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 The Undergraduate Physics Major Program

Follow this link for Undergraduate Program in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science Degrees

The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree programs have very nearly the same basic requirements for courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics. The B.A. program, however, requires approximately eleven courses in the humanities and social sciences, while the B.S. program specifies approximately eight such courses. A second-level year of a foreign language is required for both the B.A. and B.S. programs. Students are also required to complete five writing intensive courses before graduation - see the General Catalog for more information.

The physics major is a program that requires careful planning on the part of the student. It is broadly based not only upon physics courses but also upon a good foundation of mathematics and, often, upon advanced work in such related areas as astronomy, chemistry and engineering. In view of the very large variety of opportunities available to those who have a good fundamental background in physics and mathematics, it is important that the student take advantage of his/her undergraduate years at the University to investigate and experience some of these possibilities to the fullest extent practicable.

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Special Emphasis - B.S. Degree Programs

Some examples of specialized preparation which the student can initiate as an undergraduate physics major include the following:

A four-year degree program can prepare the student for work in industrial and government laboratories as an applied physicist in a variety of positions ranging from computer programming to experimental physics. For this purpose, the student should select elective courses in advanced mathematical analysis (including Physics 400) and basic engineering, such as, for example, electronics. A broad four-year physics major program plus some courses in business administration can be good preparation for laboratory and industrial management, and for an M.S. program in Business Administration.

Nearly all scientific professions require graduate training (Master of Science, Professional or Ph.D. degrees). For many of these professions, graduate schools consider the physics major, plus properly selected special courses, to be optimum undergraduate preparation.

In order to select the courses that might best complete an undergraduate physics major program in preparation for inter-disciplinary fields, the student should consult not only his/her physics advisor but also the prospective graduate school. These interdisciplinary fields include Biophysics, Chemical Physics, Environmental Science, Geophysics, Medical Physics, Meteorology, and Oceanography. Most graduate schools in engineering will accept the physics major as undergraduate training.

Another important field for which the undergraduate physics major can be strongly recommended is that of Secondary School Science Teaching. The four- year physics major program would then be augmented by basic courses in biology and geosciences. The remaining requirements for the teaching credential, including practice teaching, are easily accommodated in a fifth year with the College of Education.

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The First-Year Program

When entering the University with only high school experience, students may know that they would like to concentrate in science or engineering, but may not yet know which specific natural science or field of engineering they should choose for a lifetime profession. Fortunately, all the B.S. programs (Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics, and Zoology), along with all the majors in the College of Engineering, recommend the same basic first-year program, including first courses in chemistry, mathematics and physics. This effectively allows the student at least one year of university experience before he/she needs to decide on a major program. In this first year, the student can elect a basic course in such other areas as biology, geosciences, astronomy, or engineering to aid his/her decision.

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The Introductory Physics Courses

A. Physical Science and Engineering Orientation --
These introductory physics courses comprise an integrated three-semester sequence with the following order of subject matter:

  • Physics 170, 170L --
    • Mechanics
    • Thermodynamics
  • Physics 272, 272L --
    • Electricity and Magnetism
    • Geometric Optics
  • Physics 274, 274L --
    • Physical Optics
    • Special Relativity
    • Quantum Physics
    • Atomic and Nuclear Physics

In the lecture courses, 170, 272, and 274, the physical systems are described using mathematics through calculus. The associated laboratory courses, 170L, 272L and 274L, are of equal importance. They allow the student to observe and measure real physical systems using various experimental techniques.

B. Physical Science Orientation -- (Non-Calculus Prerequisite)
A satisfactory completion of the one-year, non-calculus Physics 151-152 sequence may be substituted for the Physics 170-272 courses for physics majors. These courses, along with the pre-calculus Math 140, are presented in the second four-year schedule attached.

Non-calculus physics is offered to potential physical science majors for whom it is of considerable advantage to have the basic elementary physics courses in their first year while simultaneously preparing for their calculus courses. This sequence accommodates those students who may have decided to enter the physical sciences too late to fully prepare themselves by taking advanced high school mathematics.

The associated laboratories for the 151-152 sequences (151L-152L) are essentially the same as the corresponding 170L-272L laboratories described above. They provide the student with the opportunity to practice basic techniques and methods of experimental analysis as applied to scientific research.

Students who wish to have their AP Physics reviewed for laboratory credit should submit their laboratory notebooks, with the following information, to the Department of Physics and Astronomy:

  1. Your full name, UH email address, and telephone number.
  2. Laboratory notebooks graded by your AP instructor, together with a copy of your College Board AP Physics score sheet.
  3. The name and location of your high school, and the name of your AP instructor.
Laboratory notebooks, with the above information, should be placed in the box designated “AP Credit for Physics Lab” in Watanabe Hall, room 416.

Please click here for the University of Hawai'i's policy on Advanced Placement Examinations for granting credits and/or waivers.

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The Four-Year Program

Click here to start planning your 4-year program in Physics and declare your major as physics. Please see the Bachelor Degree program sheets and sample four year academic plans at the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.

It should be emphasized that the Department has provided a means by which the individual student may develop a special physics major program. For example, the student may substitute advanced courses in a related discipline for corresponding advanced courses in physics and thereby fulfill any additional undergraduate requirements for entering a graduate program in a related discipline. Please see undergraduate physics degree requirements in the General Catalog.

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The Honors Program

Academically gifted physics students are encouraged to join the Honors program and to participate in special Honors Program courses. More information can be found at the Honors Program website. Click here for their brochure.

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Faculty Advisors

At the beginning of each academic year, each student who is majoring in physics should arrange to be assigned to a faculty advisor. This may be done at the Department Office. The faculty advisor can be of assistance not only with such matters as the design of course programs but also with making postgraduation plans and arranging for letters of recommendation. Note that a signature from your advisor is required on your registration form when you register.

In addition to consulting his/her physics advisor, it is recommended that each student take advantage of advising (for example, in regard to University and College general requirements) from the Student Services Office of the College of Arts and Sciences (located in QLC #113).

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Student Assistantships

Each year the Department has a number of part-time positions available to undergraduate physics majors. These include assisting individual faculty members in the grading of papers, in laboratory teaching, and in research projects. It is strongly felt that the experience gained by the student assistant is an important part of his/her over-all education in undergraduate physics. In addition, the assistantship can be of significant financial aid to the student. For information about student assistantships, inquiry should be made at the office of the Department Chair.

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The Department of Physics and Astronomy has an extensive laboratory and classroom building, Watanabe Hall. It has about 37,000 square feet of research and teaching laboratories, shops, classrooms with special demonstration facilities, and student study rooms. The Institute for Astronomy building, located above the Manoa campus, is a greatly expanded facility for research in astronomy and astrophysics.

Computers are available for physics students in Watanabe Hall, Room 421. The Physics and Astronomy Department Office is in Watanabe Hall, Room 416.

Undergraduate Program Committee
Department of Physics and Astronomy


Areas of Interest

B.S. Special Emphasis

·  The First-Year Program

Intro. Physics Courses

·  The Four-Year Program

The Honors Program

·  Faculty Advisors

Student Assistantship

·  Facilities
Informational Links
  UH General Catalog
  . Physics Section
  . Physics Course

Graduate Courses

  Schedule of Courses
  Course Syllabi
  Research Programs
  UHM Society of Physics Students

Additional Information

For more information contact:
Professor Pui Lam, Chair
Department of Physics
University of Hawaii
2505 Correa Rd.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822

Telephone: (808) 956-7087
Fax: (808) 956-7107


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