Academic Programs Catalog

College of Natural Science

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Phillip M. Duxbury, Chairperson

Physics is the study of the physical universe. By means of observation, experiment, theoretical constructions and computer simulations this science attempts to find the principles which describe the universe. Among the topics of physics are motion and force, energy, sound, electricity and magnetism, light, atomic and nuclear structure, nuclear reactions, electronic properties of conductors and semiconductors, materials important for energy applications, elementary particles and their interactions, particle accelerators, and the physics of living systems. The study of physics provides the basic understanding of nature and develops the analytical skills which are essential for progress in science and technology, e.g., conducting scientific research, solving environmental problems, advancing biomedical systems, and inventing cutting-edge technology.

Astronomy is the study of the universe beyond Earth. The laws of physics, as they are known from laboratory experiments, are applied to stars, interstellar gas, galaxies, and space itself in an attempt to understand the detailed physical states of these entities. Astrophysics frequently involves a study of matter under extreme conditions that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory. From this point of view the universe becomes a laboratory in which naturally occurring phenomena subject matter to very large ranges of physical parameters. Cosmology, a branch of physics and astronomy, attempts to use theory and current observations to comprehend the history and evolution of the universe.

The department offers diverse courses in physics and astronomy. Undergraduate programs with different emphases may be planned through an appropriate choice of electives from the departmental courses. Other interests may be pursued by concentrating the electives in mathematics, chemistry, biology, computer science, physics education, or other branches of science and engineering.

 


Undergraduate Programs


Astrophysics

The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Astrophysics is designed to provide an extensive background in both physics and astrophysics; a student who graduates with this degree may apply for admission to graduate study in either astronomy or physics.

Requirements for the Bachelor of Science Degree in Astrophysics

  1. The University requirements for bachelor's degrees as described in the Undergraduate Education section of this catalog; 120 credits, including general elective credits, are required for the Bachelor of Science degree in Astrophysics.

    The University's Tier II writing requirement for the Astrophysics major is met by completing  3 or 4 credits of Astronomy and Astrophysics 410.  That course is referenced in item 3. b. (1) below.

    Students who are enrolled in the College of Natural Science may complete the alternative track to Integrative Studies in Biological and Physical Sciences that is described in item 1. under the heading Graduation Requirements in the College statement.  Certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be used to satisfy the alternative track.
  2. The requirements of the College of Natural Science for the Bachelor of Science degree.

    The credits earned in certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be counted toward College requirements as appropriate.
  3. The following requirements for the major:
                   
    a. The following courses outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy (25 or 26 credits):
    (1) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    BS 110 Organisms and Populations 4
    BS 111 Cells and Molecules 3
    ENT 205 Pests, Society and Environment 3
    MMG 205 Allied Health Microbiology 3
    PLB 105 Plant Biology 3
    PSL 250 Introductory Physiology 4
    ZOL 141 Introductory Human Genetics 3
    (2) One of the following pairs of courses (7 credits):
    (a) CEM 141 General Chemistry 4
    CEM 142 General and Inorganic Chemistry 3
    (b) CEM 151 General and Descriptive Chemistry  4
    CEM 152 Principles of Chemistry  3
    (3) All of the following courses (15 credits):
    CEM 161 Chemistry Laboratory I  1
    MTH 132 Calculus I 3
    MTH 133 Calculus II 4
    MTH 234 Multivariable  Calculus  4
    MTH 235 Differential Equations 3
    b. The following courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy (38 to 41 credits):
    (1) All of the following courses (29 or 30 credits):
    AST 207 The Science of Astronomy 3
    AST 208 Planets and Telescopes 3
    AST 304 Stars 3
    AST 308 Galaxies and Cosmology 3
    AST 410 Senior Thesis 3 or 4
    PHY 191 Physics Laboratory for Scientists, I 1
    PHY 192 Physics Laboratory for Scientists, II 1
    PHY 321 Classical Mechanics I 3
    PHY 410 Thermal and Statistical Physics 3
    PHY 471 Quantum Physics I 3
    PHY 481 Electricity and Magnetism I 3
    The student must enroll in Astronomy and Astrophysics 410 in each of two different semesters for a total of 3 or 4 credits.
    The completion of Astronomy and Astrophysics 410 fulfills the department's capstone course requirement.
    (2) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    PHY 183 Physics for Scientists and Engineers I 4
    PHY 183B Physics for Scientists and Engineers I 4
    PHY 193H Honors Physics I—Mechanics 3
    (3) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    PHY 184 Physics for Scientists and Engineers II 4
    PHY 184B Physics for Scientists and Engineers II 4
    PHY 294H Honors Physics II—Electromagnetism 3
    (4) One of the following courses (3 credits):
    PHY 215 Thermodynamics and Modern Physics 3
    PHY 215B Thermodynamics and Modern Physics 3



