What is Physics?

Physics explores how and why the universe works, from subatomic to universe scales.

It is the basic science that underlies all the natural sciences. The behaviors of matter and energy govern applied situations in everyday life like wind energy, X-rays and MRI, Lake Superior, and satellites. Physics is also interested in esoteric states of matter from the most fundamental neutrinos and atoms to large and complex structures like supernovae and galaxies.

There are many subfields of physics. Our department has strengths in particle and nuclear physics, physical limnology and oceanography, condensed matter and soft matter, optics and spectroscopy, biological and medical applications, computational physics, astrophysics and cosmology.

Discoveries by physicists, like quantum phenomena and the theory of the big bang, transformed our view of the natural world compared to the 19th century. Key inventions like the transistor and the laser, magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear energy, the internet, have fueled the technological revolutions of the 20th century. Physics majors have also become business leaders and world leaders. The physics students of today will drive the inventions and discoveries of the 21st century: in science, medicine, energy, the environment, and business.

What does a Physicist Do?

Physicists work in a variety of professions in science, technology, and education. They solve quantitative problems by exploring the different parts that make a system work.

Physicists conduct basic research at national laboratories or universities, or applied research in the R&D lab for a company or a consulting agency. They work with teams in science, engineering, technology, finance, and public policy.

Some work with experiments and measurements, sensors and data analysis. Others work primarily with mathematics and models, derivations and calculations. Many are computational experts and work with or between the two using high performance computing and programming techniques.

How do I know if Physics is right for me?

Are you curious how things work under the hood, not just push a button or plug-n-chug a formula? Are you good with mathematics or computer programming and want to do more? Do you like to engage in new concepts and see how they can be applied to real world problems? You are much of that, plus you are interested in another subject like environmental science, biochemistry/medicine, computer science, or maths? Then physics might be right for you!

Career opportunities

Our program gives you the foundational concepts and quantitative skills and techniques for an extraordinary variety of careers in modern industry. The unemployment rate among physics students is among the lowest of all disciplines.

The national Society of Physics Students has compiled a quantitative visualization of these career options.

This link shows who is hiring recent physics graduates in Minnesota.