Students entering UNC Asheville as freshmen should have a strong high school background in mathematics and physics. AP courses in calculus and calculus based physics are recommended but not required. Regardless of your high school background, it is recommended that you take all calculus and introductory physics courses at the college level.
Because it is one of the basic sciences, a student planning to enter almost any branch of science or engineering must have a broad knowledge of physics. A student with a B.S. in physics has many options available depending on one's individual interests. Many of our students continue on to graduate studies in physics at major universities. Other students use their broad general background as a foundation to pursue advanced training in technical fields such as engineering, medicine, or other fields of science, or to enter non-technical disciplines such as law, business administration, or education.
About the Major
Physics is the most fundamental of the natural sciences. It addresses basic questions involving the structure of matter and the underlying physical laws governing their interactions and motion.
Physics is based on the interplay between theory and experiment. A theory must describe what is observed. If it does not, the theory must be discarded, altered, or enlarged. Measurement is extremely important along with understanding experimental uncertainties.
Physics serves as an excellent discipline for training you to think critically. Models, crafted with artistry, are used to describe reality. You need to determine the uncertainties in measurement, the appropriateness of a specific equation, the approximations involved, and various alternative approaches to solution.
A background in physics serves as a broad base of education. You acquire a significant amount of mathematics, chemistry, computer science, astronomy, and fundamental engineering.
As a physics major, you take three calculus courses and a course in differential equations. Two additional courses such as partial differential equations and linear algebra can earn you a minor in mathematics.
The language of physics is mathematics. The basic laws of physics are often written as differential equations. Quantum mechanics has an equivalent matrix mathematical formulation. The treatment of molecules in gases involves statistics. Majors learn of the normal or Gaussian distribution, probability distributions for speeds of molecules, and special statistics for electrons. Discrete probabilities are encountered in quantum theory.
Training in physics includes one year of chemistry. You learn how the foundations of chemistry are arrived at from first principles in upper-level courses in modern physics and quantum mechanics. Theoretical chemistry is essentially physics since chemical interactions are based on the quantum-mechanical treatment of the electromagnetic force.
Our physics majors learn how to use sophisticated mathematical software such as MAPLE and/or write computer programs to solve physics problems. A popular language today is Java. The emphasis is on practical skills. You learn how to model a problem, use the appropriate tool, or code an algorithm for computation.
Much of astronomy is covered throughout the sequence of courses taken in physics. Planetary motion and gravitation are topics of astronomy. The color temperature of stars is a basic application of the quantization of energy in modern physics.
The laws of physics are crucial for such applied fields as atmospheric sciences, environmental studies, and engineering. Students majoring in physics can readily be accepted for graduate studies in these areas.
Physics is very strong for students interested in going into teaching at all levels. The physics major is prepared to teach not only physics, but mathematics through calculus and introductory chemistry. One does so with a rich background in applied mathematics and the confident mastery of the theoretical foundations of the chemical periodic table.
The physics major is also exposed to deep philosophical concepts involving space, time, and matter. The two cornerstones of modern physics, the theory of relativity (Einstein) and the quantum theory (Heisenberg, Schrödinger, and Born), have had considerable impact on philosophical thought. The wave-particle duality of quantum theory along with the associated Heisenberg uncertainty principle suggests a strange and fascinating picture of the world, still not known to many outside of physics today.
In summary, physics is an excellent field of study for an education offering quantitative critical thinking and analysis. Its fundamental character enables you to branch out and study a variety of applied and related fields. It serves as a good investment of your time since you can more readily make career changes later in life.
Physics Concentrations & Minors
- Applied Physics
- Physics with comprehensive Science Licensure
- Preparation for Graduate School
- Physics with Teacher Licensure
- Physics Minor
- Astronomy Minor
Declaration of Major or Minor
Declaring a major in physics, minor in physics, or minor in astromony requires the student to complete a Declaration of Major or Minor form that must be signed by the department chair. Before declaring a major, students must satisfy the LANG 120 requirement.
To graduate from UNC Asheville with a physics major in the graduate school track in four years, it is necessary to take Calculus 1 (MATH 191) in the first semester of the freshman year, then Calculus II (MATH 192) and Physics 1 (PHYS 221) in the second semester of the freshman year. For more information, see the two suggested four year plans:
Transferring from the North Carolina Community College System
Students transferring to UNC Asheville should be aware of our transfer student policies and North Carolina's credit equivalencies. Students who intend to transfer to UNC Asheville for a major in Physics should take Calculus I, II and III, Differential Equations, and calculus based Physics I and II. It is necessary to articulate with the appropriate four year plan above to graduate in four years. If necessary, the PHYS 326 prerequisite for Quantum Mechanics 1 (PHYS 414) will be waived.
Questions may be directed to Dr. Charles A. Bennett, Chair and Professor of Physics: firstname.lastname@example.org.