Physics Major, B.S.

Everything around you is influenced or governed by physics — the study of matter, energy, and their interactions with one another. Physics seeks to understand the way the universe “works,” from the smallest neutrinos to the structure of the cosmos. It is the foundation of all other natural sciences, including chemistry, biology, oceanography, geography, and radiography.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers eight degree tracks:

  • B.A. Physics
    • Physics
    • Astronomy
    • Computational Physics
    • Energy
    • Medical and Biological Physics
    • Quantitative Finance
  • B.S. Physics
    • Physics 
    • Astrophysics

Consider a B.A. degree if you’re interested in physics but want to apply your training toward a wider variety of career paths after graduation. Students who completed this program have launched careers as lab researchers, application engineers, data scientists, and financial analysts, among other occupations. Some have also pursued an advanced degree in physics, medical physics, business, law, or computer science.

Consider a B.S. degree if you intend to pursue graduate study in physics, astronomy, or a related field, or a career practicing physics.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the physics program, students should be able to:  

  • Demonstrate knowledge of major concepts, theoretical reasoning, and empirical findings in physics and/or astronomy — Knowledge Base in Physics
  • Apply knowledge of physics and mathematics to solve problems — Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Effectively conduct research under guidance of faculty member — Research and the Advancement of Physics and Astronomy
  • Gain entry to top graduate programs, employment as physicists in industry, teaching positions in high school physics and astronomy, or apply their skills in other rewarding careers — Preparation for Future Career

Requirements

In addition to the program requirements, students must

  • earn a minimum final cumulative GPA of 2.000
  • complete a minimum of 45 academic credit hours earned from UNC–Chapel Hill courses
  • take at least half of their major core requirements (courses and credit hours) at UNC–Chapel Hill
  • earn a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.000 in the major core requirements. Some programs may require higher standards for major or specific courses.

For more information, please consult the degree requirements section of the catalog.

Physics Major, B.S.–Standard Option

Core Requirements
PHYS 281LIDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics3
PHYS 331Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I4
PHYS 332Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 14
PHYS 401Mechanics I 23
PHYS 311Electromagnetism I 13
PHYS 412Electromagnetism II 23
PHYS 351Electronics I 14
PHYS 421Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 23
PHYS 521Applications of Quantum Mechanics 13
PHYS 441Thermal Physics 13
PHYS 481LIDEAs in Action General Education logo Advanced Laboratory I 22
PHYS 395IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II3
or PHYS 692H IDEAs in Action General Education logo Senior Honor Thesis Research II
Six additional credit hours chosen from:6
ASTR (numbered above 300)
Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences I
Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences II
IDEAs in Action General Education logo Physical Computing 2
PHYS (numbered above 300)
Additional Requirements
PHYS 118IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F4
PHYS 119IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F4
MATH 231IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable I H, F4
MATH 232IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F4
MATH 233IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F4
MATH 383First Course in Differential Equations H3
CHEM 101
101L
IDEAs in Action General Education logo General Descriptive Chemistry I
and IDEAs in Action General Education logo Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory I (CHEM 102/CHEM 102L are recommended but not required) F
4
Remaining General Education requirements and enough free electives to accumulate 120 academic hours49
Total Hours120
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Fall course.

2

Spring course.

Astronomy (ASTR) and Physics (PHYS) course descriptions.

