Graduate Programs

The physics department offers both a Master of Science and a Doctor of Philosophy at the graduate level.

Master of Science

Available with either a thesis or non-thesis option. Each option has the same set of core courses, but differ slightly in some requirements. It usually takes four semesters for a student to obtain this degree. M.S. for teachers is also offered.

Doctor of Philosophy

Students prepare for research by taking courses appropriate for a Ph.D. degree, and most obtain a master's degree as a first step. Each student has two chances to pass the Qualifying Examination. The ultimate goal is to successfully conduct an original research project with the help of a faculty adviser. This research is then comprehensively written up as a thesis and defended in a final oral examination.

Degree requirements

Requires 30 hours of graduate coursework, a minimum of nine hours of which must be in courses at the 400-level, including the following core courses:

  • Physics 409 Classical Mechanics
  • Physics 411 Electrodynamics I
  • Physics 461 Quantum Mechanics I

The 30 hours of course work may include up to six hours of non-physics coursework at the 200-level, and must include a minimum of six hours in Physics 490 - Graduate Research, during which the student will perform scientific research culminating in a written masters thesis that will be defended in an oral thesis defense. Six hours of course work outside of physics is recommended. No more than 12 of the required 30 hours may be in research, special problems, reading or seminar courses. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained for all graduate coursework.

Requires 30 hours of graduate coursework, a minimum of nine hours of which must be in courses at the 400-level, including the following core courses:

  • Physics 409 Classical Mechanics
  • Physics 411 Electrodynamics I
  • Physics 461 Quantum Mechanics I

A minimum of six hours of course work outside of physics is recommended, but no more than six hours may be at the 2000-level. The 30 hours of course work may include no more than four hours in special problems, reading or seminar courses. No comprehensive exam is required for completion of this degree. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained for all graduate coursework.

This degree will be planned for each admitted student by an advisory committee and approved by the Vice Provost of Graduate Studies. The general requirements are 30 credit hours of courses numbered 2000 or higher in sciences and mathematics, with at least one course of three hours numbered above 4000, but not seminars or research courses. Maximum of 9 hours might be transferred from other institution. The cumulative GPA for all courses must be above or equal to 3.0. Upon the completion of the coursework, a student must pass comprehensive oral and written final examinations.

Requires a minimum of 72 credit hours beyond the bachelor's degree and successful completion of a set of eight core courses that include the following:

  • Physics 409 Classical Mechanics
  • Physics 411 Electrodynamics I
  • Physics 461 Quantum Mechanics I
  • Physics 463 Quantum Mechanics II
  • Physics 423 Electrodynamics II
  • Physics 413 Statistical Mechanics
  • Two other 400-level math or physics lecture courses.

A minimum grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained for all graduate coursework. The student must pass a Ph.D. qualifying exam after completing the core course requirements for the MS degree (Physics 409, 411, 461). Upon completion of all course work except research, the student must pass the Ph.D. comprehensive exam, which is designed to ensure the student’s ability to perform independent research. Finally, the student must complete a minimum of 24 hours of Physics 490 (Graduate Research), during which the student will perform supervised scientific research, culminating in a written Ph.D. thesis that will be defended in an oral thesis defense.

Qualification Examination

The Qualifying Exam should be taken early in the student’s graduate studies as soon as the core physics courses for the MS degree have been taken.   This exam determines whether or not a student has achieved a satisfactory degree of mastery of basic physics concepts and is qualified to pursue more advanced study and research in the PhD program.   Students who fail this exam on their second attempt will be denied matriculation in the PhD program.  The exam covers all of the undergraduate physics curriculum, plus the graduate curriculum at the level of the core MS courses. Exam questions are regularly drawn from the following subject areas at the level indicated:

Quantum mechanics (first graduate course, typical texts: Messiah; Sakurai; Cohen- Tannoudji , Diu , Lal oë )

Classical mechanics (first graduate course, text: Goldstein, 2nd or  3rd editions)

Electrodynamics (first graduate course, text: Jackson)

Statistical and thermal physics (advanced undergraduate course, text: Reif )

Relativity, nuclear, and particle physics (intermediate undergraduate Modern Physics course)

Exams from previous years: 20162015, 201420132012

Research opportunities

The department's research emphasis areas include both fundamental and applied studies in three areas of physics:

  • Condensed matter, solid state and materials physics
  • Cloud, aerosol and environmental physics
  • Atomic, molecular and optical physics

Experimental and theoretical research opportunities are available for study in each of these areas.

Physics graduate students are able to work with faculty on a wide range of problems, including:

  • Characterization of magnetic materials
  • Predicting the properties of quantum and classical phase transitions
  • Establishing the structure and properties of atmospheric aerosols
  • Investigating electron transport in polymers
  • Determining electron-atom scattering events
  • Characterizing the particulate in rocket engine exhaust
  • Exploring the structural properties of thin magnetic films
  • Computing the electronic structure of new materials
  • Measuring and imaging ion-atom collisions
  • Investigating water and sulfuric acids cluster interactions
  • Analyzing and characterizing nanostructures on surfaces
  • Ascertaining the properties of charged particles and atoms
  • Studying the nucleation of vapors into droplets
  • Growing and characterizing exotic materials
  • Studying wave propagation in complex media
  • Exploring quantum electrodynamics’ descriptions of few-electron atoms and ions