The physics curriculum is designed with considerable flexibility in order to accommodate the variety of interests, plans, and needs of majors. At the same time, it provides a broad and thorough understanding of the fundamental ideas and concepts related to the physical world surrounding us. Using this broad base, which stresses fundamentals, undergraduates may enter graduate work in one of the pure or applied sciences or one of the non-sciences such as education, business administration, law, journalism, or philosophy. They may also choose to go directly into jobs in education, industry, government, or business.
The Department of Physics offers graduate work leading to the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Futhermore, the faculty in all research groups are strongly committed to enriching the undergraduate experience by providing opportunities for undergraduates to fully participate in cutting-edge research projects working alongside faculty and graduate students.
Intended primarily as preparation for graduate work in one of the physical sciences or for those who desire a career in the physical sciences, the professional option provides a sound background in the fundamentals of physics and mathematics.
Astronomy and Astrophysics Option
The Astronomy and Astrophysics Option is intended primarily as preparation for graduate work in astrophysics or astronomy or for a career in astrophysics, astronomy, or space science. The Astronomy and Astrophysics Option offers suggested paths for student who want to emphasize experimental studies or theoretical studies, while providing a sound background in both the experimental and theoretical fundamentals of physics, mathematics, astronomy, and astrophysics.
This option requires a minimum of 16 credits in the declared area and is designed for those students who desire a firm background in mathematics and physics coupled with a concentration in another discipline. Example declared areas are chemistry, biology, computer science, engineering, environmental studies, pre-law, pre-med, business, marketing, material science, optics, or technical writing. Each student will work out a specific coordinated program with their physicsadvisor. Coursework in the declared area must be approved by the physics department. At least 13 credits of coursework in the declared area should be 300 level or higher. Courses at the 100 or 200 level may be approved to allow the student to obtain the appropriate prerequisites for 300 and higher level courses in the declared area.
This option is intended primarily as preparation for secondary school teachers. Teaching options require a teaching minor from the list under the Department of Education. However, the only teaching minor that can be completed within 128 credits is Mathematics. Please contact the department advisor for specifics on other options.
Physics Minor (Non-Teaching)
The physics minor is designed to provide students with a fundamental background in physics and mathematics, strengthening analytic and problem solving skills, which can be applied to multiple disciplines.
Optics Minor (Non-Teaching)
The undergraduate non-teaching minor in optics provides a core set of knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the rapidly growing opportunities in optical science and engineering. Requirements include courses in optics, electrical engineering and physics, as well as electives chosen to match the interests and needs of each student.
Students pursuing the BS in Physics Professional Option or the BS in Physics Interdisciplinary Option can earn the Optics Minor with no extra credits by carefully selecting physics electives, by taking EELE 482 as one of their university or declared area electives, and by completing optics-related research (PHSX 490R and PHSX 499R) as their required senior project.
Materials Minor (Non-Teaching)
Montana State University, Bozeman, offers a non-teaching minor in Materials Science & Engineering called the Minor in Materials. This minor provides courses from a variety of disciplines which are relevant to synergies of science and engineering in polymer, metallic, ceramic, hybrid, and composite materials for both structural and functional application. The minor requires a minimum of 32 credits comprised of 14 credits of required coursework (or equivalent) followed by 18 credits of elective coursework.
Curricula in Physics/Required Courses
Details on the four undergraduate program options offered in physics at MSU can be found in the MSU Undergraduate Catalog as follows:
- Professional Option
- Astronomy and Astrophsyics Option
- Interdisciplinary Option
- Physics Teaching Option
- Physics Minor (Non-Teaching)
The links below are flow charts of the undergraduate program options offered in physics at MSU. The flow charts are an aid in determining which classes to take and when to take them for your chosen option. The flowcharts are a summary of the official program requirements contained in the Undegraduate Catalog. Please consult the MSU course catalog for official program requirements.
Undergraduate Research Participation
An integral component of all undergraduate major programs in physics is participation in undergraduate research. Based on student interest, faculty work closely with students in identifying and addressing important problems in particular sub-fields. Although a minimum of 3 credits of undergraduate research is required, many students extend this experience and work in research labs throughout the year, including summers. Students from other majors who demonstrate interest and ability are also welcome to participate in undergraduate research in physics.
Students in the professional, astronomy/astrophysics, and interdisciplinary options will complete senior projects that integrate their physics knowledge and problem solving skills. Students will complete these projects during a minimum of two credits of PHYS 470, PHYS 489, or PHYS 490 and present their results in oral and written forms in PHYS 406 - Capstone Presentations. Guidelines for these senior projects are available from the departmental advisors.
The capstone experience for those in the Physics Teaching Option is EDSD 410 - Student Teaching. Each student will submit a written report from the supervising teacher and a written self-assessment.
The senior project is designed to give a student the opportunity to develop, over two or more semesters, skills that are necessary for work in a professional scientific environment. The student will collaborate with a mentor on a project that: is of interest to the student, is either experimental or theoretical in nature, has a defined objective, is primarily based on the student's own work. (This work normally will be presented in PHYS 406C). It could be an extension of background or historical work completed by the student in PHYS 470 or 489, but must also include 3 credits of PHYS 490; at least 2 credits of 490 must be completed before taking physics 406C (capstone). In PHYS 406C students will be required to complete: i) an APS-style abstract, ii) an APS-style 10-minute oral presentation, iii) a poster session, and iv) a written research report, based on their prior research. Specific examples of current and past senior projects include:
- Laser development for specific applications
- Conducting spectroscopy or surface measurements of materials
- Extending or applying recent theories of quantum information theory
- Theoretical work in astrophysics, gravitation
- Analysis and interpretation of astronomical data
Departmental Honors in Physics
When appropriate, majors should consider the opportunities afforded by the departmental honors program. This program has the following requirements:
- A minimum 3.5 grade-point average (GPA) in physics; 3.0 GPA overall.
- A minimum of four credits of undergraduate research credit.
- An acceptable, bound senior thesis, and an oral defense of the thesis.
- Participation in a physics seminar for one semester in either the junior or senior year.
A detailed description of the program is available from the department.