Physics and Biophysics
The Physics and Biophysics Department provides undergraduates with rigorous, inspiring, and hands-on courses and training in the physical sciences. We offer a range of classes including quantum mechanics, astrophysics, biophysics, fluid mechanics and computational physics. We provide substantial opportunities for students to engage in cutting-edge research, and we pride ourselves on close one-on-one mentoring and advising of our students. This approach makes our majors highly competitive for prestigious scholastic awards, graduate school admissions, and employment.
We offer bachelor’s degrees in both Physics and Biophysics that prepare students to excel in any career path they choose. Requirements and a Recommended Plan of Study for each major are described in detail under the corresponding Catalog page. For students interested in engineering, we offer an Engineering Physics Pathway in which students earn a BA in Physics and a BS/BA in Mechanical Engineering in 5 years. For students interested in pursuing K-12 education, we offer a 4-year Physics Education Pathway in which students earn a BA in Physics, a single-subject teaching credential, and preparation for the California Subject Examination for Teachers. Requirements and a Recommended Plan of Study for each pathway are provided under the Physics Major catalog page.
What is Physics and Biophysics?
Physics explores the universe from its smallest to grandest scales: from the insides of nuclei to the architecture of the cosmos. For even the most complex systems, like human life and the universe, physicists search for patterns to build models and extract fundamental truths. The use of physics to discover new insights into living systems encompasses a growing branch of interdisciplinary science - biophysics. Physicists also use their modeling and problem-solving skills to contribute to technological breakthroughs, such as artificial intelligence, and grand societal problems, such as global warming.
We place a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, and we encourage students to get involved in research as early as possible. Undergraduate research students learn first-hand where the limits of humanity’s scientific understanding lie and how to push those limits outward. Students have the opportunity to conduct research on a wide range of cutting-edge topics including: molecular and cellular biophysics, astrophysics, materials technology, plasma science, adaptive optics, computational physics, high-energy physics, biochemical engineering, and alternative energy. Student researchers learn experimental, computational and theoretical research techniques; and gain first-hand experience with advanced physics instrumentation including optical tweezers, light-sheet and confocal microscopes, tunable diode lasers, pulsed NMR, and vacuum chambers. Student researchers also have opportunities to travel and present their work at research conferences nationwide, publish scientific papers, and interact with leading scientists in the field.
Society of Physics Students
Our student-led club, Society of Physics Students, is a great way for students to get involved in the department, participate in physics education and outreach activities, form lifelong friendships, and prepare for life after USD. Our SPS chapter has been recognized as an Outstanding Chapter (top 10% of all chapters internationally), and has won the prestigious Blake Lily Prize for their K-12 outreach efforts. SPS students have also been awarded national research awards, including the SPS Undergraduate Research Award and the Goldwater Scholarship. SPS organizes professional development, educational, social, and outreach activities, as well as travel to scientific conferences. Finally, SPS supports our monthly Distinguished Speaker Series that invites physics and biophysics alumni, researchers, and professionals to give talks about their work and how to pursue their career path.
Life after Physics and Biophysics
Because physics and biophysics majors comprise less than 3% of all STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded each year, our majors stand out and are sought out by a wide variety of graduate programs and companies.
Physics: Many of our physics majors pursue graduate programs in physics, engineering, computer science, astronomy and materials science. Immediately after graduation, physics majors are also highly successful in obtaining jobs in engineering, data science, finance, information technology, and education. Students completing the Engineering Physics Pathway are particularly competitive for positions at premier engineering firms. Students who complete the Physics Education Pathway are immediately employed as high school or junior high physics teachers.
Biophysics: Many of our biophysics majors pursue medical, dental and veterinarian school - the biophysics major fulfills all of the pre-health requirements and allows students to score exceptionally well on the MCAT. Biophysics majors also pursue graduate degrees in biophysics, bioengineering, medical physics, and biochemistry. Immediately after graduation, biophysics majors are highly successful at obtaining jobs in biotechnology, immunology, pharmaceuticals, data science, and bioengineering.