[ undergraduate program | courses | faculty ]

Graduate Student Affairs:
Room 2551 Mayer Hall Addition

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice. Updates may be found on the Academic Senate website:

The Graduate Program

The Department of Physics offers curricula leading to the following degrees:

MS, Physics

CPhil, Physics

PhD, Physics

PhD, Physics (Biophysics)

PhD, Physics, Specialization in Computational Science

Biophysics students will receive their MS and CPhil degrees in physics. Only their PhD will be in physics (biophysics).

Entering graduate students are required to have a sound knowledge of undergraduate mechanics, electricity, and magnetism; to have had senior courses or their equivalent in atomic and quantum physics, nuclear physics, and thermodynamics; and to have taken upper-division laboratory work. An introductory course in solid-state physics is desirable.

Requirements for the master of science degree can be met according to Plan II (comprehensive examination). (See “Graduate Studies: Master’s Degrees.”) The comprehensive examination is identical to the first-year departmental examination for PhD students. A list of acceptable courses is available in the Department of Physics Graduate Student Affairs office.

Contiguous Bachelor’s/Master’s Degree Program in Materials Physics

The program offers a MS in physics with specialization in materials physics. It is open only to UC San Diego undergraduates, and is a Plan I program only (thesis). During the fourth quarter prior to receipt of the BS degree, students enrolled in the BS degree program with specialization in materials physics (see above) may apply for admission to the MS program. To be eligible, students must have completed the first two quarters of their junior year in residence at UC San Diego and have a GPA of at least 3.0 in both their major and overall undergraduate curriculum. It is strongly recommended that BS students who intend to apply to the MS program take MAE 160, ECE 103, and ECE 134 as restricted BS electives.

It is the responsibility of the prospective BS/MS student to select a faculty member (from the Department of Physics or, with Physics department approval, from the MAE, ECE, or Chemistry departments) who would be willing to serve as the student’s adviser and with whom the student would complete at least twelve units of S/U graded research. Research could commence as early as the undergraduate senior year; research units taken during the senior year would count only toward the MS degree and not toward the BS. The student must confirm that the selected faculty adviser will not be on off-campus sabbatical leave during any quarter of the scheduled BS/MS project.

Students are expected to meet the requirements for the MS in one year (three consecutive academic quarters) from the date of receipt of the BS. Any deviation from this plan, such as a break in enrollment for one or more quarters, may result in the student being dropped from the program.

The requirements for the MS are as follows:

  1. Completion of at least twelve and no more than twenty-four units of research, which may begin as early as the first quarter of the senior undergraduate year.
  2. Completion of three required courses during the fifth (graduate) year (MAT SCI 201A-B-C), and two restricted electives (see below).
  3. Completion of restricted elective courses so that the total number of units (research plus required courses plus elective courses) totals no fewer than thirty-six units taken as a graduate student. Students accumulate units for their research by enrolling in Physics 295 (MS Thesis Research), which may be taken repeatedly.
  4. Maintenance of a grade-point average of at least 3.0 for all course work, both cumulatively and for each quarter of enrollment in the BS/MS program.
  5. Completion of a thesis, with an oral presentation to, and approval of, a three-member committee from the Department of Physics including the faculty adviser. If the faculty adviser is from outside the Department of Physics, the committee shall consist of the adviser and two members from the Department of Physics faculty.
  6. Three consecutive quarters of full-time residency as a graduate student that will commence the quarter immediately following the quarter in which the BS is awarded (not counting Summer Session).
  7. Although students may receive research or teaching assistantships if available, there is no guarantee of financial support associated with the MS program. Students who obtain a teaching assistantship should make sure that it does not interfere with completion of the MS degree requirements within the one-year time frame allotted.
  8. Teaching is not a requirement for the MS.

MS Program: Fifth Year Curriculum

  1. MAT SCI 201A-B-C
  2. Physics 295 (MS Thesis Research)
  3. Two restricted electives, to be chosen from Physics 201, 211A-B; MAT SCI 227, 240A-B-C; ECE 231, 233; other courses allowed by petition

Doctoral Degree Program

The department has developed a flexible PhD program that provides a broad, advanced education in physics while at the same time giving students opportunity for emphasizing their special interests. This program consists of graduate courses, apprenticeship in research, teaching experience, and thesis research.

Entering students are assigned a faculty adviser to guide them in their program. Many students spend their first year as teaching assistants or fellows and begin apprentice research in their second year. When a student’s association with a research area and research supervisor is well established, a faculty research progress committee is formed with the responsibility of conducting an annual review of progress and, at the appropriate time, initiating the formation of a doctoral committee. After three years of graduate study, or earlier, students complete the departmental examinations and begin thesis research. Students specializing in biophysics make up deficiencies in biology and chemistry during the first two years and complete the departmental examinations by the end of their third year of graduate study. There is no foreign language requirement.

Entrance Testing

An entrance test covering undergraduate physics is given to entering students during the first week of orientation to give better guidance to students in their graduate program. The results are not entered in the student’s file. Entering students are encouraged, but not obliged, to bring the results to the first meeting with their academic adviser. Entering students may elect to take the departmental examination instead of taking the entrance test.

