Dec 07, 2022  
2021-2022 General Catalog 

Department of Physical Sciences

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Mackay Steffensen – SC 309B – (435) 865-8091
Faculty IconFaculty & Staff
Admin Assistant IconAdministrative Assistant
Rhonda Riley – SC 309 – (435) 586-7900
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Overview of Programs

The Department of Physical Sciences at Southern Utah University offers undergraduate programs in chemistry, geosciences, geographic information systems, and physics. Our dedicated and highly qualified faculty represent numerous disciplines, offering students expertise in the classroom, field, and a wide variety of undergraduate research opportunities. A low student to faculty ratio guarantees a close working relationship between students and their professors, especially in upper-division classes and research areas. Undergraduate research is stressed within the Department of Physical Sciences, offering our students a key element for admission to top graduate schools and professional programs.

Our laboratories are well-equipped, giving students exposure to modern instrumentation such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, IR spectroscopy, x-ray crystallography, x-ray diffraction, atomic absorption spectroscopy, polarized light microscopes, a variety of mass spectrometers linked to other instrumentation (ICP-MS, GC-MS, LC-MS), and gas chromatography, among other program specific instrumentation. The Department of Physical Sciences maintains a modern astronomical observatory and a cutting-edge GIS laboratory.

Our professional chemistry emphasis is certified by the American Chemical Society and our chemistry program routinely ranks above the 90th percentile of the nation according to the Educational Testing Services major field exam. Internationally relevant research opportunities within these programs are enhanced by state-of-the-art research facilities, a nationally certified environmental laboratory, and modern instrumentation available for student use.

Our geology, geosciences, geography, and geographic information systems programs take full advantage of the outstanding natural features that southern Utah provides. World-class undergraduate research opportunities within these programs are enhanced by the diverse geology of southern Utah, our partnership with Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and membership in the Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit.

Our physics program has a variety of offerings supplemented by a well-equipped and maintained laboratory and an astronomical observatory. Undergraduate research in the physics area takes full advantage of the modern equipment and campus supercomputing facilities.


The Department of Physical Sciences provides an environment that fosters academic excellence in the physical science disciplines of chemistry, geosciences, geographic information systems, and physics. We operate several special learning environments for students that include a nationally certified environmental water laboratory, a GIS lab, an astronomical observatory, the Edward & Shirley Stokes open chemistry lab, and a thin section preparation laboratory. We provide comprehensive classroom and experiential learning environments that accentuate critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and communication in the physical sciences. We also serve as the center of physical science knowledge and expertise for southern Utah.

Department/Program Learning Outcomes

The ultimate goal of the Department of Physical Sciences is to provide students with the tools to solve problems. Students should be able to define problems, develop hypotheses, execute experiments, analyze data, and draw conclusions. Undergraduate students who successfully complete physical science courses, appropriate required and elective courses outside of the department, and receive a B.S. or B.A. degree in a physical science area demonstrate that they:

  1. Understand and can utilize the scientific method.
  2. Have attained a firm foundation in the fundamentals and application of current scientific theories within their program area.
  3. Are able to carry out, record, and analyze the results of experiments within their program area.
  4. Are able to use available instrumentation and classical techniques to carry out experiments and to properly record the results of the experiment.
  5. Are able to identify and solve physical science problems.
  6. Are able to use available library searching and retrieval methods to obtain information about a topic, technique, or an issue relating to their program area.
  7. Are able to communicate the results of their work to other scientists and non-scientists.
  8. Are ready for the next level of education or employment.

Other Information

Graduate Program Opportunity

Master of Business Administration: An arrangement has been made with the School of Business so that it is possible for students to earn an M.B.A. while pursuing their degree in the Physical Sciences. Contact the Chair of the Department of Physical Science or the advisor in the Dixie L. Leavitt School of Business, Miranda Gubler, at 435-586-5462.

Minimum Grade

  • A grade of “C” (2.0 or above) must be earned in each course required for all majors and minors in the Department of Physical Sciences.
  • All pre-requisite courses must be passed with a minimum grade of “C” (2.0 or above).

Special Learning Environments

Southern Utah University Environmental Water Laboratory

The SUU Water Laboratory is a student-staffed laboratory accredited by the state of Utah under the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAB). Serving southern Utah since 1972, this laboratory provides SUU students with an interest in chemistry a hands-on, chemical laboratory experience. The laboratory also provides students with employment opportunities.

The SUU Water Laboratory serves the tri-state area (Arizona, Nevada and Utah) by providing a local source of chemical and bacteriological analysis of water and wastewater.

The Southern Utah University Ashcroft Observatory

The SUU Ashcroft Observatory offers college credit courses and weekly community astronomical viewing activities and is located near the SUU Valley Farm.

The Edward & Shirley Stokes Open Chemistry Lab

The Edward & Shirley Stokes Open Chemistry Lab is a setting for a diverse collection of research opportunities. This laboratory houses modern instruments and research facilities.


    Bachelor’s DegreeMinor