Physics - Bachelor of Science

The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in physics is designed to provide a thorough foundation in the field of physics together with considerable background in mathematics and a balanced program in the liberal arts. It is designed for those with an interest in:

  1. Graduate Study. Within the requirements listed below, the student's electives should emphasize theory in such areas as electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, additional mathematics, and computer programming.
  2. Experimental Physics as a preparation for positions in government and industry.  Students taking this program have an opportunity to obtain a basic background in mechanics, electricity and electronics, thermodynamics, optics, and modern physics. They will also have an opportunity to acquire strong experimental training in at least two and probably three of the following areas: electronics, modern optics, nuclear physics, and solid state (materials) physics. Computer programming courses and experience are strongly recommended.

Recommended programs of study are available in a Department of Physics and Astronomy brochure.

Requirements for the Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics

  1. The University requirements for bachelor's degrees as described in the Undergraduate Education section of this catalog; 120 credits, including general elective credits, are required for the Bachelor of Science degree in Physics.

    The University's Tier II writing requirement for the Physics major is met by completing one of the clusters of courses referenced in item 3. b. (4) below.

    Students who are enrolled in the College of Natural Science may complete the alternative track to Integrative Studies in Biological and Physical Sciences that is described in item 1. under the heading Graduation Requirements in the College statement.  Certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be used to satisfy the alternative track.
  2. The requirements of the College of Natural Science for the Bachelor of Science degree.

    The credits earned in certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be counted toward College requirements as appropriate.
  3. The following requirements for the major:
                         
    a.   The following courses outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy (23 to 28 credits):
        (1)   One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):  
            BS 161 Cell and Molecular Biology 3
            BS 162 Organismal and Population Biology 3
            ENT 205 Pests, Society and Environment 3
            MMG 201 Fundamentals of Microbiology 3
            PLB 105 Plant Biology     3
            PSL 250 Introductory Physiology 4
            ZOL 141 Introductory Human Genetics 3
        (2)   One of the following groups of courses (8 to 10 credits):  
            (a) CEM 141 General Chemistry 4
              CEM 142 General and Inorganic Chemistry 3
              CEM 161 Chemistry Laboratory I 1
            (b) CEM 151 General and Descriptive Chemistry 4
              CEM 152 Principles of Chemistry 3
              CEM 161 Chemistry Laboratory I 1
            (c) CEM 181H Honors Chemistry I 4
              CEM 182H Honors Chemistry II 4
              CEM 185H Honors Chemistry Laboratory I 2
            (d) LB 171 Principles of Chemistry I 4
              LB 171L Introductory Chemistry Laboratory I 1
              LB 172 Principles of Chemistry II 3
        (3)   One of the following groups of Mathematics courses (12 to 14 credits):   
            (a) MTH 132 Calculus I 3
              MTH 133 Calculus II 4
              MTH 234 Multivariable Calculus 4
              MTH 235 Differential Equations 3
            (b) MTH 152H Honors Calculus I 3
              MTH 153H Honors Calculus II 4
              MTH 254H Honors Multivariable Calculus 4
              MTH 235 Differential Equations 3
                or        
              MTH 340 Ordinary Differential Equations I 3
            (c) LB 118 Calculus I 4
              LB 119 Calculus II 4
              LB 220 Calculus III 4
        (4)   Two additional mathematics courses at the 300-level or above of at least 3 credits each. PHY 415 Methods of Theoretical Physics may be used in fulfillment of this requirement.
    b.   The following courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy (33 to 38 credits):  
        (1)   One of the following groups of courses (8 to 14 credits):  
            (a) PHY 183 Physics for Scientists and Engineers I 4
              PHY 184 Physics for Scientists and Engineers II 4
              PHY 191 Physics Laboratory fo Scientists, I 1
              PHY 192 Physics Laboratory for Scientistis, II 1
            (b) PHY 191 Physics Laboratory fo Scientists, I 1
              PHY 192 Physics Laboratory for Scientistis, II 1
              PHY 193H Honors Physics I - Mechanics 4
              PHY 294H Honors Physics II - Electromagnetism 4
            (c) LB 273 Physics I 4
              LB 274 Physics II 4
        (2)   All of the following courses (18 credits):  
            PHY 215 Thermodynamics and Modern Physics 3
            PHY 321 Classical Mechanics I 3
            PHY 410 Thermal and Statistical Physics 3
            PHY 451 Advanced Laboratory 3
            PHY 471 Quantum Physics I 3
            PHY 481 Electricity and Magnetism I 3
        (3)   One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):  
            PHY 431 Optics I       3
            PHY 440 Electronics     4
        (4)   One of the following groups of courses (4 or 6 credits):  
            (a) PHY 490 Senior Thesis 4
              Students must complete two enrollments of this course.  
            (b) Two of the following courses:  
              PHY 491 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics 3
              PHY 492 Introduction to Nuclear Physics 3
              PHY 493 Introduction to Elementary Particle Physics 3

