As an Undergraduate Physics Major, a student learns about the physical nature of the universe in which we all live. A major in Physics is not only a strong base for a technical career, it is also an education in the philosophical development of the interpretation of observations of all physical phenomena in a consistent manner. In the course of the four-year program the contributions of great physicists throughout the history of evoloution of the sciences are discussed together with the relationship to the accepted views of their times. In all these senses physics is a humanistic an liberal arts major in the best sense and helps prepare the student for a culturally fruitful life.
Physics is an excellent career major. The key to a successful career in these changing and unpredictable times is flexibility, namely, the ability to adjust one's career to technological and societal changes. Most of what one learns or achieves in physics is fundamental and enduring. Examples are: the process by which science in general and physics in particular advance; the ability to analyze physical situations in quantitative terms; the mastery of sophisticated mathematical analytical methods; the skills necessary to handle the wide variety of measuring instruments; the laws of physics as understood at present; and considerable facility in the use of computers.
These enduring values of the undergraduate physics major not only provide the flexibility to alter one's career one or more times during one's productive life, but also make possible great flexibility in the initial choice of a career.
Many of our physics majors continue their studies upon graduation and go on to graduate work in physics leading to masters or doctoral degree. This training prepares them for teaching and/or research in Colleges and Universities and for industrial and government research. With many of our Energy and Environmental problems needing solutions involving physics, with the sudden rise of rapidly developing fields such as the technology resulting from new discoveries such as high temperature superconductivity, a substantial number of openings will be available.
Some of our majors go to graduate or professional school in other areas. A few typical examples are Astrophysics, Geophysics, Biophysics, Meterology, Oceanography, Mathematics, Engineering, Philosophy, Law, Medicine, Business Administration, etc. In each of these areas the physics major provides a useful and unique background which frequently leads to interesting and challenging careers.
The majority take direct employment, a few in the military but most as civilians in industrial laboratories involved in research and development in technological areas such as those referred to above. Some enter secondary school teaching where there is a serious shortfall and a continuing need for well-trained teachers in physics, chemistry, physical science, mathematics, and electronics. Other positions involve technical sales, laboratory assistant in optics, optical electronics, materials science, or data analysis with computers, etc. Health Physics is another area which is growing and where a minimum amount of training beyond the bachelors degree can prepare one for a satisfying and productive career. Advanced training in health related areas of physics is also becoming increasingly available.
Undergraduate Programs in Physics
The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers two undergraduate programs in physics to students who have a professional or a cultural interest in the basic sciences. One leads to the Bachelor of Science degree and the other to the Bachelor of Arts degree. The B.S. degree program requires more concentration in physics and is designed to prepare the students for graduate work leading to the M.S. and Ph.D degree with their major in physics, or for junior research positions in industrial laboratories. The B.A. degree program is constructed primarily for those students who desire less specialization in physics. It allows a greater opportunity for study in other fields. This later program is also suitable as a background for graduate study but with some catch-up work as a graduate student. Either undergraduate degree program can be used as a basis for further work in an interdisciplinary area such as astrophysics, medical physics, biophysics, chemistry, geophysics, electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, etc. This work may be done either in the course of a career or it may be part of additional study.
Students may major in Physics in either the Department or in Lyman Briggs College. The programs described herein are given assuming the student is in the Physics and Astronomy Department. See the Lyman Briggs physics program for students in that college.
Astronomy deals with the physical properties of the extraterrestial universe. Advanced astronomy courses, particularly astrophysics, depend on prior work in physics. Therefore, a student who plans to study astronomy should take an extensive program in physics. This is especially true of those students who contemplate graduate training. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a program in astronomy and astrophysics at the undergraduate level leading to the Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics. As a result of the extensive training in physics as well as astronomy, a student who graduates with this degree becomes eligible for admission to graduate study in either astronomy or physics, and in many cases in related fields such as meteorology or geophysics. The recipient of the degree may also look forward to a career in astronomy and physics education in secondary schools and planetaria. This degree is also desirable for future work in other areas, such as computer applications in industry.
The Astrophysics B.S. degree offered at MSU requires a carefully chosen set of astronomy and astrophysics courses plus a comprehensive preparation in physics. Thus our program has the advantage of giving you many options for your future. For example:
1. From experience, we know that the undergraduate astrophysics education you will receive at MSU will provide you with an excellent preparation for graduate work in astrophysics. Our capable astrophysics majors are being accepted into the finest graduate astronomy programs in the country with full financial support.
A student with an interest in this program should immediately consult with an astronomy adviser in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, even if astrophysics may not be the final choice of a major. The vertical structure of courses in the astrophysics program makes guidance important in the selection of a course schedule.
An astrophysics major should normally elect AST 303 or AST 307 during the fall semester of Sophomore year. Calculus is necessary for both beginning astronomy and physics courses, and therefore should be started immediately on entering the university if possible. If your mathematics background is insufficient to begin calculus you might consider taking a summer course. The student should proceed as quickly as possible with the recommended mathematics and physics courses. Failure to do so may make it impossible to complete degree requirements in 8 semesters.