What is Physics Major?

  • Alma_Matters
  • 21 Jul, 2022

What is Physics Major?

By Alma_Matters

March 8, 2022

If you are a student in High School who gets good grades in Physics, you may wonder if you should be doing a Physics Major in College.

The question you should really ask yourself is “What is Physics Major?

As part of the undergraduate coursework, a Physics Major would take courses in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Programming - Java, C++, Python, and of course Physics.

In this article we will cover what you need to know about Physics Major.

In fact, we did a Podcast - "What is Physics?" with Sridhara Dasu, Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin Madison", as part of our Podcast Series on College Majors for High Schoolers.

We cover the following topics based on that Podcast: 

  1. What is Physics?
  2. Branches of Physics
  3. Skills Needed to Study College Physics
  4. Is Physics Major hard? 
  5. What kind of Jobs can a Physics degree get you? 


1. What is Physics?

The goal of Physics is to understand nature at its most fundamental level. Prof. Dasu focuses on sizeless particles, but others focus on the entire cosmos. This type of understanding is achieved using mathematical models, which we call theoretical physics, and experimental observations that you make in a laboratory. 


2. Branches of Physics

Here are the branches of Physics organized using the length scale:

  • Particle Physics. We're basically dealing with material, energy quanta, which basically have no size, these are sizeless particles. They are so small that size is an irrelevant question. 
  • Nuclear Physics. It's called the Fermi scale, 10 to minus 15 meters. Just for reference, the length of our arms will be about a meter or so. <So 10 to minus 15 is really small scale for nuclear physics is the physics that matters there. >
  • Atomic Physics. This is called angstrom scale, at 10 to minus 10 meters. There's interesting physics at atomic level that you can study.
  • Nanoscale Physics. This includes crystals, condensed matter physics. Nanotechnology is nanoscale physics in action.  You can build nanoscale machines, science fiction movies, etc.
  • Microscale Physics. For example the technology used to record Podcasts and available to everybody around the world. And that's been going on for over 100 years now.
  • Plasma Physics. An interesting form of matter is ionized plasma matter. There are large clusters of it everywhere in the wider universe, but we've also created charged particle clouds in labs. It's interesting because you can manipulate them with magnets and electrical fields.
  • Astrophysics. You can study distant stars and how they're formed and the mechanisms of fairly high energy there, but we're talking about sizes on the scale of, you know, normally people measure it in terms of kiloparsecs (equal to 3260 light years). So from 10 to 20 meters to the entire universe. The size of the universe calculated using the speed of light as the maximum is on the order of 10 power 27 meters!


3. Skills Needed to Study College Physics

There are 3 key skills high schoolers need to build to study Physics in College:

  • Persistence to Solve Problems
  • Abstract Reasoning
  • Aptitude for Mathematics


4. Is Physics Major hard?

According to Professor Dasu, College Physics is a difficult subject, a very rigorous program. He says “If I were to do it all over again, I [would] have to think twice”.

  • The amount of time and effort that's needed in the initial stages could be daunting; 
  • It takes work to internalize Physics course material and to follow what's going on;
  • Today there are a number of competing topics that one can get through quickly and be productive.


5. What kind of Jobs can a Physics Degree Get You?

As part of the undergraduate coursework, a Physics Major would take courses in Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Programming - Java, C++, Python, and of course Physics courses. 

This opens up job opportunities in 

  • Material Science
  • Medical Science & Instrumentation
  • Data Science
  • Computer Programming
  • Mechanical, BioMedical, Electrical Engineering

To name a few.

Check out the entire Podcast with Prof. Sridhara Dasu, “About Majors: What is Physics?”.

Subscribe or Follow our podcast College Matters. Alma Matters at any of these locations: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, Anchor.

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