B.S. in Physics

Learn to delve into today’s complex technological world.

This degree provides students with a solid foundation in fundamental theoretical and experimental scientific principles. It is the most popular choice for students preparing for advanced degrees at Rensselaer and elsewhere. The curriculum includes 40 credits of required courses in Physics including a capstone experience that can be fulfilled by completing research or course work. In addition, Physics students must take at least 24 credits in Mathematics, 12 credits in other sciences (Biology, Chemistry, and Computer Science), plus 24 credits in the humanities and social sciences (HASS). 

Physics curriculum

Program Summary

Students are challenged to study science beginning with the fundamental aspects, proceeding on to subjects with modern applications.

Our undergraduate program welcomes first year students to the department in a semester course called “Passion for Physics”.  In this course students are introduced to research opportunities by Physics Faculty.  In the junior year, our undergraduate program features a culminating experience project, which allows students to gain research experience in an area of interest.  These experiences allow students to prepare for careers in academia or industry.

Program Outcome

Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:

  • An ability to evaluate the validity and utility of experimental information using logical, mathematical, and statistical tools.
  • An ability to perform scientific calculations and data analysis using computational and mathematical tools. An ability to communicate technical material effectively using both oral and written presentation.
  • An ability to apply knowledge of electromagnetic theory using vector calculus to analyze and model real situations. An ability to apply mechanics and kinematics including the analysis using differential equations and the Lagrangian formulation to address new problems in science and technology.
  • An ability to apply knowledge of basic phenomenology and concepts of quantum, atomic, nuclear, and particle physics along with ability to solve and analyze solutions to the Schrodinger equation to address new problems in science and technology.
  • An ability to apply and synthesize concepts from core mechanics, electromagnetics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics courses in the in-depth study of a specialized field related to Physics such as Condensed Matter Physics, Optical Physics and Photonics, Particle Physics, Astrophysics, Biophysics, Astronomy, or Engineering.

Degrees, Tracks and Minors

Rensselaer offers separate BS degrees in Physics and Applied Physics. Both degrees can be augmented with a new Concentration in Computational Physics. Dual BS degrees combining Physics or Applied Physics with many other BS programs are also possible and commonly pursued. Students interested in broadening knowledge may pursue a minor in Astronomy, Astrophysics or Astrobiology.

Many bachelors students simultaneously pursue advanced degrees. For example, they can opt for the Coterminal MS program and graduate with an MS degree in addition to the BS in Physics or Applied Physics. Exceptional students may be invited to Rensselaer’s Accelerated PhD program, which leads to a fast track toward BS and PhD degrees.

Physics Template 2023 

Applied Physics Template 2023

List of Minors

Astrobiology Minor:

The Departments of Biological Sciences, Biochemistry and Biophysics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy, participate in a multidisciplinary minor in Astrobiology for students majoring in these or other disciplines. To be eligible for the minor, students must pass the 3-credit course ASTR 4510 Origins of Life - A Cosmic Perspective and at least two semesters of the 1-credit seminar course ISCI 4510; they must also undertake a 4-credit research project on a topic related to Astrobiology under the supervision of a faculty member engaged in Astrobiology research in one of the above departments; finally they must complete a further two courses* outside the major field of study, selected from the following:

Program Requirements:

• ASTR 2050 - Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 4
• BIOL 4620 - Molecular Biology  Credit Hours: 4
• BIOL 4760 - Molecular Biochemistry I  Credit Hours: 4
• BIOL 4860 - Evolution  Credit Hours: 4
• CHEM 2250 - Organic Chemistry I  Credit Hours: 3
• CHEM 4810 - Chemistry of the Environment  Credit Hours: 4
• ENVE 2110 - Introduction to Environmental Engineering  Credit Hours: 4
• ERTH 4540 - Organic Geochemistry  Credit Hours: 4

Additional Information:
*For a dual major, the requirement that the two selected courses must be outside the major field of study is reduced to one provided both majors are in the primary relevant areas of study (i.e. biology, chemistry, geology, and physics).

Astronomy Minor:

Program Requirements:
Astronomy Minor - intended for students with a general interest or who might pursue a K-12 science education or outreach career.

• ASTR 2050 - Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 4

Plus 12 credits selected from:
* Note that some courses on this list have Physics prerequisites that are not included in the minor.

