Academics

Physics seeks to discover the fundamental regularities or “laws” that govern our universe and to apply these laws to explain the behavior of fundamental and complex systems. The same underlying principles describe the behavior of atoms, lasers, living cells, and galaxies. Physics is, therefore, at the base of all modern science and technology, and, even at an elementary level, this fundamental nature can be appreciated.

The Physics Department offers undergraduate majors in physics, physics (astrophysics), applied physics, and physics education. These programs prepare students for graduate work in physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, for engineering and other technical positions in industry, and for careers in education. With appropriate courses in other disciplines, these majors provide excellent preparation for advanced study in technical subjects such as biology, chemistry, engineering, geophysics, and the philosophy of science. The applied physics major is excellent preparation for positions in industry directly upon graduation.

Physics students and faculty often interact closely in both formal and informal settings. All undergraduate physics majors have the opportunity to work individually with a faculty member in completing the senior thesis requirement.

The main areas of physics research at UCSC are the study of fundamental particles and interactions (high-energy physics), the study of condensed matter physics, and astrophysics/cosmology.

The Physics Department offers graduate programs leading to the master of science (M.S.) and/or the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees.  Each student has a faculty adviser who helps to determine which courses are most appropriate, taking into account the student’s background and interests. The student-faculty ratio is low so that M.S. and Ph.D. students can work closely with faculty and pursue programs that fit their individual needs. Research is currently conducted in theoretical and experimental particle physics, theoretical and experimental condensed matter physics (including materials physics and biophysics), and in theoretical and experimental high-energy astrophysics (including cosmology). After passing a written qualifying examination, Ph.D. students pursue independent research leading to an oral examination and completion of a doctoral dissertation.

Students may obtain a master’s degree through course work (eight physics graduate courses) and submission of an approved thesis. The Master’s candidates are encouraged to write a research thesis and may do so in any of the research fields in the program, thereby developing laboratory and computational skills in areas such as electronics design, computer simulation and visualization, cryogenics, X-ray scattering, complex novel materials and devices, or materials science. Each M.S. student is assigned a faculty adviser who helps to design a course work plan suited to the interests of the student.