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Physics Major

A way to see the world in a grain of sand

Physics Major

A way to see the world in a grain of sand

Student repairing laser equipment in lab

What will you do as a physics major?

As a physics major, you will study our nationally recognized Paradigms in Physics curriculum which has reinvented the way students learn physics. Through the upper-division Paradigms curriculum, you’ll develop expertise in sub-fields of physics such as electromagnetism, thermal and statistical physics, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. You will gain interdisciplinary, computational, core and applied physics knowledge and skills through a cutting-edge physics curriculum and acquire hands-on experience working in our laboratories. Eight options, from applied physics to geophysics, within the physics major will prepare you very well for competitive graduate programs as well as jobs in a wide variety of technical and related fields. You will have the freedom to explore and select a course of study that aligns with your academic interests and career goals. You will also write a physics thesis project to deepen your learning and enhance your problem-solving and technical skills in the field.

The flexible physics major offers both a B.S. and a B.A. in physics. The B.S. in physics is appropriate for those interested in careers in physics or a related area or in preparing for graduate study. In addition to required course, students pursuing a B.S. in physics will complete 22 credits of required and elective courses.

The B.A. degree requires fewer physics courses but more courses from the College of Liberal Arts; in addition, second-year proficiency in a foreign language is required for the B.A. degree.

Undergraduate research in physics

Nearly all physics’ students participate in undergraduate research internships at OSU and in labs all over the United States and the world. Our undergraduates have engaged in significant research projects in physics labs at OSU and at numerous other institutes such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Intel, Stanford University, General Atomics, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Weizmann Institute in Israel. These immersive and rigorous research experiences are pivotal to the professional success of our students after they graduate.

Options in the physics major

The option in Applied Physics combines upper-division physics and engineering courses with core courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics as well as project-driven laboratory experience in computational physics. This option is ideal for students interested in studying and in pursuing jobs at the intersection of science and technology.

The Biological Physics option allows students to focus part of their course load on work in the field of biophysics — a field that uses the tools and techniques of physics to solve biological problems, ranging from human systems to biological macromolecules and protein structures. Students interested in biophysics research and industry careers will find this option valuable.

The option in Chemical Physics will help students learn about chemistry processes and phenomena through the perspectives of atomic and molecular physics. This option will prepare you for careers in research as well as a wide range of industry jobs related to chemical engineering.

The Computational Physics Option will allow students to study upper-division physics courses in quantum mechanics and electronics and computational science courses in programming fundamentals and mathematical computations, in addition to a number of other topics. This option opens up pathways to exciting jobs in national research laboratories as well as a number of industry jobs that rely on computational models, tools and methods.

The option in geophysics integrates core courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics to understand the the processes that operate on and in Earth, such as gravitational, seismic, geothermal and other phenomena. Students will study upper-division physics courses in electromagnetism, dynamics of mechanical and electrical oscillation, thermal and statistical physics, among other topics. This option is tailored for students interested in employment opportunities in a wide variety of geosciences, environmental sciences and geotechnical fields as well as graduate school in geology, Earth Science and allied areas.

The option in mathematical physics is intended for students interested in theoretical physics and the intersections between mathematics and physics. The option includes upper-division core and elective courses in statistical mechanics, computational physics, vector calculus and quantum mechanics. Students will gain an understanding of the theory and applications of physics and mathematics and can endeavor to work in either field.

The option in optical physics focuses on the study of light and its interaction with matter in different contexts. Physics courses span contemporary challenges of power generation, energy efficiency and global warming to the study of electromagnetism and electronics. This option prepares students for jobs in optics and lasers across the spectrum of medicine, industry, scientific research and the design and manufacture of optical devices.

The option in physics teaching is well-suited for students who are keen on teaching science at high school or the secondary school level. Students will complete at least eight credits in physics education electives that integrate science and literacy learning for prospective teachers.

What can you do with a physics degree: Careers of our recent graduates

Camera Hardware Engineer at Apple

Assistant Professor at Troy University

Graduate students at Princeton, Stanford, Brown, UT-Austin

Quality Engineers at Crane Aerospace & Electronics, Mentor Graphics

Advanced Development Engineer at KLA-Tencor
CEO & Founder of PVBid
Emergency Medicine Resident at the University of Central Florida
Process Engineers at Intel, SkyWater Technology Foundry
Research Scientist at Saint Gobain Crystals
Postdoctoral Fellow at Berkeley Lab

Sample courses

Static Fields

Physics of Contemporary Challenges

Electronics

Computational Physics

Quantum Fundamentals

Scott Clark standing in front of fence
"The exposure to high-level research gave me the ability to tackle complex problems at the interface of mathematics, physics and computer science."
Scott Clark (Physics and Mathematics '08), Co-Founder and CEO of the artificial intelligence start-up SigOpt.

Meet our students and alumni

From a construction job to Hewlett Packard, a physics major takes an unconventional path to reach his goals

Rohal Kakepoto valued the expertise of the faculty and the intimate and supportive atmosphere of the physics department. Like many of Oregon State physics graduates, Kakepoto landed a job as an engineer at Hewlett Packard in Corvallis, which he will start right before graduation.

Oregon State alum plays integral role in Perseverance landing

2005 physics alumna and planetary geologist Briony Horgan's research was key to determining the location on Mars for the Perseverance rover to explore. Explaining the challenge her team faced, she said, "“If we had to choose just one spot on Earth to gather all the data about the entire history of the planet — well, where would you go?”

Meet a Science Grad - Drew Haven

Meet Drew Haven, physics and engineering physics graduate and current Research & Development Manager for Saint-Gobain Crystals.  

Meet a Science Grad: Scott Clark

At Oregon State, Scott Clark (08) was able to pursue majors in physics, mathematics and computational physics all at once. Today he is the CEO and co-founder of SigOpt.

Succeeding in physics with determination and focus after a nontraditional start

If there is one thing that Mai Sakuragi has learned during her time at Oregon State University, it is that, with passion and hard work, even seemingly impossible goals can be achieved.

Next steps

Download Physics Brochure 2020 (PDF)