Physics and astronomy students are driven to understand the nature of space, time, and matter from the quantum level to the outer reaches of the universe. They’re intellectually curious, bright, and confident individuals preparing to make their mark in a wide range of careers.
Why Study at Iowa?
The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers challenging courses on a variety of subjects. Advanced classes usually will have 15-20 students, allowing you to receive a high level of individual attention. You'll begin with courses that teach problem-solving skills, logical thinking, and technical skills. As you progress, you'll have opportunities to do research. You also might decide to participate in one of the many internships available at national laboratories and other facilities.
Outside of class, you may join the Society of Physics Students, which is open to all students interested in the subject. The society coordinates field trips and activities that foster student-faculty interaction and scientific learning.
The program has about 80 undergraduate students and 60 graduate students.
Students majoring in physics may earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree or a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree.
In general, the BS program prepares students for graduate study in physics or astronomy and for research-related careers.
The BA program provides a foundation for professional study in law, medicine, and other areas; for careers in fields such as administration, business, and technical writing; for secondary school teaching; and for graduate school. Students in the BA program take fewer required mathematics and physics courses and have a broader choice of electives.
Course requirements for both programs include:
- Calculus I–II
- Physics I–II–III–IV
- Intermediate Laboratory (data analysis, electricity, magnetism, physics, optics)
- Additional physics and astronomy courses (choices are different for BA and BS students)
- BS students also take Calculus III and a linear algebra course
- BA students also complete four related science courses or the requirements for teacher licensure
Review the College of Education's Science Education Program for information about the Teacher Education Program.
Minor in Physics
Physics majors (in either the BA or BS program) need to meet the requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Admission Requirements Tabs
Most undergraduate physics students participate in research projects. Some work directly with faculty members. Students have worked on projects ranging from the development of ultrafast optical measurement techniques to the use of satellite data in studying interplanetary media.
Iowa students are extraordinarily successful at competing for summer research opportunities at other top universities and at facilities such as research laboratories and national observatories.
Faculty, Facilities, and Resources
The department is recognized for its top-notch research. Its 29 faculty members work in astronomy and in nine areas of physics, including atomic and molecular, condensed-matter, high-energy, mathematical, medical, nuclear, optical, plasma, and space physics. Departmental research garners more than $16 million each year in external support.
Several faculty members are fellows of professional associations such as the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union. One is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences. The late James Van Allen, a longtime professor and renowned space researcher, discovered the Earth’s radiation belts—named the Van Allen Radiation Belts in his honor.
The department has two optical telescopes and a radio telescope on the roof of Van Allen Hall and a fully automated telescope in Arizona. The optical telescope facility, run by students, is used for teaching and research projects. The department also maintains a full machine shop and 24-hour computer labs.
Additional resources on the UI campus include superconducting fabrication facilities, the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories, and the Optical Science and Technology Center. Varied labs are devoted to plasma, medical, atomic, high-energy, and molecular physics. Several ultrafast laser labs, a III-V molecular beam epitaxy lab, and a high-resolution X-ray diffraction lab also are available.
Iowa City is only a few hours’ drive from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.
Iowa graduates have job placement rates ranging from 86-100 percent, depending on their area of study, and our Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.
Physics and astronomy graduates have mastered skills that are readily transferable to a number of fields. You might choose to work in research, engineering, software development, teaching, finance, biomedical research, or consulting.
About 70 percent of physics and astronomy graduates go on to graduate school. With help from the department’s in-house recruiting office, they win acceptance to some of the best graduate programs in the country.
Several scholarships are available for undergraduate physics majors. For example, first-year students may apply for the Shoemaker-Strickler Memorial Scholarship, which offers full tuition, fees, and a book allowance. The Strayer-Rairden Scholarship in Physics provides a renewable $1,000 award to a highly qualified applicant who has declared physics or astronomy as a major. Students also have been recipients of Presidential, Old Gold, and Goldwater Scholarships.
Physics majors apply to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.