Caltech Home > PMA Home > Research & Academics > Physics > Physics Undergraduate Studies > Physics Undergraduate Program Description
open search form

Physics Undergraduate Program Description

Photo of Portico Credit: Caltech Strategic Communications

The undergraduate physics program provides students with extensive training in the fundamentals of modern physics, ensuring that they have the foundation to pursue graduate study and careers in basic research. All Caltech undergraduates are required to complete three terms of introductory physics, though most options require additional physics.Those who choose to pursue the physics option go on to study the discipline in much greater depth. Sophomore-level courses explore waves, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics. Elective courses taken during the junior and senior year allow students to explore their particular interests through broad survey courses as well as through more focused laboratory studies and research. Active evolvement in research, both during the summer and school year, is strongly encouraged for all PMA undergraduates. Students often receive academic credit for the physics work that they do outside of the classroom. In addition, many of the physics undergraduates complete at least one Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF).

Mission of the Caltech Physics Undergraduate Program

Physics constitutes the study of the workings of our world and provides the intellectual bedrock of our technology. Our program aims to provide students with a broad overview of the modern understanding of physical laws, extensive practical lab experience, and research experience with leading research groups. The mission is fulfilled through course work, a multitude of lab classes, and research opportunities, primarily through our SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships) program and the freshmen Ph11 research class.

Our program has a special emphasis on equipping the students with needed tools for a successful research career. The program requires computational physics and programming classes, a writing and presentation class, and offers an electronic design lab class, as well as a sequence of mathematical methods classes. Connections of coursework material and technological and practical applications are emphasized through several innovative classes and freshman seminars. 

Learning Outcomes

By graduation time, our students are expected to have:

1. A broad knowledge of fundamental physical laws applying to the world at scales ranging from the nuclear to the cosmological.

2. Experience in data and statistical analysis and experimental techniques.

3. The equivalent of several quarters of research work.

4. An experience in computational physics programming.

5. A broad range of problem solving experience.

The knowledge and skills acquired are consistent with admissions to graduate programs in peer institutions.

Means of Evaluation

The outcomes of our program are regularly evaluated through several channels: students provide course feedback through the online TQFR system; graduating students fill out an exit survey; all residence houses have an Ombuds person for each of the introductory physics classes; the option representative meets with students regularly during biweekly office hours; the students in the program collectively discuss the program annually with representatives of the faculty, as part of the Student Faculty Conference; alumni outcomes are also monitored. The information gathered is used to improve class teaching and professorial assignments as well as to motivate curriculum changes.