Physics - Bachelor of Arts

The Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in physics is provided for those students who wish a physics major combined with a broader education in the liberal arts than the Bachelor of Science degree program permits. This degree program is also suitable for those students who plan to meet the requirements for teacher certification.

Requirements for the Bachelor of Arts Degree in Physics

  1. The University requirements for bachelor's degrees as described in the Undergraduate Education section of this catalog; 120 credits, including general elective credits, are required for the Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics.

    The University's Tier II writing requirement for the Physics major is met by completing one of the clusters of courses referenced in item 3. b. (2) below.

    Students who are enrolled in the College of Natural Science may complete the alternative track to Integrative Studies in Biological and Physical Sciences that is described in item 1. under the heading Graduation Requirements in the College statement.  Certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be used to satisfy the alternative track.
  2. The requirements of the College of Natural Science for the Bachelor of Arts degree.

    The credits earned in certain courses referenced in requirement 3. below may be counted toward College requirements as appropriate.
  3. The following requirements for the major:
                   
    a. The following courses outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy (25 or 26 credits):
    (1) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    BS 110 Organisms and Populations 4
    BS 111 Cells and Molecules 3
    ENT 205 Pests, Society and Environment 3
    MMG 205 Allied Health Microbiology 3
    PLB 105 Plant Biology 3
    PSL 250 Introductory Physiology 4
    ZOL 141 Introductory Human Genetics 3
    (2) One of the following courses (4 credits):
    CEM 141 General Chemistry 4
    CEM 151 General and Descriptive Chemistry 4
    (3) All of the following courses (18 credits):
    CEM 161 Chemistry Laboratory I 1
    MTH 132 Calculus I 3
    MTH 133 Calculus II 4
    MTH 234 Multivariable Calculus 4
    MTH 235 Differential Equations 3
    One Mathematics course at the 300 level or above of at least 3 credits.
    b. The following courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy (27 to 32 credits):
    (1) All of the following courses (8 credits):
    PHY 191 Physics Laboratory for Scientists, I 1
    PHY 192 Physics Laboratory for Scientists, II 1
    PHY 321 Classical Mechanics I 3
    PHY 410 Thermal and Statistical Physics 3
    (2)  One of the following clusters of courses (4 to 6 credits):
    (a) Thesis cluster:
    PHY 390 Physics Journal Seminar 1
    PHY 490 Senior Thesis 3
    (b) Lecture course cluster:
    PHY 491 Atomic, Molecular, and Condensed Matter Physics 3
    PHY 492 Nuclear and Elementary Particle Physics 3
    (3) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    PHY 183 Physics for Scientists and Engineers I 4
    PHY 183B Physics for Scientists and Engineers I 4
    PHY 193H Honors Physics I—Mechanics 3
    (4) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    PHY 184 Physics for Scientists and Engineers II 4
    PHY 184B Physics for Scientists and Engineers II 4
    PHY 294H Honors Physics II—Electromagnetism 3
    (5) One of the following courses (3 credits):
    PHY 215 Thermodynamics and Modern Physics 3
    PHY 215B Thermodynamics and Modern Physics 3
    (6) One of the following courses (3 or 4 credits):
    PHY  431 Optics I 3
    PHY  440 Electronics 4
    (7) One of the following courses (3 credits):
    PHY 471 Quantum Physics I 3
    PHY 481 Electricity and Magnetism I 3
    The completion of Physics 390 and 490 or Physics 491 and 492, fulfills the department's capstone course requirement.

