Physics Undergraduate Degree Programs

Students Studying
Studying in the phyics library

Undergraduate Programs

(For undergraduate programs in Astronomy and Astrophysics, please see Astronomy and Astrophycis web site. )

The Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa offers undergraduate degree programs in the following areas:

Bachelor of Science (BS)

Degrees Requirement

Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) 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.

Special Emphasis - B.S. Degree Program

Some examples of specialized preparation which the student can initiate as an undergraduate physics major.

Applied Physicist
A four-year degree program can prepare the student for work in industrial and government laboratories 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.
Scientific Professions
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.
Inter-disciplinary Fields
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.
Secondary Education Science Teaching
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 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)

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.

Getting Start in Physics Undergraduate 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.

The prerequisite for PHYS 151 is normally a grade of “C” or better in MATH 140 (precalculus with trigonometry), or MATH 215 or higher.  All other PHYS courses require completion of the necessary MATH courses.  For students who have not yet completed the MATH course prerequisite, but want to take PHYS 151, the Math Placement Exam is the alternative option to demonstrate their current math skill.

  1. A score least least 14 (out of 24) correct on Part 1 AND at least 10 (out of 20) correct on Part 2 of the Math Placement Exam in order to qualify for PHYS 151.

    If students attain the qualifying score of 14+10 on the two parts of the Math Placement Exam, they  qualify for PHYS 151.  They will NOT need to take MATH 140 or any other MATH courses before PHYS 151.  The department is willing to accept a score of 14+10 on the Math Placement Exam in lieu of the MATH course.  

    : The students still need to take MATH 140 or other MATH courses for other reasons: major requirements, FS requirement, etc., so they should check those requirements.
  2. If students take the Placement Exam and do NOT qualify for PHYS 151, but if they score at least 14 correct on Part 1, they can enroll in MATH 140 in next semester.   If they earn a “C” or better in MATH 140, they can continue on to PHYS 151 in the following academic term.
  3. If students do not score at least 14 correct on Part 1 of the Math Placement Exam, then their remaining option is to take MATH 134 next semester (no minimum Placement Exam score required).   If they pass MATH 134, they can automatically continue on to MATH 140 in the following term, and then take PHYS 151 in the term after that.

The Math Department has Math Boot Camps over the summer to refresh mathematical knowledge.  Please visit the Department of Mathematics placement examination for more information.

The Department of Mathematics has an examination for placement in courses.  The placement exam will provide a BMAT score into the Banner system and it is good for one year.  This will allow you to register for certain mathematics courses.  Please visit the Department of Mathematics placement examination for more information.  

The Department of Chemistry has a Prechemistry Assessment examination.  A passing score is required to enroll in CHEM 131, 161 or 171.  Please visit the Department of Chemistry placement examination for more information.  

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.
  3. A copy of your College Board AP Physics score sheet.
  4. 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 review the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s policy on Advanced Placement Examinations for granting credits and/or waivers.  


Begin The Four-Year Physics Program

Please email the The Department of Physics and Astronomy or visit the department office, room 416, to assign an undergraduate academic adviser.  The student should see an advisers to ensure that he/she is taking the necessary courses for proper progress in the physics undergraduate degree program.  

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. 

Special Physics Major Program

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 adviser and degree requirements in the General Catalog.

Student Assistanships

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, please inquiry with the office of the Department Chair.