Physics

The undergraduate degree in physics emphasizes knowledge and awareness of:

  • the basic subfields of physics (classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and thermodynamics), as well as at least one specialty area of application (e.g., solid state physics or optics);
  • the major principles of physics, their historical development, and the roles they play in the various subfields of physics;
  • the interrelations between theory and observation, the role of systematic and random experimental errors, and methods used to analyze experimental uncertainty and compare experiment with theory;
  • physical phenomena and experience in the use of basic experimental apparatus and measuring instruments;
  • mathematics sufficient to facilitate the acquisition and application of physical principles; and
  • the importance of physics in other fields such as chemistry, biology, engineering, medicine, and in society at large.   

In addition, students completing the degree in physics are expected to acquire the ability and skills to:

  • apply physical principles to new situations;
  • construct and assemble experimental apparatus, conduct and analyze measurements of physical phenomena, analyze properly experimental uncertainty, and make meaningful comparisons between experiment and theory; and
  • communicate results of scientific inquiries verbally and in writing.

Course code for this program is PHYS.

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor of Arts in Physics

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.

Plan I

Primarily for those planning graduate work in physics, this plan includes 45 credit hours of physics courses.

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

  • PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2—8
  • PHYS 1140 Experimental Physics 1—1
  • PHYS 2150 Experimental Physics—1
  • PHYS 2170 Foundations of Modern Physics—3
  • PHYS 2210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 1—3
  • PHYS 3210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 2—3
  • PHYS 3220 Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics I—3
  • PHYS 3310 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 1—3
  • PHYS 3320 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 2—3
  • PHYS 3330 Junior Laboratory—2
  • PHYS 4230 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics—3
  • PHYS 4410 Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics 2—3
  • Electives in physics (chosen from the departmental list) minimum—9
  • Three of the 9 hours must be one of the courses PHYS 3340, PHYS 4430, or PHYS 5430 or a research activity of 3 credit hours. The research activity may be completed in one of the following ways: (1) under either PHYS 4610/4620/4603 Honors or PHYS 4840/4850 Independent Study; or (2) by documentation of your accomplishments as an intern with a research activity within the physics department or a suitable cognate department, institute, or external entity such as NCAR, NIST, NOAA, etc. Approval by a physics department advisor is required for option (2) and should be obtained in advance. Up to 3 credit hours earned under choice (1) may be counted toward the electives requirement. No academic credit is earned under the internship option (2), so if an internship is taken, students must still earn credit through one of the required courses.
  • In addition, the following nonphysics courses are required:
    MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1 or APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 2 or APPM 1360 Calculus 2 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2400 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 3 or APPM 2350 Calculus 3 for Engineers—4
    APPM 2360 Introduction to Differential Equations with Linear Algebra, or both MATH 3130 Introduction to Linear Algebra and MATH 4430 Ordinary Differential Equations—4-6
    CHEM 1113/1114 and 1133/1134 General Chemistry 1 and 2 or CHEM 1151 and 1171 Honors General Chemistry 1 and 2—10

Plan II

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

  • PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2—8
  • PHYS 1140 Experimental Physics 1—1
  • PHYS 2150 Experimental Physics—1
  • PHYS 2170 Foundations of Modern Physics—3
  • PHYS 2210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 1—3
  • PHYS 3210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 2—3
  • PHYS 3220 Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics 1—3
  • PHYS 3310 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 1—3
  • PHYS 3320 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 2—3
  • PHYS 3330 Junior Laboratory—2
  • PHYS 4230 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics—3
  • Electives in physics (chosen from the departmental list) minimum—3
  • In addition, the following nonphysics courses are required:
    MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1 or APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 2 or APPM 1360 Calculus 2 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2400 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 3 or APPM 2350 Calculus 3 for Engineers—4
    APPM 2360 Introduction to Differential Equations with Linear Algebra, or both MATH 3130 Introduction to Linear Algebra and MATH 4430 Ordinary Differential Equations—4-6
    CHEM 1113/1114 and 1133/1134 General Chemistry 1 and 2 or CHEM 1151 and 1171 Honors General Chemistry 1 and 2—10

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.

Plan III

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

  • PHYS 1110 and 1120 General Physics 1 and 2—8
  • PHYS 1140 Experimental Physics 1—1
  • PHYS 2130 General Physics 3—3
  • PHYS 2210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 1—3
  • PHYS 3210 Classical Mechanics and Math Methods 2—3
  • PHYS 3310 Principles of Electricity and Magnetism 1—3
  • PHYS 3330 Junior Laboratory—2
  • PHYS 4450 History and Philosophy of Physics—3
  • ASTR 1030 Accelerated Introduction to Astronomy 1—4
  • An additional required course for teaching in secondary schools: PHYS 3220 Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Physics 1—3
  • In addition, the following nonphysics courses are required:
    CHEM 1011, 1031 Environmental Chemistry 1 and 2, or CHEM 1113/1114 and 1133/1134 General Chemistry 1 and 2, or CHEM 1151 and 1171 Honors General Chemistry 1 and 2—7-10
    MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1 or APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 2 or APPM 1360 Calculus 2 for Engineers—4-5
    MATH 2400 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 3 or APPM 2350 Calculus 3 for Engineers—4
    APPM 2360 Introduction to Differential Equations with Linear Algebra or both MATH 3130 Introduction to Linear Algebra and MATH 4430 Ordinary Differential Equations—4-6

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.

