Derek Thuecks

  • Associate Professor of Physics; Chair of the Physics Department

Portrait photo of Derek Thuecks

Derek Thuecks


Office Hours

By appointment

  • Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2009
  • B.A., Lawrence University, 2002

Prof. Thuecks is an experimental physicist who works with plasmas in a laboratory he is developing here at Washington College. Plasmas are essentially super-heated gases that have been given so much energy that the neutral gas particles are broken apart into negatively-charged electrons and positively-charged ions. While plasmas retain some properties of neutral gases, the presence of these charged particles result in more complex behaviors than are observed in standard fluids.

Over 99% of the visible matter in the universe is in the plasma state: stars, stellar winds (like our sun’s solar wind), nebulae, and the interstellar medium, among others. As a result, a true understanding of the universe requires an understanding of the plasma state. Naturally-occurring plasmas can also be found here on Earth in the form of lightning, fire, and the aurora.

There are many applications in which artificially-generated plasmas are important. These include fluorescent lights, televisions, arc welding, semiconductor chip manufacturing, and soon even dentistry! Perhaps the most important future application of plasmas is their use in energy production using controlled nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is a significantly different process from nuclear fission, which is used in current nuclear power plants. When achieved, fusion will represent a safe and clean energy source using fuel that is virtually inexhaustible.

Courses Taught
  • First Year Seminar: Boon or Boom? Nuclear Technology and Society
  • Physics 101: College Physics I + Lab
  • Physics 102: College Physics II + Lab
  • Physics 111: General Physics I + Lab
  • Physics 112: General Physics II + Lab
  • Physics 211: Modern Physics + Lab
  • Physics 252: Scientific Modeling and Data Analysis
  • Physics 322: Quantum Mechanics
  • Physics 323: Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics
  • Physics 324: Electricity and Magnetism
  • Physics 352: Electronics + Lab
  • Physics 451: Advanced Physics Laboratory
  • Physics 494: Special Topics - Advanced Computational Physics
  • Physics Seminar