C121 Physics-Astronomy Building
Physics is the study of the fundamental structure of matter and the interaction of its constituents, with the goal of providing a quantitative description of nature based on a limited number of physical principles.
The Department of Physics offers the following programs of study:
Bachelor of Science
Suggested First- and Second-Year College Courses: MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126 (or MATH 144, MATH 145, MATH 146); PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123, PHYS 224, PHYS 225, PHYS 227. (Note: MATH 134, MATH 135, and MATH 136 can be used in place of MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126, and MATH 308.)
These physics and mathematics courses are required prerequisites for junior-level work in physics, not only at the UW, but also at most colleges and universities in the United States. Students who do not complete them during the first two years in college either need to take more than four years to earn a degree or be limited to a minimal course of study for graduation in four years.
Department Admission Requirements
Students in good academic standing may declare the major at any time by visiting the department advising office to complete the necessary paperwork.
Minimum 89-106 credits, including the following:
In each academic year, every undergraduate physics major who either has completed the required 200-level courses in physics or has begun physics courses beyond the 200 level must (1) complete at least 15 credits of coursework acceptable in fulfillment of the departmental major requirements, exclusive of credits earned by repeating courses in which acceptable credit has been earned previously, or (2) satisfactorily complete an approved part-time program of study. Students who do not satisfy the above requirement are dropped as physics majors unless exempted explicitly by the Physics Undergraduate Majors Committee. Students dropped for this reason may petition the committee for readmission to the major.
Minor Requirements: 30-36 physics credits as follows:
Student Outcomes and Opportunities
Of Special Note:
Graduate Program Coordinator
The Department of Physics offers studies leading to the degrees of Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy. The department has a permanent faculty of 46 members, about 14 research faculty, and about 56 adjunct, affiliate, and emeritus faculty. An average of twenty PhD and thirty MS degrees in physics have been awarded annually in recent years.
The department is well equipped, both in staff and facilities, for instruction and research in a discipline that emphasizes fundamental problems in the understanding of the physical universe. Areas of research available to the PhD student within the department include atomic physics, astrophysics, condensed-matter physics, elementary-particle physics, nuclear physics, and physics education. In addition, students may do research in physics with adjunct faculty members whose primary appointment is in another department such as Aeronautics and Astronautics, Astronomy, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Materials Science and Engineering, or Physiology and Biophysics.
Experimental work in atomic physics is concentrated on the measurement of fundamental physical properties through laser, ion trap, and radiofrequency techniques. The emphasis on fundamental measurements is continued in experiments on the gravitational force, carried out by faculty and students in atomic physics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics. Condensed-matter experiment includes research on surfaces, interfaces, nanotubes, lower-dimensional and bulk matter, with materials as diverse as high-temperature superconductors and low-temperature hydrogen monolayers. Facilities used range from synchrotron radiation and neutron sources in the United States and abroad to on-campus laboratories with low-temperature, high-pressure, scanning-probe microscopy, x-ray and light scattering, and surface-physics equipment.
Members of the high-energy and particle astrophysics experimental groups are heavily engaged in experiments at the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Kamiokande, KEK in Japan, and Fermilab in Illinois. Faculty and students of the nuclear physics group are involved in a broad spectrum of research including studies of neutrino properties, relativistic heavy ions, fundamental symmetries and nuclear astrophysics. Researchers use the on-campus accelerators of the Center for Experimental Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA), as well as major facilities in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Theorists in the department are concerned with problems in the theories of elementary particles and quantum fields, string theory, nuclear and high-energy reactions from the very lowest to the very highest energies, phase transitions and statistical mechanics, condensed-matter physics from localization in disordered systems to electron transport in mesoscopic systems, atomic physics, general relativity, and astrophysics. The Institute for Nuclear Theory, a national facility closely associated with the department, offers a unique opportunity for students to pursue research with distinguished permanent and visiting staff. Students in physics have the opportunity to obtain a physics degree in a number of interdisciplinary and applied physics areas through research with faculty members in other departments.
Department facilities are housed in the Physics-Astronomy Building and the Center for Experimental Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA).
Master of Science (Applications of Physics)
This option is designed for students who are currently employed and whose background is in physical science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science. Admission is based on course grades in physics and related fields, adequacy of preparation in physics, and interest in areas of instruction offered in the physics department. Entering students are expected to have an undergraduate background equivalent to a BS degree in physical science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science. This program is part time, with classes offered evenings.
As part of the standard Graduate School requirements, students are expected to complete the sequence of core courses PHYS 441, PHYS 541, and PHYS 543, and to select appropriate elective courses. In addition, students must complete an independent-study project in consultation with a faculty member. This project may be carried out at the University or at the student's place of employment. A written report as well as an oral presentation of the project are required. Students must take at least 3 credits of PHYS 600 while completing the project, and must complete a total of 36 credits of work at the 400 level or above, with at least 18 of those credits at the 500 level or above. Of the 36 credits, at least 18 credits must be from numerically graded courses. No thesis is required.
Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy
Undergraduate preparation should include upper-division courses in mechanics; electricity and magnetism; statistical physics and thermodynamics; modern physics, including an introduction to quantum mechanics; and advanced laboratory work. Preparation in mathematics should include vector analysis, complex variables, ordinary differential equations, Fourier analysis, boundary-value problems, and special functions. Admission is determined by the applicant's undergraduate program, undergraduate grades, Graduate Record Examination aptitude and advanced physics scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of educational and professional objectives.
Master of Science
Students must take at least 3 credits of PHYS 600 while completing the project, and must complete a total of 36 credits of work at the 400 level or above, with at least 18 of those credits at the 500 level or above. Of the 36 credits, at least 18 credits must be from numerically graded courses. A qualifying examination is required. No thesis is required.
Doctor of Philosophy
The student is expected to obtain here, or elsewhere with a master's degree, a background in physics equivalent to that contained in the following basic graduate courses: PHYS 505, PHYS 506, PHYS 511, PHYS 513, PHYS 514, PHYS 515, PHYS 517, PHYS 518, PHYS 519, PHYS 520, and PHYS 524; specialized courses appropriate to each student's interests; and two advanced elective courses outside the student's area of research. The student is required to pass, successively, a written qualifying examination (typically at the beginning of the second year), an oral general examination for admission to candidacy, and an oral final examination. In order to take the general examination, the student must have been accepted by a graduate faculty member as a research student and have completed the graduate studies outlined above. This examination concentrates on the area in which the dissertation research is planned. Teaching experience is required of all candidates. Courses in teaching techniques in physics, PHYS 501 through PHYS 503, are required of students holding teaching assistantships.
Most graduate students are supported by fellowships and assistantships. Applications for the PhD program are automatically considered for these fellowships and assistantships.