Majors, minors & more
College of Arts and Sciences
- Offered as:
- Specialization track in Physics and Astronomy
Physics is the most basic natural science and considers physical systems ranging in size from nuclei, to atoms, to the cosmos. It is an extremely broad field, with many sub-fields.
Astrophysics, an option within the physics major, deals with the beginning and future of the universe, black holes, and the fate of the sun. It also covers scientific discoveries such as gravitational lenses, gamma-ray bursters, quasars, and extra-solar planets using instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope and the Galileo probe orbiting Jupiter.
At completion, you earn both a bachelor’s degree in physics and a minor in astronomy, the precise background favored by most graduate astronomy programs across the country.
- Strengths of the program
- Study with astronomers active in the LIGO and LISA gravity wave projects.
- Enroll in Honors Physics, an accelerated version of introductory physics.
- Find employment after graduation: Physics majors have a very strong record of employment.
- Use data from the Hubble Space telescope and other space missions.
- Learn to operate the Jewett Observatory refracting telescope and the WSU planetarium.
- Study in a computer-equipped study lounge in Webster Hall that is available solely for physics majors.
- Your professors are experts in solid state and surface physics, optics, theoretical physics, materials physics, and nanotechnology, as well as astronomy and astrophysics.
- You can join a math, science, and engineering community residence hall at WSU Pullman—share classes with your neighbors, study together, get free tutoring, and use the hall’s computer lab.
- Featured courses
Understanding the forces and laws that underpin the interactions of matter and energy form a major part of astrophysics and the discipline of physics as a whole. The physics program at WSU helps prepare you to apply that understanding not only in "pure" physics but also in various areas of science and technology.
Physics core courses
The specialization in astrophysics shares a set of core courses with all the options in the physics program.
Calculus I & II & III
Physics for Scientists and Engineers I & II (or Honors Physics)
Principles of Chemistry I & II (or Honors Chemistry I & II)
Introductory Linear Algebra
Modern Physics I
Biological Science (various courses)
Program Design and Development
This is where astro meets physics. These courses cover the principles, methods, and technology of astronomy and explore the physics behind the universe.
Principles of Astronomy
The Night Sky
Special Problems in Astronomy
Electricity and Magnetism I & II
Math (various approved courses)
Quantum Physics Laboratory
Astronomy and Astrophysics I & II
Intro to Quantum Mechanics
Modern Optics Laboratory
Intro to Atomic and Molecular Physics
Introductory Nuclear Physics
The physics program also emphasizes research. All students have opportunities to work in physics labs with faculty and advanced graduate students as their mentors. A research-based undergraduate thesis is the capstone of the degree.
Note: See the WSU Catalog for degree requirements and talk with your academic advisor about planning and scheduling your courses. All students must meet requirements as outlined in the catalog in order to graduate.
- Facilities and technology
Research and teaching facilities in the WSU physics department include:
- The Jewett Observatory, with the second largest refracting telescope in the state of Washington
- The WSU planetarium
- A computer laboratory with a wide variety of computers and terminals available solely to physics majors.
- A wide variety of lasers, which produce nanosecond to femtosecond pulses at a variety of wavelengths
- Ultrahigh vacuum systems equipped with mass spectrometers, particle detectors, and spectrometers for the study of surfaces
- Gas guns that are used to study shock waves in liquids and solids
- Scanning tunneling microscopes to probe atomic-scale surface structure
- Scanning force microscopes to produce and study nanometer scale structures
Available elsewhere on campus are Auger and photoelectron spectrometers, ESR and NMR spectrometers, transmission and scanning electron microscopes, and a nuclear reactor.
- Career options
Careers in physics
The success rate of job seekers with physics degrees is very high.
However, students should be aware that the number of jobs in the field of astrophysics is small relative to the number of graduates. Many of our graduates do find positions in astrophysics; those who do have often developed relationships with potential employers through internships or similar programs. Internships are strongly encouraged by the department.
Although astrophysics jobs are scarce, the broad training of a physics degree opens the door to a wide variety of careers in other physics-related areas. Physics majors find rewarding work as software engineers, technicians, and public relations specialists in the aerospace industry, the semiconductor industry, and related areas.
The specialization in astrophysics earns you a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in astronomy — the precise background favored by most graduate astronomy programs.
The astrophysics specialization also provides strong preparation for graduate school in physics or other physical sciences or engineering.
- Campus organizations and activities
The Physics Club brings students together to watch films, visit laboratories, and do experiments. The club's annual Pumpkin Drop has become a popular event, drawing hundreds of spectators from WSU and the Pullman community to watch physics in action as pumpkins plummet from the top of 12-story Webster Hall.
- Scholarships and financial aid
For physics students
Physics scholarships include the Paul and Dian Bender Freshman Physics Scholarship, the Claire May Band Freshman Physics Scholarship (for women), the Physics Transfer Student Scholarship, the Paul Anderson Award for Excellence in Physics, the Edward E. Donaldson Surface Science Scholarship, the George Duvall Scholarship in Shock Compression Science, and the Physics Textbook Scholarship.
For information contact the physics department at 509-335-1698.
For all students
A variety of state, federal, and university-sponsored programs are available to help students with educational costs. Washington State University awards millions of dollars in financial aid and scholarships to students every year based on financial need, academic merit, or a combination of the two.
Students should complete the Washington State University general scholarship application and the FAFSA to ensure their eligibility for the widest range of scholarships and need-based financial aid.
For information or to apply for financial aid and scholarships from WSU, see the Scholarships and Finances section of the WSU website.