Physics and Astronomy
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Chair: Kent L Gee
Admission to Degree Program
All degree programs in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are open enrollment. However, special limitations apply for teaching majors.
Over the centuries physicists and astronomers have studied the principles that govern the structure and dynamics of matter and energy in the physical world, from subatomic particles to the cosmos. Physicists seek to expand human knowledge through experiment, theory, and computational methods, in fundamental areas such as acoustics, astronomy, atomic and molecular physics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, medical physics, nanotechnology, nuclear physics, optics, particle physics, plasma physics, quantum mechanics, relativity, and thermodynamics. Physicists also apply this understanding to the development of new technologies. For example, physicists invented the first lasers, semiconductor electronic devices, and stereo sound.
Physics and astronomy students learn to approach complex problems in science and technology from a broad background in mechanics, electricity and magnetism, statistical and thermal physics, quantum mechanics, relativity, optics, and acoustics. The tools they develop at BYU include problem solving by mathematical and computational modeling, as well as experimental and observational discovery and analysis. All students gain professional experience via a research senior thesis, capstone project, internship project, or student teaching, usually in close association with a faculty member. Together these experiences can provide excellent preparation for employment or for graduate studies in physics, other sciences, engineering, medicine, law, or business.
Most physicists and astronomers work in research and development in industrial, government, or university labs to solve new problems in technology and science. They also share the beauty discovered in our physical universe by teaching in planetariums, high schools, colleges, and universities.
"More than most other majors, a physics degree is a passport into a broad range of science, engineering, and education careers." — Sloan Foundation
A degree in one of the physics-related majors can provide:
Preparation for those who intend to enter industrial or governmental service as engineers, technicians, physicists or astronomers.
Education for those who intend to pursue graduate work in physics or astronomy.
Education in the subject matter of physics for prospective teachers of the physical sciences. This is normally done through the Physics Teaching or Teaching Physical Sciences majors, the Physics Teaching minor, or Applied Physics major with a teaching emphasis.
Undergraduate education for those who will pursue graduate work in the professions: business (e.g., an MBA), law (especially patent law), medicine, medical physics, etc.
Science, technical, and research background for graduate school in engineering, biophysics, or physical sciences.
Physics fundamentals required by the biological science, medical, dental, nursing, and related programs.
For more information about careers for physics and astronomy majors, see Careers for Physics Majors.
It is recommended that a student complete the following courses in high school:
3-4 units of English
At least 1 unit of physical science, either chemistry or physics (more is better)
4 units of mathematics, consisting of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and (if possible) calculus. This should qualify students to begin college mathematics with Math 113, Calc 2. Because mathematics provides the foundation for all work in the physical and mathematical sciences, high school preparation in this subject is of particular importance.
Students are encouraged to gain some experience in computer programming, which will help prepare them for various required computer programming and computational physics classes at BYU
Physics and Astronomy majors should generally take one mathematics class per semester, beginning the first semester of the freshman year, until their mathematics requirements are complete (i.e. through Math 303 or 334). Most physics majors begin with Math 113. If calculus was not studied in high school, students can take Math 112 concurrently with Phscs 121 during the fall semester of their freshman year; then continue with Math 113 in winter semester.
All Physics and Astronomy majors are assigned a faculty mentor to be their academic advisor, with whom they must meet at least once per year.
Various departmental scholarships are available for students in Physics and Astronomy. Both academic record and financial need are taken into account. Preference is often given to students who are farther along in the major, so generally students must be at the sophomore level or above for their applications to be competitive. For more information see the Physics Scholarships page.
To receive a BYU bachelor's degree a student must complete, in addition to all requirements for a specific major, the following university requirements:
The University Core, consisting of requirements in general and religious education.
At least 30 credit hours must be earned in residence on the BYU campus in Provo as an admitted day student
A minimum of 120 credit hours
A cumulative GPA of at least 2.0
Be in good standing with the Honor Code Office
Students should see their college advisement center for help or information concerning the undergraduate programs.
Graduate Programs Available
This department also offers graduate degree programs. For more information, see Graduate Studies.