Undergraduate Study in Physics

This page describes undergraduate study in the Department of Physics at the University of California, Davis. Located in a vibrant college town, our department and the campus, provide a learning and living environment reminiscent of a traditional liberal arts college, while offering the curricular breadth and intellectual excellence of a highly selective, major research university.

The Department of Physics


The Department of Physics has 38 faculty members active in teaching and research, 10 emeritus professors active in the Department and the university, 25 research associates and post-doctoral physicists, 112 graduate students, and over 150 undergraduates majoring in physics and applied physics.

The Physics Department is housed in a modern six-story building that contains laboratories, shop facilities, faculty and student offices, and classrooms. Our neighbors include the Crocker Nuclear Laboratory, which houses the 76-inch cyclotron; Roessler Hall containing large lower-division classrooms and laboratory facilities; and the Physical Sciences Library with more than 300,000 volumes in physics, astronomy, chemistry, engineering, and geology. The Chemistry Department, Geology Department, and College of Engineering are also neighbors. The main library is ranked among the top research libraries in North America, containing more than 2.6 million volumes.

Strong research programs are under way in all of the major areas of physics. Thus, our courses are taught by faculty expert in the subject of the class. The teaching and research programs are supported by an up-to-date infrastructure of shops and an extensive computer network. The department is friendly and informal. We pride ourselves on our dual commitment to teaching and research.


The UC Davis Department of Physics has a long tradition of dedication to undergraduate education. The faculty are committed to teaching and are available to give physics majors individual attention. Since there are 38 faculty members and about 30 physics majors in each year, the upper-division physics classes have from 5 to 30 students. This allows ample opportunity to get to know professors and to interact with them on a one-to-one basis.



The Department has an extensive offering of undergraduate courses. The classes are small, the professors are dedicated, and the atmosphere is friendly. This gives a first-rate physics education in an outstanding environment. It is excellent preparation for employment or for further study in the top graduate schools of the country.


The Department has an exciting honors program. In our introductory honors physics sequence, we have integrated modern developments in physics throughout the sequence. Freshman year material includes chaotic motion, special relativity, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. In addition to this earlier coverage of twentieth-century physics, the honors sequence has the advantage of small class size, which allows more classroom discussion and more extensive hands-on laboratory experience.

Honors physics is intended for students with a strong interest in physics and with a good foundation in mathematics including advanced placement in calculus. With that preparation, students can start studying physics in their first quarter at UCD rather than waiting for the standard physics course to begin in the spring quarter.

The opportunity to become involved in research is one of the main advantages of attending a major university like UC Davis. Students who take honors physics are well prepared and have room in their course schedule to begin research in their sophomore year.

There is also an upper-division honors course, Special Study for Honors Students.


The Department of Physics offers three degree programs: The Bachelor of Arts in Physics, the Bachelor of Science in Physics, and the Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics. The A.B. in Physics provides a general coverage of classical and modern physics while permitting a broader liberal arts education than is possible with the other two programs. The A.B. program is preferred for a student seeking a secondary teaching credential. Either the B.S. in Physics or the B.S. in Applied Physics is preferred for the student who plans to enter physics as a profession. The B.S. in Applied Physics provides the student with a solid introduction to a particular applied physics specialty. For the student who plans to enter the job market after completing a B.S., this applied physics orientation would be an asset. Either B.S. program provides a solid foundation in physics for the student interested in graduate work in either pure or applied physics.

Areas of Concentration in Applied Physics

Atmospheric physics, chemical physics, geophysics, materials science, physical oceanography, quantum optics. Also there is computational physics, which is a method for physics research rather than a specific subfield. In this concentration, one gets a solid understanding of fundamental physics and develops programming skills that are used to model and simulate physical systems. This is excellent general preparation for a career that later specializes in any of many industries or fields of academic science.

