Any concerns that Wichita State University would drop its physics undergraduate degree program have been squashed.
WSU announced Tuesday that it would keep the degree but would merge the physics department with the department of mathematics and statistics. The merger won't be completed until July 1, 2011.
Nick Solomey, head of WSU's physics department, called the move a "great success."
"The industry of Wichita needs a physics degree," he said. "Physics majors are in high demand."
He said Boeing has given the physics department four scholarships for students.
The merger must be approved by the Kansas Board of Regents Chief Academic Officers.
WSU began discussing eliminating physics as a department and as a degree last spring. Officials cited the lack of physics majors and graduates as the reason.
Five students received physics degrees in May, and two more graduated this summer, Solomey said.
Gary Miller, WSU's provost and vice president for academic affairs and research, said there was never an intention to get rid of physics.
"We just needed to reshape it to fit our mission," he said.
The move won't result in a lot of financial savings, Miller said, because no faculty positions will be eliminated.
"The goal is to get more students interested in physics, engineering physics or physics as it relates to math or health professions," he said. "So it's more of an upside thing than a savings."
There are currently seven professors in physics and 33 in mathematics, Solomey said.
Before coming to WSU three years ago, Solomey was a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where physics, chemistry and biology were combined into one department with about 100 professors.
"It worked well there," he said, "and I've seen it work well at other schools that have combined programs. This will make for a large department, but it can be done."
Solomey said the merger will also allow WSU to get research done because the mathematics department has a doctoral program in applied math. That's close enough to a graduate degree in physics to please Solomey.
"What is applied math? It's physics," he said. "We might change the title, or we might not."
Miller said WSU hadn't discussed a physics graduate program. But he said the merger puts the physics program in the "proximity of a closely related graduate program, which we judged would be an advantage."
Any idea of adding an actual physics graduate program "is way down the road," Miller said.
WSU dropped its graduate degree programs in physics in 2001.
Solomey said the move was made to cut costs, but it ended up costing the school $800,000 yearly in research grants.
He saw the merger as an opportunity to bring back some of that research money.
"It would fulfill a gap that's needed if we try to bring in some of the big research projects," Solomey said.