these peripheral materials.  Indexing and abstracting resources, reference works, and physical data resources online are almost exclusively preferred over print versions, due to the enhanced functionality and usability.  Monographs may be selected in either print or electronic format.  Criteria for format selection for monographs are fully searchable text, availability on established platform already in use by University of Chicago users (e.g., ScienceDirect), persistent URLs and/or availability of MARC records for access and discovery, options for purchase and lease of monograph titles, and one-time purchase option.

Publication dates collected:   There is a heavy emphasis on acquisition of most recent editions and materials.  With few exceptions, only the most recent edition of physics monographs will be selected.  For periodicals, current access to most recent issues/articles of core pure physics research journals is the highest priority.   Retrospective purchasing is done if funding allows, with acquisition of content backfiles for physics journals being a priority.  Retrospective purchasing of physics monograph titles is very selective, and generally is the responsibility of the selector for history of science (see History of Science, Medicine and Technology collection policy statement).

Languages: Current materials are primarily in English, widely accepted as the lingua franca of physics, and English translations of works are always preferred.  Exceptions are rare; titles are only very selectively acquired in non-English languages when unavailable in English and essential to the scope of the collection.

Geographical range:   Geographical regions are neither specifically included nor excluded, since very few works in physics include aspects of specific geographical importance.

Chronological span:   Chronological periods are not usually aspects of physics works, and so are not systematically considered.  History of physics, which does include reference to chronological periods, is covered in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine collection policy statement.

Related University of Chicago collections: Astronomy, Chemistry, Biological and Medical Sciences, History of Science, Technology and Medicine (Crerar), Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (Eckhart and Crerar Libraries)

Cooperative arrangements and related collections

Argonne National Laboratory


Committee on Institutional Cooperation

Research Libraries Group

Northwestern University

University of Illinois at Chicago

Contact Information

Jennifer Hart
Librarian for Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science and Physics
Crerar Library Room 130
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