Rory Butler

Major: Physics

What made you decide to study physics? There are a few reasons. Our world faces immense and emerging challenges that we are only beginning to understand. Physics offers a powerful tool to understand these challenges and how best to respond to them. Research and development lead to action that can alleviate human suffering and make the world a better place for everyone. But it also offers a rich and vibrant way to see the world. Physics as both a perspective and a body of knowledge is a testament to our ingenuity and creativity as humans. Doing physics means participating in the creation of something bigger than myself, something that we’ve done for thousands of years as we try to understand this wacky world we live in.

Are you involved in any type of research at MU? I’m working with Professor Suchi Guha researching the electronic characteristics of semi-conductor materials. These materials have the potential to advance solar cell technology which could help phase out carbon intensive energy sources like fossil fuels.

What is/was your favorite physics course and why? Electricity and Magnetism was my favorite course because it was my first exposure to physics presented in a rigorous and general way. Previous physics and chemistry courses were important for laying the foundation, but the material was presented in a narrow form and could only be applied to special cases. Electrodynamics, especially, is a kind of paradigm for physicists because it is so successful and complete. Another reason I love E&M is that it paved the way for an entire revolution in physics and led to our understanding of light. Plus, it’s full pretty math and lots of interesting history.

What advice would you offer to current and/or future physics majors? Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with the material! It’s not said often enough, but physics is abstract, tough to understand, and was developed, reformulated, and re-expressed over the course of 100s of years before it took the form it’s in today. Understanding comes slowly over time, over years even! I can’t say too much because I’ve been studying physics for three years, and I’ve just scraped the surface!

What do you think is the social relevance of physics; why is it important that there are people with this expertise? Well, at this point, much of our technology and modern world relies on a rock-solid understanding of fundamental physics. But aside from the practical relevance, physics can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the world. It shows that as humans, we will never stop working to understand the world in varied ways. In this sense, physics is part of our collective search for meaning. It can help bring a community together and facilitate new perspectives and insights into the world just like art.

Favorite activities outside the lab/school? I love getting outside to go hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing! I can also pass a few hours playing with my cats, and I love to cook!


Rory Butler