The Physics Department saw more growth in the last hiring cycle than any other department in Yale College, after five professors accepted offers to join its faculty last year.

The new professors — four of whom were rewarded tenure — will expand the department’s course offerings for advanced undergraduates and graduate students in fields on the “cutting edge” of physics research, department chair Ramamurti Shankar said. The new hires include the fourth female professor in the more than 40-member department as well as the first African-American to be tenured in physics at the University.

Shankar said the number of hires was unexpected, but search committees in the department encountered a surprising number of exceptional candidates. For example, when the search committee for a professor in particle physics identified both Leonid Glazman and Karyn Le Hur as possible candidates, Shankar said, the professors were unable to choose between them but eventually found resources to hire both.

“Five people in a year is unusual, but we just couldn’t miss this opportunity,” Shankar said.

Glazman and Le Hur both conduct research in the field of condensed matter theory, and Steven Lamoreaux is an “experimentalist” who conducts research on elementary particles. Keith Baker and Paul Tipton work on experiments at the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, also called CERN, which is the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.

Baker, Le Hur, Lamoreaux and Tipton have already arrived in New Haven, but Glazman will not join the department until next July.

Some of the resources used for the hires were designated for “target of opportunity” hires of qualified candidates who are women or underrepresented minorities. Funding for these hires, which is allocated by the Provost’s Office, was a major component of the faculty diversity initiative launched last year.

Shankar said he expects the new hires to help attract more female and minority students to the physics major and the graduate school. Last year, 26 percent of physics majors were female.

“We know from the women we have hired and the e-mails I get from students that it makes a huge difference,” Shankar said. “Progress makes further progress easier.”

Le Hur, who studied in Europe and then taught in Canada, said she came to Yale for a “new challenge in life.” She gave up a tenured position at the Universite de Sherbrooke in Canada to become an associate professor at Yale, where she will continue her research on condensed matter theory.

“I have chosen Yale for several reasons, but the main ones are the quality of the university, the support for women at the professor level, [the] quality of the physics department and especially of my condensed-matter colleagues,” Le Hur wrote in an e-mail.

Tipton said the decision to come to Yale was a complicated one for him and his family, but the Yale and New Haven community was enticing.

Physics major Andy Gisler ’08 said he thinks the new professors are a sign of the increasing prioritization of science on campus, a major University initiative in recent years.

“I think its good that the University is showing a commitment to the sciences, as shown by their increased building in the engineering department and also this,” Gisler said.

The physics department had the most hires of any single department this year. The political science, philosophy, mathematics and anthropology departments all followed closely behind, with a total of four hires each.