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, Concentrations 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.

Examples of Concentrations

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

Concentration in Computational Physics

The concentration in Computational Physics resembles concentrations 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 concentrations.   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.

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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.


Biological Physics, 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 biological and 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 WIMP dark matter, the XENON experiment in the Gran Sasso Mountain in central Italy.

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.