Karen A. Topp

Affiliation: Physics and Astronomy
Senior Lecturer in Physics

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 have worked to establish and support programs which make the natural sciences more accessible for under-represented groups and I have collaborated with colleagues across the curriculum to implement more access points for introductory science courses. As a trained amateur musician I developed a course that combines my love of physics and music (Physics 1082 “The Physics of Musical Sound) which is aimed at students who are curious to understand how music “works” but are cautious about math and science.

I am very interested in physics education at all levels, 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, the Bowdoin Education department and I together developed a Physics and Education Interdisciplinary major to encourage and support students interested in this path.

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