Requirements for the PhD

Students are required to pass a departmental examination, advanced graduate courses, a qualifying examination, teaching requirement and a final defense of the thesis as described below.

1. Departmental Written Examination

Physics students are required to take the departmental written examination after completing one year of graduate work at UC San Diego. The examination is on the level of material usually covered in upper-division courses and the graduate courses listed below:


Physics 200A (Theoretical Mechanics)

Physics 201 (Mathematical Physics)

Physics 212A (Quantum Mechanics)


Physics 200B (Theoretical Mechanics)

Physics 203A (Adv. Classical Electrodynamics)

Physics 212B (Quantum Mechanics)


Physics 203B (Adv. Classical Electrodynamics)

Physics 210A (Equilibrium Statistical Mechanics)

Physics 212C (Quantum Mechanics)

The examination is offered twice a year, at the beginning of the fall and spring quarters, and lasts two days, four hours per day. The examination may be repeated once, the next time it is offered.

Biophysics PhD students are required to take the departmental written examination within two years of graduate work at UC San Diego and not later than the beginning of the third year.

The university requires an annual evaluation of each graduate student’s progress toward PhD candidacy and thesis defense. To this end, a Research Progress Committee (RPC) is formed for every student during the spring quarter of the second year of graduate study. Students must demonstrate proficiency in giving technical talks through an oral presentation to the RPC.

2. Advanced Graduate Courses

Physics students are required to take five advanced graduate courses from at least three of the groups listed below no later than the end of the third year of graduate work. A 3.0 average over the five courses is required. (In lieu of the course requirement, students may petition to take an oral examination covering three areas of physics.)

Students enrolled in the Biophysics PhD program select five courses from biology, biochemistry, chemistry, or physics in consultation with their adviser. At least three courses must be graduate courses. For more information, see the Biophysics section, below.

3. PhD Candidacy Examination

In order to be advanced to candidacy, students must have met the departmental requirements and obtained a faculty research supervisor. At the time of application for advancement to candidacy, a doctoral committee responsible for the remainder of the student’s graduate program is appointed by the Graduate Council. The committee conducts the PhD candidacy examination during which students must demonstrate the ability to engage in thesis research. This involves the presentation of a plan for the thesis research project. The committee may ask questions directly or indirectly related to the project and questions on general physics that it determines to be relevant. Upon successful completion of this examination, students are advanced to candidacy and are awarded the Candidate of Philosophy degree.

4. Instruction in Physics Teaching

All graduate students are required to participate in the physics undergraduate teaching program as part of their career training. The main component of this requirement is an evaluated classroom-based teaching activity. All graduate student teaching accomplishments are subject to the approval of the Vice Chair for Education. There are several ways to satisfy the teaching requirement, including: (1) leading discussions as a teaching assistant, (2) practical classroom teaching, under faculty supervision, (3) participation in an approved teaching development program offered by the Department of Physics or the campus Center for Teaching Development, or (4) transferred teaching credit from another institution or department. Students who satisfy the requirement by teaching at UC San Diego should enroll in Physics 500 during the quarter in which they complete it.

5. Thesis Defense

When students have completed their theses, they are asked to present and defend them before their doctoral committees.

Time Limits for Progress to the PhD

In accordance with university policy, the Department of Physics has established the following time limits for progress to the PhD. A student’s research progress committee helps ensure that these time limits are met.




Advancement to Candidacy

4 years

5 years

Total Registered Time and Support

7 years

8 years

PhD in Physics (Biophysics)

The Department of Physics offers a graduate program which prepares students for a career in biophysics and that leads to the following degrees:

CPhil in Physics

PhD in Physics (Biophysics)

Biophysics students will receive their MS and CPhil degrees in physics. Only their PhD will be in physics (biophysics).

The PhD program consists of graduate courses, apprenticeship in research, teaching experience, and thesis research. Research in biophysics is being actively pursued in several departments (physics, chemistry/biochemistry, and biology) that also offer courses in, or courses relevant to, biophysics.

Requirements for the PhD in Physics (Biophysics)

The specialization in biophysics requires that students complete many of the same requirements as for the physics PhD. Students must pass a departmental written examination, advanced graduate courses, PhD candidacy examination, teaching requirement, and a final defense of the thesis. However, the requirements for the written examination and advanced courses differ slightly from those of the PhD.

Biophysics PhD students are required to take the departmental written examination within two years of beginning graduate studies at UC San Diego, and no later than the beginning of the third year. Biophysics students are required to pass five courses from biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or physics no later than the end of the third year of graduate study. The course plan shall be determined in consultation with the adviser. At least three of these courses must be graduate courses. A 3.0 average over the five courses is required. (In lieu of the course requirement, students may petition to take an oral examination covering three areas of physics.)

PhD in Physics with Specialization in Computational Science

See “PhD in Mathematics with Specialization in Computational Science” for more information.

The UC San Diego campus is offering a new comprehensive PhD specialization in computational science that will be available to doctoral candidates in participating academic departments at UC San Diego.

