Students of physics study the physical world, asking what it is made of, what its attributes are and how all of its pieces function together. The focus of physics can range from tiny atoms to entire galaxies, and physicists investigate issues related to thermo-dynamics, relativity, quantum mechanics, mechanics and electronics. The curriculum offered by the Department of Physics provides knowledge of the physical concepts that are basic to the laws of nature, and the ability to use these fundamental concepts to answer questions and solve real problems. Students also gain an understanding of the relationship of physics to other fields such as astronomy, biology, engineering, chemistry and medicine.
Physics provides an excellent background for a wide variety of careers. Design and development work in industrial firms, government laboratories and nonprofit research centers present opportunities to apply theory to specific problems. In such settings, physics graduates often work closely with those who have engineering backgrounds, complementing their more specific training with the physicist’s broader concepts. Other opportunities exist in industrial research and development, including computational applications. Graduates can also go on to careers in business, law or medicine after appropriate graduate work.
The graduate program in physics is one of the largest and strongest in the country, and is ranked among the top 20 programs in the nation by the prestigious National Research Council. CU-Boulder offers leading research programs in essentially all areas of physics including atomic, molecular and optical physics, condensed matter and materials physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, plasma physics, biophysics, history and philosophy of physics and physics education research. Certain astrophysics fields, chemical physics and geophysics are offered in cooperation with other departments on campus.
Students of physics are encouraged to work in a research laboratory. Such experience is especially useful for students who want to pursue a career in science or engineering. Involvement in laboratory experimentation provides students with knowledge of modern electronic equipment and computerized instrumentation, such as digital circuitry and microprocessors. As a contributing member of a research group, students also get a real sense of the creative processes that are part of modern physics research.
Laboratories and institutes associated with the department include the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA), the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the Laboratory for Nuclear Physics, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), Biofrontiers, Materials Science and Engineering and the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI).
In addition to universityaffiliated physics laboratories, several other research laboratories are located in Boulder: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). CUBoulder physicists are also involved in the growing number of hightechnology industries located in Boulder.