The Physics (Astrophysics) Major 2012-13
The physics (astrophysics) major, administered by the Physics Department, combines a general physics major with advanced electives in astrophysics, an astrophysics laboratory course, and senior thesis work on a topic in astrophysics. It is a rigorous program designed to prepare students for a broad range of technical careers or for entry into graduate or professional programs. For more information about the astrophysics program requirements, please see the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at undergrad.pbsci.ucsc.edu.
Study and Research Opportunities
- B.S. and undergraduate minor (minor is administered by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department)
- The number of research opportunities for physics undergraduates is exceptionally high, involving the Astronomy and Astrophysics faculty as well as many members of the Physics Department and the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics.
- The senior thesis requirement enables students to interact professionally with faculty in a research environment.
High School Preparation
High school students wanting to major in physics should come to UC Santa Cruz prepared to take calculus in their first quarter in order to concurrently take the Physics 5 series, the calculus-based physics course for physics majors. High-school physics is strongly recommended but not required.
Transfer students must prepare themselves by taking courses equivalent to the lower-division requirements for the physics major. Due to the prerequisite structure for upper-division courses, it is imperative for prospective transfer students to have completed all, or as many of the lower-division requirements for the major as possible to complete the degree within a reasonable time. Transfer students must complete courses equivalent to the Physics 5 series, the calculus-based physics course for physics majors, with a GPA of 2.70 or higher before they transfer to be permitted to declare a physics major.
The Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) will not provide transfer students with enough mathematics and science courses to allow them to complete the program at UC Santa Cruz in two years. Prospective transfer students should visit the Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs web site at undergrad.pbsci.ucsc.edu for further information (see the More Information section). In addition, please see the Lower-Division Requirements section.
The required lower-division courses for the physics (astrophysics) major are normally completed during the first two years at UC Santa Cruz, beginning immediately with Physics 5A/L in the first quarter of freshman year:
- Physics 5A/L, Introduction to Physics I with Laboratory
- Physics 5B/M, Introduction to Physics II with Laboratory
- Physics 5C/N, Introduction to Physics III with Laboratory
- Physics 5D, Heat, Thermodynamics, and Kinetics
- Mathematics 19A-B, Calculus for Science, Engineering, and Mathematics (two quarters), or Mathematics 20A-B, Honors Calculus (two quarters)
- Mathematics 23A-B, Multivariable Calculus (two quarters)
It is important that all prospective majors take Physics 5A/L and Mathematics 19A the first quarter of their freshman year in order to remain on track to complete the major in the normal time frame.
In 2003, the Institute for Scientific Information ranked UC Santa Cruz first in the nation for research impact in the space sciences.
In 2010, a team of planet hunters led by astronomers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting a nearby star which could potentially be the most Earth-like exoplanet yet discovered and the first strong case for a potentially habitable one.
Professor of astronomy and astrophysics Jerry Nelson received the 2010 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics for his innovations in the field of telescope design. The Kavli Prize carries a cash award of $1 million, which Professor Nelson shared with Roger Angel of the University of Arizona and Ray Wilson of the European Southern Observatory. Each of the laureates also received a gold medal and a scroll in a ceremony presided over by the King of Norway.
Sandra Faber, University Professor of astronomy and astrophysics, received the 2009 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute for “extraordinary advances in our knowledge of the properties of distant galaxies, dark matter, large scale structure of the Universe, and black holes in galactic nuclei; and for innovative leadership in the development of astronomical facilities.”
Professor of astronomy and astrophysics Steven Vogt and his partners on the California and Carnegie Planet Search Team were chosen by the American Astronautical Society and the Planetary Society to receive the 2002 Carl Sagan Memorial Award.
In 2008, professor of astronomy and astrophysics Claire Max was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of her distinguished achievements in original research. Professor Max directs the Center for Adaptive Optics, a Science and Technology Center funded by the National Science Foundation and headquartered at UCSC.
The intellectual rigor and quantitative experience associated with a physics (astrophysics) degree make it a well-respected major as preparation for both scientific and other fields including:
- Computer science
- Research and development
- Technical writing
These are only samples of the field’s many possibilities.
The undergraduate major in physics (astrophysics) was established in fall 2001. However, through its other programs, UC Santa Cruz has a long history of producing top-level astronomers and astrophysicists. Below are a few of our well-known alumni in the field:
Dr. Alan Dressler (Ph.D., astronomy, ’76) is an astronomer with the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. For his leadership in space astronomy, he received NASA’s Public Service Medal.
Dr. Steven A. Hawley (Ph.D., astronomy and astrophysics, ’77) has been a NASA astronaut since 1978. He is former associate director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and served as director of astromaterials research and exploration science at NASA’s Johnson Space Center until his retirement in May 2008.
Dr. Geoffrey W. Marcy (Ph.D., astronomy, ’82) is part of a team recognized worldwide for its success in finding planets around stars in other solar systems.
Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan (B.S., Earth sciences, ’73) is a former NASA astronaut who was the first American woman to walk in space. Recognizing her lifelong work in science education, the National Science Board awarded her its Public Service Medal in 2003. Soon after, she was appointed to that board by the President of the United States, and now serves as vice chairman. She currently serves as the founding director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics & Science Education Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University.
Academic advising is available from Physical and Biological Sciences Undergraduate Affairs. Each physics major is also assigned their own faculty advisor, with whom they can develop a mentoring relationship during their time here. Academic advising concentrates on class scheduling and degree requirements, while faculty advising provides guidance on career paths, graduate school, and study strategies. Undergraduate Affairs publishes the web site at undergrad.pbsci.ucsc.edu, which contains detailed information about the degree programs, sample schedules, transferring credit, placement exams, faculty research, and opportunities in the Physical and Biological Sciences majors.
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