Undergraduate Program

Undergraduate Majors

The physics, physics (astrophysics), and applied physics major programs provide a comprehensive coverage of the field and the background necessary for graduate school or industrial careers. Students earn a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree. The UC Santa Cruz physics, physics (astrophysics), and applied physics programs begin with a four-quarter presentation of the introductory concepts of the subject, Introduction to Physics, PHYS 5A, PHYS 5B, PHYS 5C, and PHYS 5D. Note that the applied physics program also requires completion of a general chemistry course. In order for a student to finish the UCSC physics program in four years, it is important to start the Introduction to Physics sequence at the beginning of the first year. Students who complete a major sponsored by the Physics Department cannot complete a second major sponsored by the Physics Department or a physics minor.

This introductory sequence is followed by a course that provides an introduction to quantum physics and its applications, Modern Physics, PHYS 102. The programs continue with a three-quarter sequence in mathematical methods of physics, PHYS 116A, PHYS 116B, and PHYS 116C, designed to provide the mathematics preparation necessary for most of the upper-division physics courses required for the majors. Included in the upper-division programs are two intensive laboratory courses designed to illustrate both historical experiments that were important in the development of physics, astrophysics, and applied physics, and modern experimental methods. Advanced and especially motivated students may enroll in some graduate courses with the approval of the instructor and department chair.

The senior thesis, required of all physics, physics (astrophysics), and applied physics majors at UCSC, provides the opportunity for students to apply their skills to problems of interest to them, either theoretical or experimental, usually with technical advice from a faculty member. The senior thesis may be based on the student’s original research or participation in a faculty member’s research project or a review of some particular area of physics, under the supervision of a faculty member. The senior thesis is a distinctive part of the UCSC physics major program and entails a substantial investment of both student and faculty time. The learning experience involved in the thesis, as well as the thesis itself, has proven extremely valuable to students in enhancing employment opportunities upon graduation or in gaining admission to graduate school.

The department is also the administrative home of the science education major, which is a collaboration between several departments in the Physical and Biological Sciences Division and the Department of Education. This major is designed for a career in teaching in California high schools by preparing students for the California Subject Examination for Teachers. (Students interested in a high school teaching career will have to fulfill additional requirements after the degree, such as earning a teaching credential.)

Courses for Non-Majors

The department offers the three-quarter sequence--PHYS 6A, PHYS 6B and PHYS 6C--that covers introductory physics at a level suitable for many majors. A two-quarter sequence--PHYS 7A and PHYS 7B--is tailored for students in the life sciences. A one-quarter overview of physics (PHYS 1) and a course on the physics underpinning music (PHYS 80U) are also offered by the department.