 


Teacher Certification Options

The physics disciplinary majors leading to the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees are available for teacher certification.

A physics disciplinary minor is also available for teacher certification.

Students who elect a physics disciplinary major or the physics disciplinary minor must contact the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

For additional information, refer to the statement on TEACHER CERTIFICATION in the Department of Teacher Education section of this catalog.



Graduate Study

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers graduate programs leading to the Masters of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in both physics and astrophysics.

Current experimental and theoretical research programs include work in the general fields of accelerator physics, acoustics, atomic, molecular and optical physics, biological physics, computational physics, condensed matter physics, elementary particles, low-temperature physics, nanoscience, nuclear physics, physics education, and quantum computing.

Students who are enrolled in doctoral degree programs in the Department of Physics and Astronomy may elect joint programs with many partnering departments including Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Computational Mathematics Science and Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Materials Science, and Mathematics.

Students who are enrolled in master’s or doctoral degree programs in the Department of Physics and Astronomy may elect an Interdepartmental Specialization in Cognitive Science. For additional information, refer to the statement on Interdepartmental Graduate Specializations in Cognitive Science in the College of Social Science section of this catalog.

For additional information, visit http://www.pa.msu.edu or contact the Department of Physics and Astronomy.


Astrophysics and Astronomy - Master of Science

The aim of the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degree programs in astrophysics and astronomy is to help students to develop the ability to perform independent research and to teach in this field.

Master of Science

In addition to meeting the requirements of the university and of the College of Natural Science, students must meet the requirements specified below.

Admission

For admission to the master's degree program in astrophysics and astronomy on regular status, the student must have:

  1. Completed mathematics and astronomy or physics courses equivalent to those that are required for an undergraduate major in physics or astronomy.
  2. A satisfactory grade–point average, normally at least 3.00, in the courses referenced in item 1. above.

Students who do not meet the requirements for admission to the program on regular status may be admitted on a provisional basis to remove deficiencies.

Requirements for the Master of Science Degree in Astrophysics and Astronomy

The student must:

  1. Complete a total of 30 credits for the degree under either Plan A (with thesis) or Plan B (without thesis).
  2. Pass a qualifying master’s exam that tests basic knowledge of undergraduate physics.
  3. Complete the following core physics courses or their subject examinations, and the following core of astronomy courses, with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.
    Physics
    PHY    820    Classical Mechanics (3)
    PHY    831    Statistical Mechanics (3)
    PHY    841    Classical Electrodynamics (3)
    Astronomy
    AST    810    Radiation Astrophysics (3)
    AST    825    Galactic Astronomy  (3)
    AST    835    Extragalactic Astronomy (3)
    AST    840    Stellar Astrophysics  (3)
    PHY   983    Nuclear Astrophysics (3)
  4. Complete one semester of half-time teaching.

Additional Requirements for Plan A

  1. Complete at least 4 credits of Astronomy 899 Master’s Thesis Research.
  2. Pass a final oral examination in defense of the thesis.

Additional Requirements for Plan B

  1. Complete 6 credits in Astronomy 805 Research Project. This research project is taken over two semesters and will be graded on the basis of a written paper and oral examination.
  2. Pass a final examination or evaluation.

 


Astrophysics and Astronomy - Doctor of Philosophy

In addition to meeting the requirements of the university and of the College of Natural Science, students must meet the requirements specified below.

Admission

For admission to the doctoral degree program in astrophysics and astronomy on regular status, the student must have:

  1. Completed mathematics and astronomy or physics courses equivalent to those that are required for an undergraduate major in physics or astronomy.
  2. A satisfactory grade–point average, normally at least 3.00, in the courses referenced in item 1. above.

Students who do not meet the requirements for admission to the program on regular status may be admitted on a provisional basis to remove deficiencies.

Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Astrophysics and Astronomy

The student must:

  1. Pass the doctoral qualifying exam that tests basic knowledge of undergraduate physics.
  2. Complete the following core graduate physics courses or their subject examinations, and the following core of  astronomy courses, with a grade-point average of 3.375 or higher.
    Physics
    PHY    820    Classical Mechanics  (3)
    PHY    831    Statistical Mechanics  (3)
    PHY    841    Classical Electrodynamics  (3)
    Astronomy
    AST    810    Radiation Astrophysics  (3)
    AST    825    Galactic Astronomy  (3)
    AST    835    Extragalactic Astronomy  (3)
    AST    840    Stellar Astrophysics  (3)
    PHY    983    Nuclear Astrophysics  (3)
  3. Satisfactorily complete 6 credits in Astronomy 805 Research Project. This research project is taken over two semesters and will be graded on the basis of a written paper and oral examination that also serves as the student’s comprehensive examination.
  4. Complete one semester of half-time teaching.
  5. Complete a doctoral dissertation on original research.
  6. Pass a final oral examination in defense of the dissertation.

 


Chemical Physics - Doctor of Philosophy

For information about the Doctor of Philosophy degree program with a major in chemical physics, refer to the statement on the Department of Chemistry.

 


Physics - Master of Science

In addition to meeting the requirements of the university and of the College of Natural Science, students must meet the requirements specified below.

Admission

For admission to the master's degree program in physics on regular status, the student must have:

  1. Completed physics and mathematics courses equivalent to those that are required for an undergraduate major in physics.
  2. A satisfactory grade–point average, normally at least 3.00, in the courses referenced in item 1. above.

Students who do not meet the requirements for admission to the program on regular status may be admitted on a provisional basis to remove deficiencies.

Requirements for the Master of Science Degree in Physics

The student must complete a total of 30 credits for the degree under either Plan A (with thesis) or Plan B (without thesis).

A grade of at least 3.0 (B) on the qualifying examination based on first–year graduate–level physics courses in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, and statistical mechanics is required.  This examination is offered in the fall and spring semesters and must be taken the first time that it is offered after the student has completed his or her first year of graduate study. Detailed regulations and sample examinations are available from the departmental office.

Concentration in Beam Physics. Students interested in pursuing a concentration in beam physics may do so through a partially or entirely online option. The regular requirements for the master’s degree in physics apply. Credits for the concentration may be earned through courses and research including PHY 861, PHY 961, PHY 962, PHY 963, and PHY 964. The student’s program of study must be approved by the student’s guidance committee. Students may transfer up to 9 credits in relevant course topics approved on a case-by-case basis. Up to 10 credits of master’s thesis research (PHY 899) may be earned under supervision of MSU faculty or through a suitable external mentor at a university or national laboratory near the student’s location as determined on a case-by-case basis.

 


Physics - Doctor of Philosophy

In addition to meeting the requirements of the university and the College of Natural Science, students must meet the requirements specified below.

Admission

For admission to the doctoral degree program in physics on regular status, the student must have:

  1. Completed physics and mathematics courses equivalent to those that are required for an undergraduate major in physics.
  2. A grade–point average of at least 3.00 in the courses referenced in item 1. above.

Evidence of some undergraduate or post graduate research experience is desirable.

Students who do not meet the requirements for admission to the program on regular status may be admitted on a provisional basis to remove deficiencies.

Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Physics

A grade of 4.0 (A) on the qualifying examination based on first–year graduate–level physics courses in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, and statistical mechanics is required.  This examination is offered in the fall and spring semesters and must be taken the first time that it is offered after the student has completed his or her first year of graduate study.  Detailed regulations and sample examinations are available from the departmental office. A dissertation presenting the results of an original laboratory or theoretical investigation is required. One semester of half–time teaching is also required.

Concentration in Beam Physics. Students interested in pursuing a concentration in beam physics may do so through a partially or entirely online option. The regular requirements for the doctoral degree in physics apply which includes successful completion of four subject examinations in core areas of physics which can be administered by a mutually approved local proctor, where such practice is permissible, and successful completion of a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research. A minimum of 54 credits is required for completion of the program when combined with the requirements for the master’s degree with a concentration in beam physics.