Liberal Arts

  • Humanities (i.e., from “Literature and the Arts” in the College of Arts and Sciences core curriculum)—6
  • Social sciences (i.e., from “Content Area Studies” in the College of Arts and Sciences core curriculum, except “Literature and the Arts” and “Natural Sciences”)—6

Science

  • MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1—5
  • Two courses (minimum of 3 semester hours) in each of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics. The eight courses must include a course with attached laboratory work in three of the four subjects)
  • EDUC 5312 The Nature of Science and Science Education—3
  • Science course work taken in the past five years—6

Education

  • EDUC 3013 Proseminar 1: Becoming a Teacher—4
  • EDUC 3023 Proseminar 2: Schools, Culture, and Society—4
  • EDUC 4112-3 Educational Psychology and Adolescent Development (or PSYC 4205)—3
  • EDUC 4122-3 Principles and Methods of Secondary Education—3
  • EDUC 4232 Language and Literacy Across the Curriculum—3
  • EDUC 5385 Methods and Materials in Secondary Science (EDUC 4122 is a prerequisite and EDUC 5312 is a prerequisite or corequisite)—4
  • EDUC 4513 Proseminar 3: Education and Practice—2
  • EDUC 4712 Student Teaching—Secondary (must be taken concurrently with EDUC 4513)—12

Graduating in Four Years 

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:

  • Declare a major in physics in the first semester of the freshman year.
  • Complete PHYS 1110, 1120, 1140, MATH 1300 or APPM 1350, and MATH 2300 or APPM 1360 during the freshman year.
  • Complete PHYS 2150, 2170,  and 2210, CHEM 1111 or 1151, CHEM 1131 or 1171, MATH 2400 or APPM 2350, and APPM 2360 during the sophomore year. Either MATH 3130 or 4430 can substitute for APPM 2360.
  • Complete PHYS 3210, 3220, 3310, 3320 and 3330 during the junior year.
  • Students must meet with the physics advisor before the beginning of the junior year and get the fifth-semester approval for completion plan (FSACP). In addition to completing PHYS 4230 and 4410, plan I students must get approval to complete 9 credit hours in physics electives, with a research participation component. In addition to completing PHYS 4230, interdisciplinary Plan II students must complete 3 credit hours of physics electives and 12 credit hours of interdisciplinary courses. Applied physics students must complete 15 credit hours of applied physics courses.

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.

Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics

The bachelor of science majoring in engineering physics is granted by the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences through the Department of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences. See Engineering Physics

Minor Program

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 Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Physics

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, fundamental measurements, liquid crystal science and technology, biophysics, and physics education research.

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.

Departmental Requirements

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.

Master’s Degree

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. Students must pass a two-part Comprehensive Exam. Part I consists of passing any five of the following six courses with a B- or better: PHYS 5210 Theoretical Mechanics, PHYS 7230 Statistical Mechanics, PHYS 5250 and 5260 Quantum Mechanics I and II, and PHYS 7310 and 7320 Electromagnetic Theory I and II. The associate chair may waive courses for students with graduate level equivalents. Part II is a three-section examination that includes a formal research review paper and a formal presentation, followed by a question and answer oral session. 

Doctoral Degree

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 passing any five of the following six courses with a B- or better: PHYS 5210 Theoretical Mechanics, PHYS 7230 Statistical Mechanics, PHYS 5250 and 5260 Quantum Mechanics I and II, and PHYS 7310 and 7320 Electromagnetic Theory I and II. The associate chair may waive courses for students with graduate level equivalents. Part II is a three-section examination that includes a formal research review paper and a formal presentation, followed by a question and answer oral session. Part III consists of a thesis prospectus presented to the thesis committee.

Part II of the comprehensive examination must be taken after successful completion of the six required courses described in the next section, but no later than the student's sixth enrolled regular semester. Part III will generally take place the semester following Part II. Parts II and III of the comprehensive examination may be taken a second time, no more than one semester after the first attempt. 

Course Requirements. To earn a PhD, candidates must complete 30 credit hours of graduate courses and 30 hours of dissertation credit. At least 27 of the 30 credit hours of course work must be 5000-level or above physics courses. All courses, required or otherwise, must be passed with a grade of B- or better, and a course may be repeated only once.