Academic Course Catalogs

Drop Shadow


Gregory D. Severn, PhD, CHAIR
Rae Anderson, PhD
Daniel P. Sheehan, PhD

The Physics and Biophysics Majors

Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences, exploring the universe from its smallest to grandest scales. In other words, physics attempts to understand nature in both its greatest simplicity and its most uncontrollable complexity. Physicists are model-builders of everything from the architecture of the cosmos, the substructure of the nuclei, the complexity of life, and even the hidden patterns of the stock market. Biophysics, lying at the intersection of physics, biology and chemistry, focuses on applying the understanding, methods and quantitative skills gained in physics to a vast array of biological systems in order to gain new insights into biological problems.

The bachelor’s degree in physics is designed to prepare students for a wide variety of career paths including graduate school in physics or engineering; employment in physics, engineering or biotech fields; medical, dental or pharmacy school; and high school teaching.

The interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in biophysics is also designed to prepare students for a broad range of career paths including graduate study in: biophysics, medical physics, biochemistry and chemistry. It is also superb preparation for any of the health professions (medical, dental, veterinary), or direct employment in the fields of biotechnology and biomedical industries.

The following high school preparation is recommended for students planning a major in physics or biophysics at USD: High school physics, chemistry and biology; intermediate algebra; geometry; and trigonometry. High school calculus is strongly recommended, but not required.

Our faculty are dedicated to outstanding undergraduate teaching and perform research in a variety of areas including biophysics, plasma physics, astrophysics, the foundations of thermodynamics, chemical physics, and physics education. USD physics faculty pride themselves on including undergraduate researchers and assistants at every level of their work. Our graduates not only go on to advanced studies in physics and engineering graduate programs, but also pursue a number of other careers, with majors becoming research scientists, physicians, theologians, computer programmers, engineers, and more.

Physics Major

Preparation for the Major (30 Units)

PHYS 270, 270L (or 136 & 136L), 271, 271L, 272, 272L
MATH 150, 151, 250
CHEM 151, 151L, 152, 152L

Major Requirements (28 Units)

The 28 units of upper division work in physics must include PHYS 314, 324, 330 and 480W. In addition, students must complete 12 units of elective physics coursework at the 300 or 400 level. The major culminates with three units of seminar and research, PHYS 495 and 496, normally taken in the senior year. Not all upper division courses have 272 and 272L as prerequisites so students may begin their upper division courses of their sophomore year. Most of the upper division courses are taught on an alternate year cycle, but since upper division work may begin before the junior year, students have ample time to complete the major during their senior year. Two upper division courses in mathematics are required for the major, and should taken as early as possible, with MATH 310 and 311 strongly suggested. Students are strongly advised to take as many physics and mathematics courses as their schedule will allow.
The following program of study fulfills the minimum requirement for a bachelor’s degree in physics. It is recommended that a student take MATH 150 in the first semester, and MATH 151 and PHYS 270 and 270L in the second semester. If the student is not prepared to take MATH 150 in the fall of the freshman year, it would be preferable to take MATH 115 and 118 the summer preceding the freshman year. It would be possible, but difficult, to take MATH 115 and 118 in the fall of the freshman year and still begin PHYS 270 in the spring of the freshman year along with MATH 150.

The Physics Minor

The 18 units required for a minor in Physics must include PHYS 270, 270L, 271,271L (or PHYS 136,136L,137,137L), PHYS 272, 272L and six Upper-Division Units.

The Biophysics Major

Preparation for the Major (38 units)

Preparation for the biophysics major is designed to give the student a broad background in biology, chemistry and physics. In order to successfully navigate these diverse fields, a strong background in math is also required.

MATH 150, 151, 250
PHYS 136, 136L, 137, 137L or 270, 270L, 271, 271L
PHYS 272, 272L
CHEM 151, 151L, 152, 152L
BIOL 190, 225

Major Requirements (26 units)

Courses required for the Biophysics Major also reflect the integration of the sciences, with upper division courses from each of biology, chemistry and physics required. Students are urged to work with their biophysics academic advisor to work out a schedule of courses and electives that best fits their career goals and aspirations.

