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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; 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.

Admission Requirements

  1. Completion of PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123 and either MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126 or MATH 134, MATH 135.
  2. Enrollment in minimum one physics lecture course with course number higher than 220 during the application quarter. Completion of minimum one physics lecture course (any course number, either at UW or elsewhere) within the two quarters prior to application.
  3. Standard admission is twice a year. Application deadlines: third Friday of autumn quarter and third Friday of spring quarter.
  4. Winter quarter transfer admission: Students transferring to the UW in autumn or winter quarter may also apply the third Friday of winter quarter.

  5. Meeting minimum requirements does not guarantee admission. Admission is capacity constrained, based on holistic review of a student's record as follows:
    1. Personal statement which should discuss reasons for choosing a physics major and strategies for success in the major, including discussion of lessons learned from previous successes and difficulties and plans for accessing support in the major. The statement should also address how the chosen degree option (applied, comprehensive, biophysics, teaching) and submitted graduation plan (see 4.c.) are suited to life and career goals. In cases of extenuating circumstances, a personal statement may also include a petition for waiver of one of the stated minimum requirements.
    2. Academic performance as measured by GPA; grades in courses required for admission; difficulty of other courses completed; frequency of incompletes, repeated courses, and withdrawals; relevant work and life experience.
    3. Graduation plan completed in MyPlan and printed to a pdf file, submitted with the application. Preapproval of graduation plan by Physics Student Services is recommended; incoming majors must have their Graduation Plan approved no later than six weeks after acceptance into the major to avoid having a hold placed on registration.

See department website for a description of degree requirements for the four physics degree options, sample graduation plans, and suggestions of topics to include in a personal statement. Successful applicants typically have over a minimum 2.60 cumulative GPA in physics and math courses, especially those taken recently.

Major Requirements

Minimum 89-106 credits, including the following:

  1. Physics core courses (37 credits): PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123, PHYS 224, PHYS 225, 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 (34-56 credits): any course used to satisfy departmental degree requirements can by used only once in any option listed below.
    1. Comprehensive Physics Option (38-43 credits):
      1. 20-22 credits from PHYS 226; PHYS 228; PHYS 324; minimum three courses from PHYS 323, PHYS 325, PHYS 328, PHYS 329, ASTR 321, or ASTR 322
      2. 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
      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 laboratory or research).
    2. Applied Physics Option (34-39 credits):
      1. PHYS 231; one course from PHYS 226, PHYS 323, PHYS 324, PHYS 329; and AMATH 301 (10-11 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 laboratory or research).
    3. Biophysics Option (51-56 credits):
      1. PHYS 228, PHYS 324, PHYS 328, PHYS 429; one course from PHYS 226, PHYS 323, PHYS 325, PHYS 329 (17-18 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 (38-42 credits):
      1. 14-15 credits from PHYS 226, 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 (in addition to 15 credits of MATH 124, MATH 125, and MATH 126) 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 80-100 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: Select scholarships available every spring upon nomination by an instructor.
  • 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 offers studies leading to the degrees of master of science and doctor of philosophy. The department awards an average of twenty PhD and thirty MS degrees annually.

Research Facilities

Areas of research include atomic physics, astrophysics, condensed-matter physics, biological physics, elementary-particle physics, nuclear physics, and physics education. Students may also do research in physics with appropriate faculty in other departments such as Aeronautics and Astronautics, Applied Mathematics, Astronomy, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, or Physiology and Biophysics.

Experimental and theoretical research in atomic, biological, statistical, and condensed-matter physics is concentrated on nano-scale systems, topological phenomena, quantum matter, and fundamental symmetries. On-campus laboratories include laser, ion trap, and radio frequency techniques, low-temperature, scanning-probe microscopy, x-ray and light scattering, and surface-physics equipment. Off-campus facilities include synchrotron x-ray radiation and neutron sources in the United States and abroad. Research in the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA) is concentrated on the measurement of fundamental physical properties, including experiments on neutrinos, axions, muons, light nuclei, and gravity. Facilities include the on-campus accelerator of CENPA, as well as major facilities in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

High-energy and particle astrophysics groups are engaged in quantum field theory, phenomenology, cosmology, and in experimental research at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Fermilab in Illinois, and LIGO.

The Institute for Nuclear Theory, a national facility closely associated with the department, offers a unique opportunity for students to pursue research.

Department facilities are housed in the Physics-Astronomy Building and the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA).

Master of Science (Applications of Physics)

Admission Requirements

Designed for students 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 should have a BS degree in physical science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science. The program is part time and does not support student (F) visa applications. Classes are offered evenings; some classes may be attended online.

Degree Requirements

36 credits

  1. Core courses: PHYS 441, PHYS 541, and PHYS 543, and appropriate electives.
  2. Independent-study project, which may be carried out at the University or at the student's place of employment. A written report, as well as an oral presentation, is required.
  3. PHYS 600 (at least 3 credits) taken while completing the project noted in 2, above.
  4. 36 credits at the 400 level or above, with at least 18 credits at the 500 level or above. At least 18 credits must be from numerically graded courses. No thesis required.

Master of Science, Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

  1. Undergraduate preparation to 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 to include vector analysis, complex variables, ordinary differential equations, Fourier analysis, boundary-value problems, and special functions.
  2. Admission determined by the applicant's undergraduate program, undergraduate grades, GRE aptitude and advanced physics scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of educational and professional objectives.

Master of Science

Degree Requirements

36 credits

  1. Minimum 3 credits of PHYS 600
  2. 36 credits of work at the 400 level or above, with at least 18 credits at the 500 level or above. At least 18 credits from numerically graded courses. A qualifying examination is required. No thesis is required.

Doctor of Philosophy

Minimum 90 credits

Degree Requirements

  1. Master's degree, with a background in physics equivalent to that contained in the following courses: PHYS 505, PHYS 513, PHYS 514, PHYS 515, PHYS 517, PHYS 518, PHYS 519, PHYS 520, PHYS 525, and PHYS 528
  2. Specialized courses appropriate to each student's interests; and two advanced elective Physics Department courses outside the student's area of research.
  3. Written qualifying examination (typically completed before or during the second year), oral general examination for admission to candidacy, and oral final examination.
  4. Teaching experience. 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.