Undergraduate Research

There are opportunities for undergraduate physics students to work on current research projects in collaboration with faculty members and graduate students. For example, a student who worked on neural networks in high energy experimental physics went on to get a Ph.D. in theoretical high energy physics at UC Santa Cruz and is now employed as a researcher at the Fermi National Laboratory. Another who worked on software for applying parallel processing to problems in theoretical condensed matter physics is now employed at Hewlett-Packard. Students currently working on electronics hardware in the experimental high energy group are learning design and fabrication methods that are just now becoming important in industry. The department has many active research programs where a physics student can find an interesting project:


The theoretical and experimental research programs cover the major areas of physics including elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, gravity, and cosmology. Our faculty are involved in the latest and most exciting developments in physics. We also have a group developing and applying innovative methods in physics education.


The Department has designated faculty for undergraduate advising. These advisors can help students in planning their program of study and with other questions related to their study of physics.


There are active physics and astronomy clubs for undergraduate physics majors. The Physics Club is a social center for students, organizes study groups, and runs an outreach program to area high schools. The Astronomy Club provides students with access to telescopes on campus and runs a sky-viewing program for the public.


Over the years, graduates from the UC Davis Department of Physics have been successful in finding immediate employment and in continuing their study of physics at the top graduate schools in the country, including UC Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton. Positions in industry and in laboratories for bachelor degree recipients have been at Varian, NASA-Ames, Spectra-Physics, NEC, Lockheed-Martin, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Edwards Air Force Base, among others.

The University of California at Davis

Established in 1905 as the University Farm, Davis became a general campus of the University of California in 1959.

Unique within the University of California system, UC Davis offers a full range of undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as professional school curricula in law, management, medicine, and veterinary medicine. It is the largest of the nine campuses in area (5,200 acres), second largest in budget, and third largest in enrollment. Surrounded by rich agricultural fields, the main campus includes a formal arboretum intertwined by a two-mile footpath along Putah Creek. Davis is a small, traditional, college town with over 50 miles of bicycle paths.

UC Davis ranks 42nd out of 228 national universities and 12th among public national universities in the 1999 annual guide of America's best colleges, produced by U.S. News and World Report. Even with this prominence, the campus remains dedicated to its long tradition of excellence in undergraduate education.

While teaching and research provide students with the academic side of their education, campus life balances the books. Students enjoy sports, internships, outdoor recreational activities, student government, clubs, and creative arts programs. There is a very large and active intramural sports program. Outdoor Adventures offers opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, rafting, kayaking, and other activities.

A wide range of performing arts programs take place throughout the year. The UC Davis Department of Music sponsors concerts performed by the UCD Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Singers, Early Music Ensemble, and Electronic Music Studio among others. The Department of Dramatic Art annually presents five or six major productions and a number of smaller productions. UC Davis Presents brings internationally known artists in music, drama, dance, and other art forms to perform on campus, and sponsors lectures by nationally known figures.

Both the UC Davis campus and the city of Davis have a relaxed atmosphere with an abundance of open space, trees, and lawns; both maintain an informal, friendly ambiance with emphasis on the personal growth, safety, and overall well-being of students through nationally recognized student programs and city services.

The City of Davis

The Davis campus is adjacent to the city of Davis, which has a population of 54,000. Known as an ecologically aware and socially innovative town, Davis boasts 50 miles of bicycle paths and more bicycles per capita than any other city in the United States. Residents are active in local, national, and international political causes, in the arts, and in community organizations. Davis directs much of its attention to enhancing the quality of life. With students comprising about half of the city's population, Davis is one of the California's few remaining "college towns." In that atmosphere, the city offers bookstores, coffee houses, movie theaters, and other entertainment and recreation oriented toward students.

Davis has a Greyhound bus terminal, Amtrak station, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Airport is an easy, 25-minute drive from downtown. Davis weather is almost uniformly mild. The spring and fall seasons are unparalleled for their clear, warm days, and while summer days are hot and dry, the nights are usually cool and comfortable. Overall, it is a most pleasant place to live, to work and to study.

The Northern California Region

Davis is located in Northern California 15 miles from Sacramento, the state capital. San Francisco is just 75 miles to the southwest. Both offer a wealth of cultural, political, and social opportunities. The beaches of the north coast are two hours to the west. The Napa Valley is about an hour's drive to the northwest. To the east, are whitewater rafting on the American River, Lake Tahoe, and the ski slopes of the Sierra Nevada.