The beginning of physics at Iowa State Normal School (ISNS), predecessor of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), was marked by the appointment in 1899 of a physicist, Louis Begeman. 

In 1908 the Board of Trustees created the new rank of Department Head and established 13 departments, with Louis Begeman named as Head of the Physics Department. At a faculty meeting in 1908 Begeman made the motion that the name of the school be changed to Iowa State Teachers College (ISTC) and in 1909 that became the legal name.

The limited mission of preparing teachers became broadened in 1961 along with the name change to State College of Iowa and the offering of bachelor degrees in liberal arts (i.e. non-teaching.) With the expanded mission and increased emphasis on graduate programs to upgrade high school teachers, rapid growth of the physics faculty occurred in the 1960's.

After 1968, with the introduction of higher level undergraduate theoretical and experimental courses, several tracks were developed to accommodate a variety of student interests and abilities. They evolved into four undergraduate degree programs: B.A., Physics; B.A., Physics Teaching; B.S., Physics (including a required research project;) and B.S., Applied Physics (including an internship).

Throughout its years, the Department of Physics has continued its tradition of excellence in teaching and research, offering superb instruction and research opportunities to students.

A complete history of the Physics Department and building may be found on the Rod Library Special Collections.