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Undergraduate and Graduate Studies

Undergraduate Education

Physics at UC Merced

Physics at UC MercedPhysics 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 20th 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. 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.

Our students participate in the Society of Physics Students, and have been recognized as an outstanding chapter by the national organization.

The Physics Undergraduate Program

The physics undergraduate 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. Possible emphases include atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics; mathematical physics; and biophysics.

The physics major culminates in a senior thesis. Undergraduate students at UC Merced have a rare opportunity to take part in scientific research with world-renowned research groups at a public university in cutting-edge fields such as atomic, molecular and optical (AMO) physics, soft matter and biophysics, solar energy sciences, nanoscience, or materials science. During the senior year students work closely with a faculty advisor to design and carry out a research project. Many students take advantage of this opportunity by starting research early in their undergraduate education, or by working in a lab over the summer.

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.

Program Learning Outcomes for the Physics Major

Graduates from the physics B.S. program will have demonstrated the following program learning outcomes:

  • 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.
  • Mathematical Expertise — Students will be able to apply advanced mathematical techniques (e.g., calculus, linear algebra, probability, and statistics) in their explanations, analysis, and predictions of physical phenomena.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

For more detailed information, see the information in the course catalog:

Also see our undergraduate advising guide about course selection. Students should declare an emphasis track by the end of the sophomore year, in the same way that a major is declared.

To apply to the physics undergraduate program, visit the UC Merced admissions website.

Upper Division Physics Electives

A complete list of physics courses can be found at the UC Merced Course Catalog. Upper Division Physics elective courses that have been offered include:

Senior-year research

  • To register for PHYS 195 research (typically for your second-to-last semester), fill out the Independent Study Form, obtain your research advisor's signature on the form, and return it to the Students First Center.
  • For more information about the option of doing an industry capstone project, please contact Prof. Brian Utter