Physics Major, B.S.–Astrophysics Option

Core Requirements
PHYS 281LIDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics3
PHYS 331Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I4
PHYS 332Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 14
PHYS 401Mechanics I 23
PHYS 311Electromagnetism I 13
PHYS 412Electromagnetism II 23
PHYS 421Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 23
PHYS 521Applications of Quantum Mechanics 13
PHYS 441Thermal Physics 13
ASTR 519IDEAs in Action General Education logo Observational Astronomy 14
PHYS 395IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II3
or PHYS 692H IDEAs in Action General Education logo Senior Honor Thesis Research II
One additional course chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300)3
Six or more additional credit hours chosen from:6
ASTR (numbered above 300)
Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences I
Mathematical Methods for the Physical Sciences II
IDEAs in Action General Education logo Physical Computing 2
Electronics I 1
Advanced Research Analytics
Additional Requirements
PHYS 118IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F4
PHYS 119IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F4
ASTR 202Introduction to Astrophysics (CHEM 101/CHEM 101L are recommended but not required) 13
MATH 231IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable I H, F4
MATH 232IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F4
MATH 233IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F4
MATH 383First Course in Differential Equations H3
Remaining General Education requirements and enough free electives to accumulate 120 academic hours49
Total Hours120
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Fall course.

2

Spring course.

Astronomy (ASTR) and Physics (PHYS) course descriptions.

It is strongly recommended that students planning to major in physics fulfill the Foundations requirement in English composition and rhetoric by enrolling in ENGL 105I.

Most students will find it advantageous to defer some of the General Education requirements to the junior and/or senior year(s).

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans can be used as a guide to identify the courses required to complete the major and other requirements needed for degree completion within the expected eight semesters. The actual degree plan may differ depending on the course of study selected (second major, minor, etc.). Students should meet with their academic advisor to create a degree plan that is specific and unique to their interests. The sample plans represented in this catalog are intended for first-year students entering UNC–Chapel Hill in the fall term. Some courses may not be offered every term.

Standard Option

Sample I (for students placed into MATH 231)

Plan of Study Grid
First YearHours
First-Year Foundation Courses
IDST 101 IDEAs in Action General Education logo College Thriving 1
ENGL 105
IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric
or IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric (Interdisciplinary)
3
First-Year Seminar or First-Year Launch F 3
Triple-I and Data Literacy 4
Global Language through level 3 varies
Hours 11
Fall Semester
MATH 231 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable I H, F 4
CHEM 101
101L
IDEAs in Action General Education logo General Descriptive Chemistry I
and IDEAs in Action General Education logo Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory I F
4
Hours 8
Spring Semester
PHYS 118 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F 4
MATH 232 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F 4
Hours 8
Sophomore Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 119 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F 4
MATH 233 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F 4
Hours 8
Spring Semester
PHYS 281L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics 3
PHYS 401 Mechanics I 3
PHYS 331 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I 4
MATH 383 First Course in Differential Equations H 3
Hours 13
Junior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 311 Electromagnetism I 3
PHYS 351 Electronics I 4
PHYS 332 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 4
Hours 11
Spring Semester
PHYS 412 Electromagnetism II 3
PHYS 421 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 3
PHYS 395 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II 3
Hours 9
Senior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 441 Thermal Physics 3
PHYS 521 Applications of Quantum Mechanics 3
One elective course 1 3
Hours 9
Spring Semester
PHYS 481L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Advanced Laboratory I 2
One elective course 1 3
Hours 5
Total Hours 82
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Courses may be chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300), MATH 528, MATH 529, PHYS 231, PHYS (numbered above 300).

Sample II (for students placed into MATH 232)

Plan of Study Grid
First YearHours
First-Year Foundation Courses
IDST 101 IDEAs in Action General Education logo College Thriving 1
ENGL 105
IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric
or IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric (Interdisciplinary)
3
First-Year Seminar or First-Year Launch F 3
Triple-I and Data Literacy 4
Global Language through level 3 varies
Hours 11
Fall Semester
PHYS 118 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F 4
MATH 232 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F 4
Hours 8
Spring Semester
PHYS 119 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F 4
MATH 233 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F 4
CHEM 101
101L
IDEAs in Action General Education logo General Descriptive Chemistry I
and IDEAs in Action General Education logo Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory I F
4
Hours 12
Sophomore Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 281L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics 3
MATH 383 First Course in Differential Equations H 3
PHYS 331 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I 4
Hours 10
Spring Semester
PHYS 401 Mechanics I 3
One elective course 1 3
Hours 6
Junior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 311 Electromagnetism I 3
PHYS 332 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 4
PHYS 351 Electronics I 4
Hours 11
Spring Semester
PHYS 412 Electromagnetism II 3
PHYS 421 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 3
PHYS 395 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II 3
Hours 9
Senior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 441 Thermal Physics 3
PHYS 521 Applications of Quantum Mechanics 3
Hours 6
Spring Semester
PHYS 481L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Advanced Laboratory I 2
One elective course 1 3
Hours 5
Total Hours 78
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Courses may be chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300), MATH 528, MATH 529, PHYS 231, PHYS (numbered above 300).