PHYS 340, 493, 495, 496
PHYS 330 or CHEM 311
CHEM 301, 301L, 302, 302L and 331
BIOL 300
Two Upper-Division Electives from BIOL, PHYS, BCHEM or MARS
*majors must complete at least 8 units of upper division PHYS courses

Suggested Upper-Division Electives include:
PHYS 301, 319, 324, 480W
BIOL, 342, 432, 480, 482
CHEM 314, 335, 380, 427
MARS 452, 473, 478

Physics Courses (PHYS)

PHYS 101 Physics and Society (3)
A discussion of the concepts which unify our experience with the physical world. Topics are presented at an introductory level for the student with little or no background in physical science. Science related topics of special interest are discussed. Examples include: alternatives for energy production and conservation; radiation, its effect and applications; and ethical decisions in the application of new scientific discoveries. Weekly lectures include demonstrations and discussions. Every semester.

PHYS 105 Physical Sciences for K-8 Teachers (3)
A laboratory/lecture/discussion class designed to lead students toward an understanding of selected topics in chemistry and physics. The course topics are selected to satisfy the Physical Science specifications of the Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (K-12). Enrollment is limited to liberal studies majors. Two two-hour laboratory sessions per week. This course is cross-listed with Chemistry 105. Fall semester.

PHYS 107 Astronomy (3)
A survey of astronomy covering astronomical history, planetology, stellar birth/life/death, large-scale structures, and cosmology. No formal laboratory. No science prerequisites.

PHYS 117 Astronomy with Laboratory (3)
A survey of astronomy covering astronomical history, descriptive astronomy, planetology, stellar birth/life/death, and cosmology. This course satisfies the core curriculum physical science requirement with laboratory. Two lectures and one laboratory weekly. No science prerequisites. Fall semester.

PHYS 136 General Physics I (3)
A study of the fundamental principles of mechanics and wave motion, sound, and heat. Three lectures and one laboratory weekly. Prerequisite: Concurrent registration in PHYS 136L, and MATH 130 or 150. Every semester.

PHYS 137 General Physics II (3)
A study of the fundamental principles of electricity and magnetism, light, and modern physics. Three lectures and one laboratory weekly. Prerequisite: PHYS 136, 136L, and Concurrent registration in PHYS 137L. Every semester.

PHYS 136L-137L General Physics Laboratory (1-1)
A laboratory course which introduces the concepts and techniques of experimental physics. Both PHYS 136L and PHYS 137L laboratory periods meet every week. Prerequisites: concurrent registration in PHYS 136-137. Every semester.

PHYS 270 Introduction to Mechanics
Thermodynamics and Wave Motion (3) A study of the fundamental principles of mechanics, thermodynamics and wave motion. Three hours of lecture and one three-hour laboratory weekly. Prerequisite: MATH 150 and concurrent registration in PHYS 270L; concurrent registration in MATH 151 recommended. Every semester.

PHYS 271 Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism (3)
A study of the fundamental principles of classical electricity and magnetism including optics. Three hours of lecture and one three-hour laboratory weekly. Prerequisites: PHYS 270, 270L or PHYS 136, 136L completed, MATH 151 completed or concurrent, and 271L concurrent; MATH 250 concurrent recommended. Every semester.

PHYS 270L-271L Physics Laboratory (1-1)
A laboratory course which introduces the concepts and techniques of experimental physics. Laboratory periods meet every week. Prerequisites: completion of or concurrent registration in PHYS 270-271. Every semester.

PHYS 272 Introduction to Modern Physics (3)
An introduction to modern physics including special relativity, quantum mechanics, atomic and nuclear physics. Three hours of lecture per week. Spring semester. Prerequisites: MATH 151, PHYS 271, 271L or PHYS 137, 137L.

PHYS 272L Introduction to Modern Physics Laboratory (1)
Laboratory experiments to illustrate the topics presented in the lecture course: Introduction to Modern Physics (PHYS 272). Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in PHYS 272.

PHYS 301 Energy and the Environment (3)
Energy is the lifeblood of civilization, but its use entails substantial environmental costs. This course examines the physics and technology of energy production, distribution and use, as well as its environmental consequences. It is suitable for students having completed lower-division introductory physics. Prerequisites: PHYS 271, 271L or PHYS 137, 137L.

PHYS 307 Astrophysics (3)
A study of the fundamental principles of Astrophysics including topics such as Stellar Evolution, Special and General Relativity, Cosmology, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life. Prerequisite: PHYS 271, 271L or PHYS 137, 137L, Math 151.

