Physics Degree Requirements
Carnegie Mellon’s undergraduate curriculum in physics has been carefully designed to provide a firm knowledge of the basic principles of physics, an appreciation of a wide range of physical problems of current interest, and the capacity to formulate and solve new problems. In addition to classwork and problem solving, the curriculum includes studying physical phenomena in the laboratory. Physics students are strongly encouraged to go beyond the formal theoretical and experimental course work and become involved in research projects under the guidance of individual faculty members.
Students may choose from a variety of degree options. An overview of the objectives for each of these options are described below. Specific program requirements are detailed in the Course Catalog. For information on the employment or advanced educational destinations of our recent graduates, please see undergraduate placement.
B.S. in Physics
The Bachelor of Science degree in Physics provides not only a wide variety of intermediate and advanced topics in physics but also a range of material in other science or engineering fields. The B.S. degree provides a solid foundation for students wishing to go on to graduate work in physics or any of a large number of fields in pure or applied science or engineering, for which a sound grasp of physics and mathematics is essential. This program also provides excellent preparation for careers in teaching, for work in industrial or governmental research and development, or for other employment in business or industry with a significant scientific component.
Students seeking a B.S. in Physics may choose from 5 different Physics tracks, or may elect not to pursue a degree track. Students who pursue a track must still complete the core requirements of the B.S. degree, however each of these tracks specificies how students fulfill many of the technical electives of the B.S. in Physics.
Tracks for B.S. in Physics
Physics students who opt to complete no degree track have more freedom in selecting their technical electives.
Students who opt for No Track often go on to graduate studies in physics and related fields, or go into industry in technical or analytical positions.
The B.S. in Physics/Applied Physics Track is designed primarily for students who want to prepare for a career path that takes advantage of the diverse and expanding opportunities for employment in industrial and government laboratories with a B.S. degree. The program provides a solid foundation in the concepts of physics, as well as giving the student the experience and understanding of the application of these concepts. The track is intended to enhance computing and laboratory skills, and to introduce the application of physics to those subjects of particular interest to the student. Since the possible subject areas for study are so varied, the track will be tailored to each student’s needs.
Applied Physics Track students often go on to graduate studies in physics, applied physics, and engineering or immediately enter the workforce as engineers or software developers.
The B.S. in Physics/Astrophysics Track provides an option for those physics majors who either want to specialize in this subfield or plan careers in astronomy or astrophysics. Career paths may include postgraduate training in astronomy or astrophysics or proceeding directly to jobs in these fields. The program provides a thorough foundation in the core physics program with electives concentrating in astrophysics.
Recent Astrophysics Track graduates have secured positions at NASA and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, or have gone on to graduate school in physics, astrophysics or astronomy.
Biological Physics Track
The B.S. in Physics/Biological Physics Track combines a rigorous foundation in undergraduate physics with courses in Biological Physics and Chemistry. It is particularly suitable for students preparing for post-baccalaureate careers in the expanding areas of biological and medical physics or for graduate study in biophysics. All courses suggested for medical school applicants can be completed within this track. Students interested in both the Biological Physics Track and the pre-medical program should consult with both the Director of Undergraduate Affairs in the Physics Department and the Director of the Health Professions Program for help in planning their programs.
Students who graduate with a Biological Physics Track often pursue the health sciences. Recent graduates have accepted fellowships with the National Institutes of Health, attended medical school, or continued their education with graduate studies in physics and related fields.
Chemical Physics Track
The B.S. in Physics/Chemical Physics Track is designed for students wishing to have a strong grounding in physics along with a specialization in physical chemistry and/or chemical physics. It is particularly suitable for those students planning on graduate studies in physics with an emphasis on chemical physics or chemistry. The program is sufficiently flexible that it can be readily adapted to the requirements of individual students. The student will first meet with the Director of Undergraduate Affairs to discuss interests and career goals and then choose electives that fulfill the requirements of the track.
Recent graduates of the Chemical Physics Track have accepted research or analytical positions in industry, or pursued graduate school in physics, chemistry and related fields.
Computational Physics Track
The B.S. in Physics/Computational Physics Track is intended to fill the increasing demand for physics graduates who are skilled in computational and numerical techniques which are used in the analysis of physical problems and in subjects ranging from control and real-time programming to software engineering and compiler and operating systems design. The degree provides the student with a rigorous grounding in physics as well as in the foundations and practice of computer use as applied to scientific problems. Work is done on machines ranging from high-level workstations through supercomputers.
Many students in the Computational Physics Track become software developers, software engineers, web developers or analysts, or choose to pursue graduate school in physics and related fields.
Alternative Degree Options
B.A. in Physics
The Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics offers a flexible program that allows students to combine the study of physics with the opportunity to do intensive work in substantive areas such as liberal arts, teaching, business or law. Although this degree option retains the physics core of the B.S., it requires fewer technical electives. With 82 units of free electives, it is feasible for B.A. students to obtain, for example, a double major with a department in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Fine Arts, or the Tepper School of Business. It is expected that students pursuing the B.A. in Physics will focus their elective courses in a well-defined academic area.
Recent graduates with a B.A. in Physics have gone on to receive Fulbright Fellowships, pursue law school or graduate school, or have immediately found employment in industry.
Physics may be taken as an additional major (also known as a “double major”) or as a second degree, with another department granting the primary degree. It is possible to pursue a track for either option, however the rules of the Physics Department for these two options are distinct, as outlined in the catalog. Interested students should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Affairs.
Minor in Physics
The Minor in Physics is designed to provide a solid foundation in physics at the introductory level, followed by elective courses which will familiarize the student with areas of modern physics, and the concepts and techniques employed therein. Requirements can be found in the catalog. The Minor is open to all students in the university, but students with non-calculus-based majors should be aware of the mathematics requirements for many physics courses. Interested students should discuss their plans with the Director of Undergraduate Affairs.