Why Physics & Astronomy?
Physics and astronomy have been taught at Rutgers since its founding, and the Department of Physics & Astronomy is today one of the largest and most prestigious in the School of Arts & Sciences. The program offers several tracks, with excellent preparation for graduate school for those interested in pursuing a doctoral degree, and options to tailor a degree to provide a good foundation for those interested in medicine, teaching, engineering or other related technical fields. The Department has an excellent record of supporting undergraduate research experiences, and notably has had one or more winners of the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship every year for the past 10 years, and in 12 of the past 14 years, including four associated with the Department in 2019.
Majors and Minors
Majors in the department have five options. Four options lead to a BS degree, the Professional, Applied, Planetary, and Astrophysics; and one option to a BA, the General Option.
The Professional, Astrophysics, and Planetary options are aimed at students intending to go to graduate school in physics, astrophysics, or one of the planetary options, and begin with the calculus-based sequence, followed by a demanding series of upper level courses in both physics/astrophysics/planetary science and mathematics. The sequences are both credit intensive (requiring about 70 credits), and have many courses that have significant pre-requisites and are typically taught in only one semester per year. Students interested in these majors should consult with an adviser early to plan their program.
The Applied Option is aimed at students who intend to enter the workforce after graduation, or to pursue a Master’s degree in a technical field. It also begins with the calculus-based sequence, but has fewer upper level course requirements in the Department. Those are replaced with electives concentrated in an applied field, such as engineering, or programs in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. It is also credit intensive and students should consult with an advisor early to plan their program.
The General Option leads to a BA and has the most flexibility in the program. This option is intended for students who wish to have a technical background in physics, but have a strong concentration in another area. It begins with the algebra based introductory sequence, and requires significantly fewer courses in physics and mathematics than the BS options, leaving students with many elective options to complete the major. With the proper choice of complementary courses, this provides an excellent foundation for students intending to go to medical school, into high school teaching, technical writing, law, or many other areas.
The minor in physics or astronomy requires completion of either the calculus or algebra based introductory sequences along with four upper level courses.
Research in the Department
Astronomy/Astrophysics at Rutgers
Astronomy is arguably the oldest science, with people observing the stars for guidance on climate since before written records. Using physics in order to understand astronomical phenomena, for example understanding the internal workings of stars, became known as astrophysics. However, the terms astronomy and astrophysics are used interchangeably today.
Observational astronomy is in a new golden age, with many new ground and space based telescopes providing unprecedented observations across a wide range of wavelengths, from microwaves to x-rays, with Rutgers astronomers involved in the full range. Notably, Rutgers was a founding member of the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere, and has a 10% observing share of the telescope time. The incredible increase in computing power over the past few decades has completely reshaped theoretical astrophysics. Rutgers has a large and growing computational astrophysics group, primarily studying the formation of galaxies.
Physics at Rutgers
Physics studies the nature of matter in many realms, from fundamental particle physics to complex and novel materials. It was the first science to realize the beautiful and profound relationship between mathematics and the laws of the physical world. Rutgers physicists study a variety of topics: condensed matter physics, high energy/particle physics, nuclear physics, biophysics, and physics education.
The Department has exceptionally strong theoretical groups in high energy and condensed matter. The theoretical condensed matter group is a world leader in computational condensed matter, and four of the faculty are members of the National Academy of Science. The experimental condensed matter group is likewise a world leader in the fabrication and study of exotic materials, and includes a member of the National Academy of Science and three recipients of the prestigious Moore Foundation fellowships. The high energy group includes renowned theoretical physicists whose work ranges from abstract theory to phenomenological studies of interactions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and neutrino oscillations. The experimental group played key roles in the discovery of the Higgs boson. Rutgers has a strong and unique collaboration between the theoretical and experimental groups in work related to the LHC. The nuclear physics group studies wide variety of interactions, ranging from nuclear structure and studies of the nucleon, through high energy heavy ion collisions at the LHC with the study of the quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter which existed shortly after the Big Bang. The biophysics group has leading theorists in the application of physics to problems in biology, as well as an experimental effort which utilizes advanced fluorescent microscopy, optical tweezers, and digital holography, to understand of biological processes at the single-molecule level. Our physics education researchers are studying how students learn physics and ways to improve instruction, as well as finding ways to encourage inclusion in our program. We have made many modifications to our introductory courses to take advantage of their findings.