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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Undergraduate Overview

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Why Physics?

To satisfy your curiosity about the Universe, to start a career (including medicine, law, and computers) in a world dependent on technology, for fun, for a solid background for teaching, to be able to make better decisions about technology, either for business or as a citizen, and for important problem-solving skills. Physics is a broad preparation for a variety of careers where science has an impact.

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A deep understanding of the makeup of the world around you and how that world works provides a foundation to succeed in a technology-infused world. When studying physics, you learn how we understand the universe at its largest (astronomical) scales and at the smallest scales (atoms and subnuclear particles.) You learn how to study problems from the scientific viewpoint, using experiment, simulation, and analytical tools. With a solid physics background you can make informed decisions on the impact of science on your life and your community. You will have the background to work in state-of-the-art laboratories equipped with advanced instrumentation.

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The physics department at Syracuse University offers degree programs for students with a wide range of interest and intensity, including the physics minor, bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and the bachelor of science: biological and medical programs. Students majoring in physics have close contact with a distinguished faculty as a matter of course, along with the chance to participate in a variety of active and exciting research groups. Physics courses required for majors are available as small classes taught by the faculty; advisors for physics majors are experienced faculty from the department. Physics courses are designed to develop many skills: problem-solving abilities, electronics, working in small groups in the laboratory or on projects, computation, and many others.

For more thoughts on why Physics may be the right choice for you, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Study Abroad for Physics Majors

Study abroad is a great opportunity for students, and can be combined with majoring in physics in several ways.

  1. The first option is the Discovery Program at Syracuse. With this program, you go abroad for your first, fall semester after enrolling at Syracuse. You spend the second, spring semester at the main campus in Syracuse. There are many SU sites abroad. At most sites you'll be taking liberal arts courses instead of the specific courses that are required for the B.A. or B.S. degrees. The site in Madrid, Spain does offer a calculus course, MAT 295, which satisfies a requirement for physics majors.
  2. A second option available to physics majors is the fall semester engineering program at the Strasbourg, France site. It is designed for students in their third semester, and is offered through the College of Engineering and Computer Science. This program assumes that a student will have taken MAT 295 in the first semester at Syracuse, and MAT 296 and PHY 211 in the second semester. The Strasbourg site offers two courses that are taken next by many physics and engineering majors: PHY 212 and MAT 397. There are also some other courses offered that are tailored more specifically for engineering students. These could be a good option for some physics students as well.
  3. With some careful planning, a third option is to go abroad for one of the semesters of your third year. You'd plan to take some more advanced courses that satisfy liberal arts core requirements. The specific advanced physics and math courses required for the B.A. or B.S. degrees will probably not be available abroad.

Your home college academic advisors are happy to help you develop a plan for your study which incorporates a semester abroad. To find the contact information for your specific advisors, review your “Success Network” page within Orange SUccess.

If you have declared a physics major, you should also discuss your plans for study abroad with your physics faculty advisor.

Research Opportunities

The Physics department encourages students to take advantage of opportunities besides courses. Students may work with professors engaged in research, at Syracuse or other locations, help teach their peers, and work in the demonstration room, to name some of the possibilities. There are also meetings and events organized or coordinated by the local Society of Physics Students Chapter.

Undergraduate Research

Many physicists spend their careers carrying out research, seeking new physical principles, inventing experimental techniques, and simulating physical objects and materials using a computer. Regardless of whether one is going to be a researcher, engineer, teacher, medical professional, or a financial analyst, experience in research prepares people to find new solutions and to try out new methods to arrive at a goal.

The physics department at Syracuse University offers students an opportunity to be part of a thriving scientific community. Your activities working in one of our research groups may be the single most valuable component of your undergraduate education. An undergraduate researcher interacts strongly with faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and graduate students engaged in related work; he or she joins in research group meetings, research seminars, and departmental colloquia. An undergraduate research project is a genuine distinction which is understood by employers and graduate school admissions officers.

To gain such experience, every undergraduate physics student is encouraged to join a research program.

In the department of physics, you can get hands-on experience on a variety of topics that will familiarize you with advanced research techniques and more:

  • experimental particle physics and low-noise analog microelectronics with LHCb at CERN
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • research on the interstellar medium in an astrophysics laboratory
  • solar cells (amorphous silicon)
  • gravitational wave detectors
  • simulation (computation) techniques
  • ideas from cosmology

To identify the program best suited to your interests you can contact any faculty member who is carrying out research in an area you are interested in. Students have also traveled to pursue research opportunities, such as Research Experience for Undergraduate Program and even abroad.

Teaching

One opportunity that most physics majors take advantage of is the chance to teach. The introductory courses in physics have lab or workshop sessions, with about 20 or fewer students each. In these small meetings, a graduate teaching assistant and one or more undergraduate instructors guide the students, in groups of two or three, through lab work and exercises. This attention is of course very helpful to the students, but the undergraduate instructors find it to be an instructive and rewarding experience. The peer instructors learn the introductory material much better, preparing them for future courses and graduate admissions exams, and have the experience of working closely with faculty and graduate students. This is a good way to get to know a professor better, also, which can be helpful for future guidance or references. Peer instructors either take a class (PHY399, Practicum and Seminar in Physics Education) or are paid hourly.

Demo Room Work

Behind Stolkin Auditorium is the Syracuse physics demonstration facility. Professor Sam Sampere works there to prepare demonstrations large and small for classroom use and for displays. Sam is often looking for students to help glue, solder, paint, assemble, wheel out, sort, design, or repair demonstration equipment. Please contact Sam if you are interested in working in the "demo room".

Undergraduate Programs in Physics

B.A. in Physics

The Bachelor of Arts Degree in physics is an excellent option for students considering careers in widely varying areas including law, journalism, medicine, finance, teaching, and computational science. In these fields as well as in science a liberal education incorporating serious study of physics is a strong asset. 

B.S. in Physics

The Bachelor of Science program is an excellent preparation for many fields and careers; our program is modeled on the recommendations of the American Physical Society for students intending to pursue graduate work in physics, and is outstanding preparation for a wide range of STEM careers.

Minor in Physics

A Minor in physics is an excellent way of satisfying your curiosity about science while you major in another field. It is a particular asset for students competing for admission to professional schools such as law or medicine, or for students contemplating careers that require some technical background, including teaching, technical writing, information science, management in technology-oriented companies, and journalism. 

B.A. in Biophysical Sciences

The B.A. in biophysical science is designed to serve students with strong interests in physical and mathematical aspects of the life sciences. The signature of the program is exceptionally broad training in physics, biology, and chemistry. The major is well suited to students interested in graduate work in the health professions or in the biophysical sciences.