** Other PHYS or ASTR topics courses may be used with the approval of the Undergraduate Program Committee.

• ASTR 1960 - Topics in Astronomy and Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 1
(or other general education ASTR course.)

• ASTR 2120 - Earth and Sky  Credit Hours: 4
• PHYS 2960 - Topics in Physics  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4120 - Observational Astronomy  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4220 - Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4240 - Gravitation and Cosmology  Credit Hours: 4
• PHYS 4240 - General Relativity  Credit Hours: 4

Astrophysics Minor:

The Astrophysics Minor is intended primarily for students who intend to pursue a career in Astronomy or Astrophysics.

* Note that some courses on this list have prerequisites that are not included in the minor.

• ASTR 2050 - Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4940 - Special Projects in Astronomy  Credit Hours: 3

And two courses from the following list:
• ASTR 4120 - Observational Astronomy  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4220 – Astrophysics  Credit Hours: 4
• ASTR 4240 - Gravitation and Cosmology  Credit Hours: 4
• PHYS 4240 - General Relativity  Credit Hours: 4

Physics Minor:

Students not majoring in physics may minor in this subject by taking at least 16 credit hours of physics courses (coded PHYS) at the 2000 level or higher.


Examples of Tracks

  • Biology and Medicine
  • Computational Physics
  • Environmental Science
  • Microelectronics
  • Nuclear Science
  • Optics
  • Space Science

Track in Computational Physics

The track in Computational Physics resembles tracks in the BS Applied Physics but is also available to BS Physics students. In consultation with faculty in computational physics, the student defines a “track” comprised of 16 credits of technical electives in Physics, Computer Science, Math and other fields. Tracks have already been approved in Astrophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Medical Physics, and Particle Physics and there is flexibility in the curriculum to design new tracks.   This is an excellent opportunity for students to use Rensselaer’s world-class supercomputing center, which operates an 80,000 CPU Blue Gene Q  supercomputer and a Watson machine.

Dual Degree

Students can earn simultaneous BS degrees in two departments. Dual degrees combining BS programs in any two subjects in the School of Science (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth and Environmental Science, Mathematics and Physics) are possible. Some other popular choices are duals that combine Physics with Philosophy and Electrical Engineering.

Learn more

The Arch

The Arch is a unique approach to education that provides flexibility in the semester schedule, allowing students to pursue professional and personal development opportunities that prepare them to meet the multifaceted challenges of the 21st century. The Summer Arch Semester is a requirement of the Rensselaer curriculum.

Summer Here
During The
Summer Arch Semester, students remain on campus for the summer after their sophomore year, taking junior-level classes, and receive focused attention from professors at this pivotal point in their academic progression. 

The World Away
Then, students leave the Troy campus for a semester during the traditional junior year—either fall or spring—to pursue their passions in the form of co-ops, internships, civic engagement, research, or international experiences. Students who pursue these opportunities during their academic career are better prepared for future professional careers and graduate school.


For more information regarding the Summer Arch Semester, please visit https://info.rpi.edu/the-arch


Ever since its inception, Rensselaer has been a leader in science and technology education. Today, the institute provides students with one of the most modern environments for learning.

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Students’ thesis research in astronomy and astrophysics enjoys access to world-class ground-based telescopes located at observing sites in the southern hemisphere and China. Our faculty cooperates with the international Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST), the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the very popular MilkyWay@Home project.

For students’ education in observational astronomy and for public outreach, the department maintains the Hirsch Observatory. It houses a fully automated Boller and Chivens 16" Cassegrain Telescope, a Quantum Scientific Imaging (QSI) imaging camera with filter wheel, and a Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) spectrograph. Many smaller telescopes are also available to students.



