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Physics

Department Overview

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.

Undergraduate Program

Adviser
C139A Physics-Astronomy, Box 351560
(206) 543-2772

The Department of Physics offers the following programs of study:

  • The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in physics
  • A minor in physics

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.

Major Requirements

Minimum 89-106 credits, including the following:

  1. Physics core courses (40 credits): PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123, PHYS 224, PHYS 225, PHYS 226, PHYS 227, PHYS 294, PHYS 321, PHYS 322, PHYS 334
  2. Mathematics core courses (18-19 credits from one of the following options):
    1. MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126, and one course from MATH 307/AMATH 351, MATH 308/AMATH 352, MATH 309/AMATH 353, MATH 324, MATH 326, or AMATH 401
    2. MATH 134, MATH 135, MATH 136 and one course from MATH 309/AMATH 353, MATH 324, MATH 326, or AMATH 401
  3. One of the four options shown below (31-48 credits):
    1. Comprehensive Physics Option (35-38 credits):
      1. 17 credits from PHYS 228; PHYS 324; minimum three courses from PHYS 323, PHYS 325, PHYS 328, PHYS 329, ASTR 321, or ASTR 322
      2. One additional math course from the core list (3-4 credits): MATH 307/AMATH 351, MATH 308/AMATH 352, MATH 309/AMATH 353, MATH 324, MATH 326, or AMATH 401
      3. Advanced laboratory (6-8 credits): Two courses from PHYS 331, PHYS 335, PHYS 431, PHYS 432, PHYS 433, PHYS 434, and either ASTR 480 or ASTR 481
      4. Upper division lecture electives (6 credits): See adviser for approved list of electives.
      5. Undergraduate research: 3 credits from any combination of PHYS 485, PHYS 486, PHYS 487, PHYS 494, PHYS 495, PHYS 496, PHYS 499, ASTR 481 or ASTR 499. (ASTR 481 may count as lab or research).
    2. Applied Physics Option (31-35 credits):
      1. PHYS 231 and AMATH 301 (7 credits)
      2. Two additional mathematical courses (6-8 credits) from PHYS 228, MATH 307/AMATH 351, MATH 308/AMATH 352, MATH 309/AMATH 353, MATH 324, MATH 326, or AMATH 401
      3. Advanced laboratory (6-8 credits): Two courses from PHYS 331, PHYS 335, PHYS 431, PHYS 432, PHYS 433, PHYS 434, and either ASTR 480 or ASTR 481
      4. Electives (9 credits): See adviser for approved list of electives.
      5. Undergraduate research: 3 credits from any combination of PHYS 485, PHYS 486, PHYS 487, PHYS 494, PHYS 495, PHYS 496, PHYS 499, ASTR 481 or ASTR 499. (ASTR 481 may count as lab or research).
    3. Biophysics Option (48-52 credits):
      1. PHYS 228, PHYS 324, PHYS 328, PHYS 429 (14 credits)
      2. Chemistry (15 credits): CHEM 142, CHEM 144, or CHEM 145; CHEM 152, CHEM 154, or CHEM 155; and CHEM 162, CHEM 164, or CHEM 165
      3. Biology (10 credits): BIOL 180 and BIOL 200
      4. Additional chemistry and biology (6-10 credits): Two courses from CHEM 223 or CHEM 237, CHEM 224 or CHEM 238, CHEM 428, CHEM 452 or CHEM 456, CHEM 453 or CHEM 457, BIOL 220, BIOL 340, BIOL 350, BIOL 355, BIOL 401, BIOL 427, BIOL 467, BIOC 405, or BIOC 440
      5. Undergraduate research: 3 credits from any combination of PHYS 499, BIOC 499, BIOL 499, CHEM 499, GENOME 499, MICROM 499, N BIO 499, P BIO 499, or BIOEN 499
    4. Teacher Preparation Option (35-38 credits):
      1. 11 credits from PHYS 228; PHYS 324; one course from PHYS 323, PHYS 328, PHYS 329
      2. Physics by inquiry (15 credits): PHYS 407, PHYS 408, and PHYS 409
      3. One additional mathematics course from the core list (3-4 credits): MATH 307/AMATH 351, MATH 308/AMATH 352, MATH 309/AMATH 353, MATH 324, MATH 326, or AMATH 401
      4. Advanced laboratory (3-5 credits): One course from PHYS 331, PHYS 335, PHYS 431, PHYS 432, PHYS 433, PHYS 434, and either ASTR 480 or ASTR 481
      5. Teaching practicum (3 credits): PHYS 499, working on a project that involves teaching

Continuation Policy

All students must make satisfactory academic progress in the major. Failure to do so results in probation, which can lead to dismissal from the major. For the complete continuation policy, contact the departmental adviser or refer to the department website.

Minor

Minor Requirements: 30-36 physics credits as follows:

  1. Core courses: PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123, PHYS 224, and PHYS 225
  2. One of the following options:
  1. Physics Education: PHYS 407, PHYS 408, PHYS 409 (total 36 physics credits)
  2. Experimental Physics: PHYS 231, PHYS 334, and one course from PHYS 331, PHYS 335, PHYS 431, PHYS 432, PHYS 433, or PHYS 434 (total 30 physics credits)
  3. Mathematical Physics: PHYS 227, PHYS 228 (MATH 308 required), and one course from PHYS 321 or PHYS 324 (MATH 324 required) (total 30 physics credits)
  1. Minimum grade of 2.0 required for each physics course counted toward the minor.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: The program is one of the largest in the nation, with approximately 60 majors graduating every year. Graduates may join the work force in a variety of technical occupations where analytical, computational, and problem-solving skills are highly valued, both in government and the private sector. They may also continue with further studies in physics or in other fields (such as astronomy, medicine, law, business, biology, or engineering).
  • Instructional and Research Facilities: The Physics and Astronomy Departments share a modern building which contains excellent instructional and research facilities. Undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to participate in ongoing research in the department.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors); With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: Most undergraduate physics majors participate in a research experience, either on campus or off. Research internships in physics and related departments are available for both pay and course credit. Many students participate in national programs, typically the summer after their junior year. The department also maintains an exchange program with Universitat Justus-Leibig in Geissen, Germany.
  • Department Scholarships: None available
  • Student Organizations/Associations: Society of Physics Students, www.uwsps.org; Career Development Organization for Physicists and Astronomers, students.washington.edu/cdophys/CAREER/

Of Special Note:

  • One year of high school physics is strongly recommended before taking PHYS 121.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
C139 B Physics-Astronomy, Box 351560
(206) 543-2488

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.

Research Facilities

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)

Admission Requirements

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.

Degree Requirements

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

Admission Requirements

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

Degree Requirements

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

Degree Requirements

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.

Financial Aid

Most graduate students are supported by fellowships and assistantships. Applications for the PhD program are automatically considered for these fellowships and assistantships.