The undergraduate degree in physics emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:
In addition, students completing the degree in physics are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:
Course code for this program is PHYS.
Three different plans are available to students in physics. Because there is some flexibility within each plan, the department encourages students to pursue their own interests in setting up their curriculum. The final responsibility for fulfilling the requirements for the degree rests with the student.
Students who have declared physics as a major are required to consult with the departmental advisor at least once per semester. Even if first-year students are only considering physics as a major, they are strongly encouraged to visit the departmental advisor and discuss the situation. Because most of the advanced physics courses have various prerequisites, failure to settle on an appropriate plan of study early in the college career can result in delay and complications later.
Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below.
Primarily for those planning graduate work in physics, this plan includes 45 credit hours of physics courses.
Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours
For students desiring either an interdisciplinary or an applied physics program. The interdisciplinary program includes astrophysics, atmospheric physics, geophysics, or a combination of a physics major with work in another area such as applied mathematics, biophysics, chemical physics, environmental sciences, philosophy and history of science, or pre-medicine. The applied physics program includes biotechnology, optics, fluid dynamics, or electronic devices. For the interdisciplinary program, 33 hours of physics courses, plus 3 hours of physics electives, plus 12 hours of interdisciplinary courses are required. For the applied physics program, 33 hours of physics courses plus 15 hours of applied physics courses are required.
Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours
Courses in the interdisciplinary or applied physics subjects may not be double counted with the required 33 hours of physics courses. Interdisciplinary or applied physics courses must be approved by the physics department, either by the preapproved existing list of courses in each discipline or by a physics department mentor on a course-by-course basis. It is therefore imperative that students in Plan II be in close contact with the physics department advisor.
For students intending to become elementary/secondary school teachers, this plan involves a minimum of 28–31 credit hours of physics and a minimum of 35 hours in education courses. An education student advisor, who should be consulted for updated requirements, is available by appointment at 303-492-2559.
Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours
Special Requirements and Semester Hours
PLACE Basic Skills Assessment
Prior to or during the semester for which students are seeking admission to the Teacher Education Program, they must take the PLACE Basic Skills Assessment. A copy of the PLACE Registration Bulletin form is available in the Office of Teacher Education in Education 151. Students should read it carefully for specific information on the assessments and registration procedures. Students must successfully complete the Liberal Arts, Professional Knowledge, and Contents Fields portions of this examination.
Consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for information on eligibility. The concept of “adequate progress” as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in physics plans I and II, students should meet the following requirements:
Note: Early in the first semester of the senior year, the student must meet with the physics advisor to have the statement of major status (a part of the graduation package provided by the College of Arts and Sciences) filled in. This includes a plan for completing the requirements of the major during the senior year and must be signed by the student and the advisor. Further details concerning the execution of the guarantee can be obtained from the department.
A minor is offered in physics. Declaration of a minor is open to any student enrolled at CU-Boulder, regardless of college or school. For more information see www.colorado.edu/artssciences/students/undergraduate/academics/minors.html.
Graduate study and opportunities for basic research are offered in the areas of nuclear physics, theoretical physics, condensed matter physics, elementary particle physics, plasma physics, atomic and molecular physics, optical science and engineering, laser physics, gravitational physics, fundamental measurements, and liquid crystal science and technology.
Doctoral programs in chemical physics and geophysics are offered jointly with the Department of Chemistry and with the other departments that participate in the interdepartmental geophysics program. For information on these programs, see Interdepartmental Programs in the Graduate School section.
Students wishing to pursue graduate work in physics leading to candidacy for an advanced degree should carefully read the requirements for advanced degrees in the Graduate School section. Following are special departmental requirements.
Prerequisites. Entering graduate students must have a thorough undergraduate preparation in physics, equivalent to an undergraduate physics major at a recognized college or university. This preparation includes courses in general physics, analytical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, atomic physics, and mathematics through differential equations and complex variables.
Language. The department has no foreign language requirement.
Course Requirements. There are two separate plans for obtaining the master’s degree. Plan I includes a thesis (4 credit hours), PHYS 5210 Theoretical Mechanics, 5250 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 1, and 7310 and 7320 Electromagnetic Theory along with electives (5 credit hours) and mathematics (3 credit hours). The minimum requirement for the master’s degree is 30 credit hours. At least 24 hours must be completed at the 5000 level or above. This may include 4–6 thesis hours.
Plan II (without thesis) includes PHYS 5210, 5250, 7310, 7320, and 5260 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 2 or 7550 Atomic and Molecular Spectra along with mathematics (6 credit hours) and electives (6 credit hours).
All courses must be graduate courses numbered 5000 or above. A maximum of 6 credit hours may be completed at the 3000 or 4000 level as approved by the physics graduate committee for plans I and II.
Qualifying Examination. The Graduate Record Examination aptitude tests and advanced test in physics are normally used in place of a qualifying examination, and this examination is normally taken before the time of entry into the Graduate School.
Comprehensive-Final Examination. The physics department no longer offers a written qualifying exam. In spring of 2001, the faculty unanimously voted to replace the written exam with required course work. The associate chair may waive courses for students with graduate level equivalents. In addition to abolishing the written exam, the faculty modified the oral exam to better test skills used in professional research. The new examination includes a formal research paper and a formal presentation, followed by a question and answer session. Students usually present a thesis prospectus the semester following the exam.
Prerequisites. Same as for master’s degree, above.
Languages. The department has no requirement in foreign languages.
Qualifying Examination. Same as for master’s degree, above.
Comprehensive Examination. The comprehensive examination is divided into three parts. Part I consists of the six required courses outlined in the next section. Part II consists of a formal paper summarizing a broad research topic, an oral presentation on the research paper, and an oral exam on the topic and general physics. Part III consists of a thesis prospectus presented to the thesis committee.
Part II of the comprehensive examination must be taken within one year of successful completion of the six required courses described in the next section. Part III will take place early in the semester following Part II. Students with prior graduate education must take Part II in the spring semester following the first semester of course work in this department. Parts II and III of the comprehensive examination may be taken a second time, no more than one year after the first attempt. Students with insufficient preparation may petition for a one-year extension.
Course Requirements. To earn a PhD, candidates must complete 30 credit hours of course work and 30 hours of dissertation credit. As part of the course work, the following six courses are required: Theoretical Mechanics (PHYS 5210), Statistical Mechanics (PHYS 7230), Quantum Mechanics I and II (PHYS 5250 and 5260), and Electromagnetic Theory I and II (PHYS 7310 and 7320). In addition to satisfying the Comprehensive Examination requirements, candidates must complete these courses with a grade of B- or better in each in order to advance to candidacy. For a PhD, students with strong undergraduate preparation or previous graduate level work may petition to waive required courses.
At least 27 of the 30 credit hours of course work must be 5000-level or above physics courses, and the six required courses total 18 hours. All courses, required or otherwise, must be passed with a grade of B- or better, and a course may be repeated only once.
Final Examination. The final examination is oral and covers the thesis.