211 Interdisciplinary Sciences Building
(831) 459-3744

Programs Offered

Physics B.S.

Physics (Astrophysics) B.S.

Applied Physics B.S.

Physics Minor

Science Education B.S.

Contiguous Bachelor's/Master's Pathway

Physics M.S.

Physics Ph.D.

Other Programs of Interest

Astrophysics Minor

Astronomy and Astrophysics Ph.D.

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 this fundamental nature can be appreciated even at an elementary level.

The Physics Department offers majors in physics, physics (astrophysics), and applied physics. These programs prepare students for graduate work in physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, and for engineering and other technical positions in industry. 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.

Faculty work with students 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 for the major.

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, materials physics, astrophysics/cosmology, and biophysics.

Efforts in high-energy physics are aided by the presence of an organized research unit, the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP). The SCIPP experimentalists play significant roles in experiments at some of the major accelerator laboratories in the world, including the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and the European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland. SCIPP experimentalists have also played an important role in creating the major satellite for gamma-ray astronomy (the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope), are involved in the Dark Energy Survey, and conduct a thriving particle astrophysics program detecting TeV gamma rays as part of the UC VERITAS collaboration. SCIPP theorists are active in the phenomenology of high-energy particle interactions, including dark matter models, the theory of strong and electroweak interactions, electroweak symmetry breaking and Higgs bosons, theories of supersymmetry, superstrings, and gravity. SCIPP also maintains a vigorous program in particle astrophysics, including research in high-energy astrophysics, dark matter, formation of galaxies and large-scale structure in the universe, and theories of cosmology and the very early universe. SCIPP is also home to a research program in experimental biophysics, exploiting instrumentation technologies developed in other areas of physics for the study of functional organization and development of neural systems in a variety of living organisms. In addition, there is closely related research in biomedical applications such as retinal prosthesis.

The presence of the strong astrophysics group from the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at UCSC provides a healthy symbiosis in this area. Note that the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department does not offer an undergraduate major but does participate in teaching and mentoring Physics Department astrophysics majors. UCSC is the headquarters for the University of California Observatories, which includes the Lick Observatory near San Jose and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. These provide additional opportunities for collaboration between researchers in physics and astronomy.

Condensed matter and materials physics research at UCSC covers a range of topics including the behavior of exotic many-electron systems (for example, superconductors) and quantum materials (such as topological insulators and Weyl semimetals); magnetic phase transitions; magnetic and magnetoelectric surfaces, interfaces, and thin films; two-dimensional materials and heterostructures; complex systems (proteins, DNA, and polymers); biophysics; and the development of new electronic devices using novel materials. The experimental program includes optical, magnetometry, magnetotransport, X-ray, and specific heat measurement techniques, as well as thin film growth and characterization facilities at UCSC. X-ray and synchrotron radiation scattering and spectroscopy measurements are available at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Advanced Light Source and at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light-source, while neutron scattering measurements are performed at the NIST Center for Neutron Research and the Oak Ridge Spallation Neutron Source. Undergraduate students are actively involved in several condensed matter physics laboratories during the academic year and summer months.