Karen A. Topp

Affiliation: Physics and Astronomy
Senior Lecturer in Physics, on leave for the 2024 spring semester

My focus is teaching entry-level courses in the sciences that are as accessible, engaging, and un-intimidating as possible, while still providing solid grounding in physics concepts, mathematical reasoning, and problem solving. I am interested in developing and supporting programs which make the natural sciences more accessible for under-represented groups; as such, I co-directed from 2008 to 2012 the Bowdoin Science Experience, a pre-orientation program designed to help incoming 1st year students from under-represented groups who are interested in the sciences. 

I am also very interested in physics education, and encourage interested physics majors to consider careers as high school physics teachers.  Skilled and enthusiastic college graduates can make an enormous difference in young people's appreciation and ability in early science classes, and the United States has a severe, long-term shortage of qualified physics secondary school teachers. In light of this, I approached faculty in the Bowdoin Education department in 2014, and together we developed a Physics and Education Interdisciplinary major to encourage and support students interested in this path. It was proposed to the administration within a year, and approved by unanimous vote of the Bowdoin College faculty in December 2015.

Karen Topp headshot


  • BSc (Honors), Physics, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, 1989 Awarded Queen’s University Medal in Physics
  • PhD Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1996 Thesis title: “Effect of Random Strains on Tunneling States in Crystals”
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1997-2000 Interaction of ultrasound with biological tissue
  • Post-doctoral Research Associate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000-2001 Design and implementation of 2DLC data acquisition hardware and software