PHYS 314 Analytical Mechanics (3)
Statics and dynamics are developed using vector analysis, the Hamiltonian and Lagrangian formulations, and normal coordinates. Prerequisites: MATH 250, PHYS 271, 271L. Alternate years.

PHYS 319 Thermal and Statistical Physics (3)
This course employs techniques from statistical mechanics to explore topics in thermodynamics. Topics include ideal gases, phase transitions, chemical equilibrium, kinetic theory, and paramagnetism. Prerequisite: PHYS 272.

PHYS 324 Electromagnetism (3)
A development of Maxwell’s equations using vector calculus. The electrical and magnetic properties of matter and the solution of boundary value problems are also developed. Prerequisites: MATH 250, PHYS 271, 271L or PHYS 137, 137L. Alternate years.

PHYS 330 Quantum Mechanics (3)
Introduction to the fundamental properties of Quantum Mechanics, including the Schroedinger equation in 1-3 dimensions, the mathematical formalism (involving linear algebra and partial differential equations) of Quantum Theory, the solution of the Hydrogen atom, and elementary perturbation theory. Prerequisites: MATH 250, PHYS 272. Alternate years.

PHYS 331 Advanced Topics in Quantum Physics (3)
Applications of Quantum Theory in areas such as atomic, nuclear, solid state, and elementary particle physics. Prerequisites: PHYS 330.

PHYS 340 Biological Physics (3)
Biological physics introduces the interface between the two classic sciences. The topic will be introduced systematically, building on the fundamentals of thermodynamics and build to system wide topics including medical physics and biomedical imaging. Specific topics may include single-molecule biophysics, optical trapping, self-assembly, nuclear dosimetry, x-ray, ultrasound and MRI imaging. Prerequisites: PHYS 137, 137L or PHYS 271, 271L.

PHYS 477 Introduction to Fluids (3)
An introduction to the basic principles of fluids. This course will serve as an introduction to concepts used in physical oceanography, atmospheric science, and other disciplines in which fluids are studied or utilized. Examples of applications to a broad range of disciplines (physics, engineering, earth sciences, and biology) will be developed. Prerequisites: MATH 150, 151, PHYS 137, 137L or PHYS 271, 271L and consent of instructor.

PHYS 477L Fluids Laboratory (1)
Laboratory work to accompany PHYS 477. Prerequisite: Concurrent registration in PHYS 477.

PHYS 480W Experimental Modern Physics (4)
A laboratory-based course focused on the introduction to principles of research techniques with an emphasis on modern physics. Vacuum technology, analog and digital data acquisition instrumentation, high-resolution optical and laser technology, and radiation physics will be explored. This course is the writing intensive course in the physics curriculum and serves to introduce the student to the process of writing research papers in physics. Prerequisites: PHYS 272, 272L. Alternate years.

PHYS 487 Techniques in Physics (1-3)
Training and practice in those areas of physics of practical importance to the technician, teacher, and researcher. To include, but not limited to, technical methodology, preparation and technique in the teaching laboratory, and routines supportive of research. May be repeated up to a maximum of four units of credit. Prerequisite: consent of instructor.

PHYS 493 Seminar I (1)
The first semester of the seminar series is devoted to instruction on scientific presentations in physics. Students will give short presentations on topics of interest, and will prepare to give a lengthy presentation on their research work. Stress is laid on the preparation, execution, and the critique of effective scientific presentations. Meets one hour per week. Fall semester.

PHYS 494 Special Topics (1-3)
Topics chosen by the instructor in areas such as: thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, solid state, hydrodynamics, quantum mechanics, plasma physics, nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, and advanced physics laboratory. May be repeated for credit if the course material is different. Prerequisites: PHYS 271, 271L and consent of instructor.

PHYS 495 Seminar II (1)
The second semester of the seminar series focuses on exposure to current physics research in the form of informal and formal presentations, lab tours, and scientific articles on a wide range of current research fields. Students will attend physics seminars at UCSD and will meet with physicists in fields related to the seminar beforehand. To prepare for the seminars and meetings, students will read journal articles on the topic. Students will learn about a wide range of cutting-edge physics research topics such as: dark matter, global warming and alternative energy sources, biomechanics, string theory, neutrinos, etc. Meets 2-4 hours every other Thursday. Spring semester.

PHYS 496 Research (1-3)
An undergraduate research problem in experimental or theoretical physics. A written report is required. Problem to be selected after consultation with department faculty. Prerequisite: consent of instructor