Jun 13, 2024  
2019-2020 Catalog 
2019-2020 Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics Major

Physics is the study of nature at its most fundamental. Its scope covers everything from the tiniest particles of matter—such as atoms, electrons, and quarks—to the structure of the entire universe, encompassing innumerable galaxies and stars.

Physicists seek to understand complex phenomena in terms of simple, unifying principles. Their queries have ranged from the seemingly innocuous, like “What causes an object to fall?” to the more elemental, like “What is the true nature of light?” Such questions led to the discovery of the gravitational force, which governs the motion of planets and stars, as well as to the biggest breakthrough of the twentieth century—quantum mechanics—which governs the very small. Answers to physicists’ questions have revolutionized society, not only altering our basic understanding of the universe, but also profoundly affecting our day-to-day lives, laying the foundation for numerous technological innovations such as the laser, computer, and cellular phone. And physics continues to evolve and excite us, with unanswered questions from a multitude of active and emerging fields of research, such as Quantum Computation, Superconductivity, Chaos, Biophysics, and String Theory, to name a few.

The Physics Program at UC Merced provides a strong foundation in the fundamentals of theoretical and applied physics, while also emphasizing the increasingly interdisciplinary role played by physicists in the scientific and technological community. This is reflected in the “core plus emphasis track” model of the major. The core is a rigorous grounding in fundamental physical principles, including electricity and magnetism, quantum and classical mechanics, and thermodynamics. The emphasis tracks consist of flexible specialization options. They include, but are not limited to Atomic, Molecular, Optical, and Condensed Matter (AMO/CM) Physics; Mathematical Physics; and Biophysics.

Physics students develop excellent quantitative and analytical skills, enabling them to approach new and complex problems that arise in any field. These fundamental skills are essential preparation for a wide range of careers in such fields as aerospace, biotechnology, computers, engineering, medicine, education, law, finance, business, and consulting.

Emphasis Tracks

Students are encouraged to choose their electives to form an emphasis track in an area of physics or interdisciplinary study. The established emphasis tracks are: Atomic/Molecular/Optical/Condensed Matter (AMO/CM) Physics ; Mathematical Physics ; and Biophysics . Students may also propose and design their own customized emphasis tracks , with the assistance of their faculty advisors. Typically, the track includes the three upper division physics electives and culminates with the student’s senior thesis (PHYS 195 /PHYS 196 ). A student may also choose not to participate in the track program at all, although the senior thesis and two physics electives are still degree requirements. Note that students need not follow an established track. Modifications to the suggested tracks may be made with faculty approval, and customized tracks may also be developed.

Physics Program Learning Outcomes

Graduates from the Physics B.S. program will have demonstrated competency in the following areas:

  1. Physical Principles. Students will be able to apply basic physical principles—including classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics—to explain, analyze, and predict a variety of natural phenomena.
  2. Mathematical Expertise. Students will be able to translate physical concepts into mathematical language. Furthermore students will be able to apply advanced mathematical techniques (e.g., calculus, linear algebra, probability, and statistics) in their explanations, analyses, and predictions of physical phenomena.
  3. Experimental Techniques. Students will be able to take physical measurements in an experimental laboratory setting and analyze these results to draw conclusions about the physical system under investigation, including whether their data supports or refutes a given physical model.
  4. Communication and Teamwork Skills. Students will be able to clearly explain their mathematical and physical reasoning, both orally and in writing, and will be able to communicate and work effectively in groups on a common project.
  5. Research Proficiency. Students will be able to formulate personal research questions that expand their knowledge of physics. Students will be able to apply sound scientific research methods to address these questions, either by researching the current literature or developing independent results.

Sample plans of study for the Physics degree may be found in the School of Natural Sciences website ns-advising.ucmerced.edu.