Astrophysics Option

Sample I (for students placed into MATH 231)

Plan of Study Grid
First YearHours
First-Year Foundation Courses
IDST 101 IDEAs in Action General Education logo College Thriving 1
ENGL 105
IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric
or IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric (Interdisciplinary)
3
First-Year Seminar or First-Year Launch F 3
Triple-I and Data Literacy 4
Global Language through level 3 varies
Hours 11
Fall Semester
MATH 231 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable I H, F 4
Hours 4
Spring Semester
PHYS 118 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F 4
MATH 232 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F 4
Hours 8
Sophomore Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 119 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F 4
MATH 233 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F 4
ASTR 202 Introduction to Astrophysics 3
Hours 11
Spring Semester
PHYS 281L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics 3
PHYS 331 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I 4
PHYS 401 Mechanics I 3
MATH 383 First Course in Differential Equations H 3
Hours 13
Junior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 311 Electromagnetism I 3
PHYS 332 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 4
ASTR 519 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Observational Astronomy 4
Hours 11
Spring Semester
PHYS 412 Electromagnetism II 3
PHYS 421 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 3
One additional course chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300) 3
PHYS 395 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II 3
Hours 12
Senior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 441 Thermal Physics 3
PHYS 521 Applications of Quantum Mechanics 3
One elective course 1 3
Hours 9
Spring Semester
One elective course 1 3
Hours 3
Total Hours 82
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Course may be chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300), MATH 528, MATH 529, PHYS 231, PHYS 351, PHYS 632.

Sample II (for students placed into MATH 232)

Plan of Study Grid
First YearHours
First-Year Foundation Courses
IDST 101 IDEAs in Action General Education logo College Thriving 1
ENGL 105
IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric
or IDEAs in Action General Education logo English Composition and Rhetoric (Interdisciplinary)
3
First-Year Seminar or First-Year Launch F 3
Triple-I and Data Literacy 4
Global Language through level 3 varies
Hours 11
Fall Semester
PHYS 118 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity F 4
MATH 232 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of One Variable II H, F 4
Hours 8
Spring Semester
PHYS 119 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta F 4
MATH 233 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Calculus of Functions of Several Variables H, F 4
Hours 8
Sophomore Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 281L IDEAs in Action General Education logo Experimental Techniques in Physics 3
MATH 383 First Course in Differential Equations H 3
ASTR 202 Introduction to Astrophysics 3
Hours 9
Spring Semester
PHYS 401 Mechanics I 3
PHYS 331 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences I 4
One additional course chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300) 3
Hours 10
Junior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 311 Electromagnetism I 3
PHYS 332 Numerical Techniques for the Sciences II 4
ASTR 519 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Observational Astronomy 4
Hours 11
Spring Semester
PHYS 412 Electromagnetism II 3
PHYS 421 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics 3
PHYS 395 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Research with Faculty Mentor II 3
One elective course 1 3
Hours 12
Senior Year
Fall Semester
PHYS 441 Thermal Physics 3
PHYS 521 Applications of Quantum Mechanics 3
Hours 6
Spring Semester
One elective course 1 3
Hours 3
Total Hours 78
H

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

F

FY-Launch class sections may be available. A FY-Launch section fulfills the same requirements as a standard section of that course, but also fulfills the FY-SEMINAR/FY-LAUNCH First-Year Foundations requirement. Students can search for FY-Launch sections in ConnectCarolina using the FY-LAUNCH attribute.

