MSU Nuclear Physics Graduate Program Ranked No. 1

Reprinted from the Lansing State Journal

April 16, 2010

EAST LANSING – For a university like Michigan State, small shifts in academic rankings don’t necessarily mean much. Until, of course, they do.

This year, MSU’s graduate program in nuclear physics nabbed the No. 1 spot in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, pulling ahead of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after years in the No. 2 slot.

In the past, when rankings have come up, MSU’s Vice President for University Relations Terry Denbow will often say something about how the league MSU finds itself in is more important than a small rise or fall.

To credit his consistency, he said the same this year. And then he added that, where people once might have thought of MSU being in MIT’s league, “maybe now MIT is in our league.”

“I’ll be honest with you,” Denbow said. “I plan to use, ‘We are No. 1 in graduate nuclear physics’ a lot.’ ”

Wolfgang Bauer, chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, admitted that “it’s easy to gloat.”

But he added that one shouldn’t overestimate the importance of the rankings, which are based solely on rankings by academic experts. Bauer was one of those experts this year, though “you don’t rank yourself.”

“It’s a perception of how a program is ranked in the community,” he said. “In a certain way, this is important, because if other faculty at other institutions say Michigan State is ranked No. 1, they will recommend to their best undergraduates, ‘Go to the No. 1 school,’ and that No. 1 school is not MIT anymore.”

And, as perceptions go, MSU’s success in securing the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a $550-million Department of Energy-funded research facility slated to go online in 2017, certainly didn’t hurt, he said.

“The biggest thing in nuclear physics to happen in the last five to 10 years was clearly the decision to site FRIB on MSU’s campus,” Bauer said. “For sure, that had an influence on these rankings.”