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Physics Major

Exploring the universe from neutrinos to neutron stars

Physics Major

Exploring the universe from neutrinos to neutron stars

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.

The BASICS: Physics

  • Department: Physics
  • Degrees offered: Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Honors Bachelor of Science, Honors Bachelor of Arts
  • Physics minor: Learn about the physics minor
  • Graduate program: Master of Science, Master of Arts, Doctor of Philosophy. Learn about the physics graduate program

In a nutshell, this science explores how the universe functions by examining the fundamental principles that govern it. It's all about understanding the laws of matter, energy and natural forces, and how those laws influence objects in the natural world, from smallest particles to the largest galaxies.

A physics degree is a fantastic way to launch a rewarding career. You'll develop valuable skill sets needed in so many professional fields: Physics often intersects with other disciplines like biology, chemistry, computer science, and engineering. As a result, physics has played a major role in many technological advancements, from lasers to computers.

Physics grads find careers in many sectors, including technology, finance, data science, engineering and even entrepreneurship. The ability to analyze data, think critically, and solve complex problems makes physicists well-suited for STEM positions. OSU physics majors have gone on to become hardware engineers, data scientists, medical professionals, professors, CEOs and more.

Many physicists pursue careers in research at universities like OSU. Our internationally recognized faculty explore the universe on every scale — from solar energy to gamma-ray bursts to artificial intelligence. Our research covers:

  • Astrophysics
  • Biophysics
  • Condensed matter experiment and condensed matter theory
  • High energy physics
  • Optical physics
  • Physics education research
  • Quantum mechanics and quantum cosmology
Check out our department's research
Student repairing laser equipment in lab

The PROGRAM: Studying physics at Oregon State

Our nationally recognized Paradigms in Physics curriculum has reinvented the way you'll learn physics. You’ll develop expertise in sub-fields of physics such as electromagnetism, thermal and statistical physics, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics, gain knowledge and skills through a cutting-edge physics curriculum and acquire hands-on experience working in our laboratories.

The physics major offers both a B.S. and a B.A. in physics. The B.A. degree is appropriate for physics students interested in obtaining a broader academic background through a second-language requirement and additional liberal arts courses, while the B.S. in physics is appropriate for those interested in careers in physics or a related area or in preparing for graduate study. At OSU, you can choose from eight options that prepare you for competitive graduate programs and job markets.

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.

B.A. Degree

The flexible physics major also offers a B.A. in physics. For students of the liberal arts, the study of physics provides an introduction to modern ideas about the most fundamental and elemental aspects of nature and how those ideas developed in their cultural and historical context.

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.

The BA degree in Physics is appropriate for physics students interested in obtaining a broader academic background through a second-language requirement and additional liberal arts courses. This degree may lead to international opportunities, especially if coupled with the International Degree Program at OSU.

Learn more about your physics curriculum

Wondering what kind of classes you'll take? Your physics major includes in-depth curriculum, including courses like

  • Galaxies, Cosmology, Life in the Universe
  • Physics of Contemporary Challenges
  • Paradigms of Physics: Quantum Fundamentals
Physics courses

Want to know more about coursework requirements? Use the OSU Catalog to learn more about:

  • your typical sequence of courses
  • what pre-requisite courses you'll need
  • your major's core curriculum
Physics course requirements

What does your four-year course load look like as a physics major? Check out this sample plan for one example of how to map out your academic journey.

Physics major: sample plan

WATCH: Meet a physics major

Meet Christopher, a physics major at Oregon State’s College of Science. A love of space and Star Wars — as well as a visit to the rooftop of Weniger Hall — led him to switch majors and pursue a physics degree. At OSU, Christopher discovered a warm, welcoming community of science student clubs. He also discusses the research opportunities that set the stage for future success.

The EXPERIENCE: Hands-on opportunities

What makes a physics degree from Oregon State better? One big reason: Our hands-on learning experiences! Science is often a competitive career field — these experiences give you the real-world skills to support your future goals.

Undergraduate Research

This is your chance to see up close what it means to be a scientist. Don’t just study science in the classroom — get in a lab and contribute to it, working alongside world-class faculty!

Learn why undergraduate research is better here


Practice your science in a professional setting. An internship with a real-world employer is the perfect opportunity to experience what your future career in science could look like.

Learn about amazing internship opportunities

Study Abroad

Our students’ work spans the globe! Immerse yourself in another culture to gain a global perspective in your studies.

Take your science studies around the world


Here’s your chance to discover like-minded communities of peers who share your interests! Come together and engage in meaningful ways.

Connect with a club and more members of Team Science

The SUPPORT: Learning resources for science students

Team Science is here to help you thrive. Our student support is another reason we always say, "science is better at Oregon State." You'll have access to a huge array of support services and resources designed to thrive both in and out of the classroom. Here are some places to get started:

Student resources

At OSU, support comes in a LOT of forms — here's where to start. From our Science Success Center to health and wellness resources, connect with the support you need to thrive as a college student.

Check out our student resources page

Learning Assistant (LA) Program

Love learning in smaller, collaborative group settings? Our Learning Assistant Program combines small-school attention with big-school resources. Your LA group replaces traditional lecture formats with active learning strategies, maximizing the way you engage with your STEM courses.

Explore our Learning Assistant Program

Tutoring Centers

Our tutoring centers are welcoming, friendly spaces where peer and faculty mentors offer guidance and share study techniques to help you grasp course materials and improve your academic performance.

Learn more about our science-focused tutoring centers


Your physics advisor is there to help you navigate your academic path, helping you select the right courses and achieve your future goals. They'll ensure that you are connected to the resources our department and the university have to offer to help you make the most of your time in college.

Visit the department's advising page

And of course, you can always reach out to our student Peer Advisors at with questions, as well! Our Peer Advisor team is friendly, helpful and can share their first-hand knowledge of the Oregon State experience.

They PAYOFF: Careers in physics

What jobs can you get with a physics degree?

With a physics degree from OSU, you’ll be able to embark on a number of career paths.

Here are just several examples of career pathways our physics alumni have followed:

  • Camera Hardware Engineer | Apple
  • Assistant Professor | Troy University
  • Graduate students | Princeton, Stanford, Brown, UT-Austin
  • Quality Engineers | Crane Aerospace & Electronics, Mentor Graphics
  • Advanced Development Engineer | KLA-Tencor
  • CEO & Founder | PVBid
  • Emergency Medicine Resident | University of Central Florida
  • Process Engineers | Intel, SkyWater Technology Foundry
  • Research Scientist | Saint Gobain Crystals
  • Postdoctoral Fellow | Berkeley Lab

The PROOF: Successful physics 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.

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.

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?”

Oregon State leading $17M effort to understand universe via low-frequency gravitational waves

Funded by the NSF as a Physics Frontiers Center, the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, or NANOGrav, research group at OSU operates under the direction of Xavier Siemens, professor of physics.

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.

Download Physics brochure 2022 (PDF)