1

Course may be chosen from ASTR (numbered above 300), MATH 528, MATH 529, PHYS 231, PHYS 351, PHYS 632.

Special Opportunities in Physics and Astronomy

Honors in Physics and Astronomy

The honors program offers exceptionally well-qualified students an opportunity to perform original research with a faculty member and graduate with honors or highest honors. It requires an overall grade point average of at least 3.3 and a grade point average of at least 3.4 for physics courses at the end of the junior year.

Students who wish to enter the honors program should consult with the departmental coordinator for the program no later than the preregistration period in the spring semester of their junior year.

Undergraduate Research

All majors conduct at least one semester of research under the supervision of a faculty member. Many enjoy the experience so much that they continue for several semesters. PHYS 395 Research with Faculty Mentor II is a required course for all of our BS majors. In addition to PHYS 395, students may also take PHYS 295 Research with Faculty Mentor I as an elective as many times as desired. These courses give students the opportunity to participate in leading-edge research and to gain hands-on experience with a variety of experimental tools and techniques that will enhance their resume. An approved learning contract is required prior to registering for PHYS 295 and PHYS 395, and students must be registered within the first week of classes.

Departmental Involvement

The Society of Physics Students, open to anyone interested in physics, builds connections between undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and alumni. The society invites visitors to give talks and sponsors a number of events for students each year. The Visibility in Physics is a student organization that aims to provide resources, advice, and a welcoming and encouraging social atmosphere for underrepresented minorities and allies in the field of physics.

UNC–BEST

The UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching (UNC–BEST) Program is a collaboration between the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences and is designed to allow undergraduate science majors interested in teaching high school science the opportunity to earn their science degree and obtain licensure as a North Carolina high school science teacher in four years. UNC–BEST students meet all the degree requirements for their degree using PHYS 410 as one of their upper-level physics courses.

PHYS 410IDEAs in Action General Education logo Teaching and Learning Physics4
EDUC 689Foundations of Special Education3
EDUC 532IDEAs in Action General Education logo Human Development and Learning3
or EDUC 501 IDEAs in Action General Education logo Adolescent and Adulthood Development: A Cross-Cultural
EDUC 615Schools and Community Collaboration3
EDUC 593IDEAs in Action General Education logo Internship/Student Teaching12
EDUC 601Education Workshops1

For more details on admission requirements, application deadlines, and submitting an online application, visit the School of Education website.

Undergraduate Awards

The department gives awards each year to the senior (Shearin Award) and junior (Johnson Award) who demonstrate the greatest achievement. In addition, the department awards the major with the most research achievement the Robert Sheldon Award for Undergraduate Research.

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Visit Program Website

Phillips Hall, CB# 3255

(919) 962-2078

Chair

Frank Tsui

ftsui@physics.unc.edu

Academic Affairs Coordinator

Jacob Hurst

hurstj@unc.edu

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Tamara Branca

rtbranca@unc.edu

Physics Advisor (Students with Last Names Beginning with A–G)

Lu-Chang Qin

lcqin@email.unc.edu

Physics Advisor (Students with Last Names Beginning with H–L, and Astrophysics and Astronomy Majors and Minors with Last Names Beginning with A-G)

Adrienne Erickcek

erickcek@physics.unc.edu

Physics Advisor (Students with Last Names Beginning with M-N)

Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf

jweinber@physics.unc.edu

Physics Advisor (Students with Last Names Beginning with O-R, and Astrophysics and Astronomy Majors and Minors with Last Names Beginning with H-Z)

Dan Reichart

reichart@physics.unc.edu

Physics Advisor (Students with Last Names Beginning with S–Z, and Quantitative Finance Majors)

Stefan Jeglinski

jeglin@physics.unc.edu