Condensed Matter and Optics

State-of-the art equipment for graduate students’ experimental research in optics and condensed matter physics is provided in the physics department. The equipment includes optical, electronic, and cryogenic instruments, surface science techniques and materials growth equipment. Examples are Atomic Force Microscopy, Auger Electron Spectroscopy, Ellipsometry, High-Resolution Low Energy Electron Diffraction, Reflection High-Energy Electron Diffraction, X-Ray Crystallography, and Super-Resolution Microscopy. Also available for research are terahertz radiation sources and ultrafast laser systems. Students engage in absorption, light scattering, and photoluminescence spectroscopy using systems operating from the terahertz frequency band to the ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Students interested in nanofabrication will find excellent facilities in Rensselaer’s Micro and Nano-Fabrication Clean Room (MNCR). This is a state-of-the-art, 5,700-square-foot, Class 100 multi-user facility which supports research and education in nanotechnology, biotechnology, microelectronics, solid state lighting, energy, and other fields. The MNCR offers infrastructure for end-to-end device fabrication, characterization, metrology and testing by the graduate student user on substrates ranging from a few millimeters in size to full wafers 200 mm in diameter for high-speed electronics, power devices, integrated circuits, microsystems, and other applications. Fabrication of structures as small as 20 nm is possible in the MNCR, and structures as small as 1.5 nm can be achieved. In addition, the facility has several dedicated staff members to provide process solutions, training, and teaching.

The Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Research on our campus offers extensive and high-quality facilities for students’ experimental research in biological physics at the molecular, cellular and tissue level.

Students conducting research in theoretical condensed matter physics use Rensselaer’s own supercomputer. The Blue Gene/Q is one of the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputers. Theoretical methods implemented by our students on this machine and other computers are density functional theory calculations, Monte-Carlo Simulations as well as classical and quantum mechanical molecular dynamics simulation.

In addition, the Department’s research activities are affiliated with numerous research centers on campus: The Center for Computational Innovations, the Center for Future Energy Systems, the Center for Materials, Devices and Integrated Systems, the Network Science and Technology Center, the Institute for Data Exploration and Applications, the Rensselaer Nanotechnology Center, the Scientific Computation Research Center, the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the Data Science Research Center.



Particle and Fields

Rensselaer research in particle astrophysics is involved in one of the leading experiments that could detect neutrinoless double beta decay, the nEXO experiment at SNOLAB in Canada.

Students pursuing thesis research in theoretical particle physics apply lattice field theories and implement the calculations on the Blue Gene/Q supercomputer.


Career Paths

Our goal is to help you develop the skills you need to establish a rewarding and productive career. There are many options, depending on your talents and interests. You can tailor our flexible curriculum to suit your needs.

Traditional career choices include research in government, industrial, or university laboratories. Many of our students continue on to the best graduate schools to study physics, astronomy, mathematics, or engineering; others have gone on to successful careers in medicine, technical management, law, investment banking, and teaching.

Governmental and Private Employment

Historically about one-third of our BS students seek employment directly after graduation. Because they become excellent problem solvers, our graduates find jobs in a variety of fields. Some become commissioned officers in the US armed services, fulfilling positions like supervising nuclear reactors on naval ships. A partial list of private employers includes:

General Electric

National Instruments



Boeing Aerospace


Pratt and Whitney

Cisco (networking)

Lockheed Martin

General Cable (manufacturing)

Cadmus Group (nonprofit energy/environment)

EIT Research Group

A D Little (consulting/operations management)

Teaching (high school teacher; technical trainer)

Bank of America

Axcelis (manufacturing)

Spectra Environment Group

Teledyne (systems technology)

Transtech Systems

Crystal IS

US Government

Bloomberg News

CREE (lighting technology)

TraDoc Analysis


Graduate School

About two-thirds of our BS students pursue graduate education leading to the MS and/or PhD degrees in physics and related fields. Our recent students have populated all but a few of the top graduate programs in these fields, many earning prestigious graduate fellowships. Some recent examples of PhD programs that recruited Rensselaer physics majors are:

Caltech (physics)

MIT (physics)

Stanford (physics)

Johns Hopkins (physics; applied physics; astronomy)

Chicago (physics; Inst. for Molecular Engineering)

Berkeley (physics)

University of Cambridge, England (astrophysics)

Cornell (physics; applied physics; biological physics; applied math)

Brown (math)

UC Santa Barbara (physics)

U. Illinois (physics)

Michigan (physics; materials science)

Michigan St. (physics)

Arizona (physics)


Academic Opportunities

Student researchers play a critical role in the world-changing discovery, innovation, and breakthroughs taking place across campus.

On-campus organization catering to both undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in physics.

Our faculty and students' scholarly achievements are reflected by the awards they have received from a variety of organizations.