This PhD specialization is designed to allow students to obtain training in their chosen field of science, mathematics, or engineering with additional training in computational science integrated into their graduate studies. Prospective students must apply and be admitted into the PhD program in physics, and then be admitted to the CSME program.

Areas of research in the Department of Physics will include computational astrophysics and cosmology (studying star formation and the large scale structure of the universe), computational condensed matter physics (studying nanodevices), computational quantum field theory (studying the four basic forces of nature), computational biological physics (protein folding and other biologically important complex structures), computational nonlinear dynamics, and computational plasma physics. Each faculty member works with graduate students on the listed research topics.

The specialization in computational science requires that students complete all home requirements for the physics PhD degree. Students are required to pass the departmental written examination, advanced course requirements, PhD candidacy examination, teaching requirement, and a final defense of the thesis. The qualifying and elective courses for the CSME program (e.g., Physics 241-244) can be used as part of the advanced course requirement, which is the same as for the physics PhD.

Requirements for the PhD in Physics with Specialization in Computational Science:

Qualifying Requirements: In addition to the home department qualifying exam requirements, PhD students must take the final exams in three qualifying exam courses from the list below. Courses taken to satisfy the qualifying requirements will not count toward the elective requirements.

  1. Math 275 or MAE 290B (Numerical PDEs)
  2. Phys 244 or CSE 260 (Parallel Computing)
  3. One course to be selected from List A

List A: CSME Qualifying Exam Courses

  1. Phys 243 (Stochastic Methods)
  2. Math 270A, B, or C (Numerical Analysis)
  3. Math 272A, B, or C (Advanced Numerical PDEs)
  4. MAE 223 (Computational Fluid Dynamics)
  5. MAE 232A or B (Computational Solid Mechanics)
  6. MAE 280A or B (Linear Systems Theory)
  7. To be determined by Executive Committee

Elective Requirements: To encourage PhD students to both broaden themselves in an area of science or engineering as well as to obtain more specialized training in specific areas of computational science, students will be required to take and pass three elective courses from the following approved List B (four units per course). The Executive Committee may approve the use of courses not appearing on the following list on a case-by-case basis. Courses taken to satisfy the elective requirements will not count toward the qualifying requirements.

List B: Relevant Elective Graduate Courses in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering

  1. Math 270A-B-C (Numerical Analysis; not permitted for mathematics students)
  2. Math 271A-B-C (Optimization)
  3. Math 272A-B-C (Advanced Numerical PDEs)
  4. Math 273A-B-C (Computational Mathematics Project)
  5. Phys 141/241 (Computational Physics I)
  6. Phys 142/242 (Computational Physics II)
  7. Phys 221A-B (Nonlinear Dynamics)
  8. Chem 215 (Modeling Biological Macromolecules)
  9. BGGN 260 (Neurodynamics)
  10. To be determined by Executive Committee

Program Policies: The following is a list of policies for the PhD specialization with regard to proficiency, qualifying, and elective requirements:

  1. Proficiency in computer engineering must be demonstrated by the end of the first year.
  2. The qualifying exams must be passed by the end of the second year, or, on petition, by end of the third year.
  3. The qualifying exams can be attempted repeatedly but no more than once per quarter per subject.
  4. The qualifying exams in the home department and the CSME qualifying exams must all be passed before the student is permitted to take the candidacy (senate) exam.
  5. Two electives outside the home department must be taken.
  6. The two electives can be taken at any time before defending the thesis.
  7. One of the electives may be taken Pass/Fail; the other must be taken for a letter grade.
Recommended schedule for the PhD in physics with specialization in computational science


Phys 200A

Phys 200B

Phys 203B

Phys 201

Phys 203A

Phys 210A

Phys 212A

Phys 212B

Phys 212C


Math 275

Non-Phys Elective

Phys 244

Phys 243

Adv Phys Course

Adv Phys Course


Non-Phys Elective

Phys 241

Phys 242

PhD in Physics with Specialization in Quantitative Biology

A specialization in quantitative biology spanning  four divisions—Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences, Jacobs School of Engineering, and Health Sciences—is available to doctoral candidates in physics. This PhD specialization is designed to train students to develop and apply quantitative theoretical and experimental approaches to studying fundamental principles of living systems. The core of this specialization comprises one year of theory courses and one year of lab courses, most of which can be counted towards satisfying physics elective requirements. For more information students should contact the Student Affairs Office.

Departmental Colloquium

The department offers a weekly colloquium on topics of current interest in physics and on departmental research programs. Students are expected to register and attend the colloquium.

Supplementary Course Work and Seminars

The department offers regular seminars in several areas of current interest. Students are strongly urged to enroll for credit in seminars related to their research interests and, when appropriate, to enroll in advanced graduate courses beyond the departmental requirement. To help beginning students choose a research area and a research supervisor, the department offers a special seminar (Physics 261) that surveys physics research at UC San Diego.

Course Credit by Examination

Students have an option of obtaining credit for a physics graduate course by taking the final examination without participating in any class exercises. They must, however, officially register for the course and notify the instructor and the Department of Physics graduate student affairs office of their intention no later than the first week of the course.