Applied Physics and Materials Science, Doctor of Philosophy

Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science

College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences

The doctoral degree in Applied Physics and Materials Science enables students to engage in a research-intensive course of study. While many students may naturally gravitate toward research that is highly transdisciplinary in both physics and materials science (e.g. synthesis and characterization of quantum materials or nanomechanics of materials), some students will gravitate to more fundamental Applied Physics or Materials Science topics.  For example, students more inclined toward Applied Physics may gravitate toward fundamental research related to technical applications of quantum mechanics, physical phenomena, biophysics, technology development, etc.  Whereas students more inclined toward Materials Science may gravitate toward fundamental research related to control of materials synthesis, multi-scaled assembly, or meso-, nano-technology applications.
Our research degree program is strengthened by committed mentorship and professional development training, with students benefiting from a broad range of internal collaborations, including but not limited to: Center for Bioengineering Innovation; The Pathogen and Microbiome Institute; Mechanical Engineering; Chemistry; School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems; and the Center for Materials Interface Research and Applications.  Further, students will be engaged in regional and national collaborations.

  • Available Emphasis Areas:
  • Applied Physics - Emphasis
  • Materials Science - Emphasis

  • To receive a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD) at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses, from one or more disciplines, ranging from at least 60 - 109 units of graduate-level courses. Most plans require research, a dissertation, and comprehensive exams. All plans have residency requirements regarding time spent on the Flagstaff campus engaged in full-time study.

    The full policy can be viewed here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 60
Additional Admission Requirements Required
Dissertation Dissertation is required.
Comprehensive Exam Comprehensive Exam is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense is required.
Research Individualized research is required.
Emphasis Required

An emphasis is required for this degree.

Purpose Statement

The creation of the PhD program in Applied Physics and Materials Science will position NAU to attract students to a unique state program.  Students within this research-intensive PhD program may pursue emphasis in either: Applied Physics (e.g. condensed matter physics, application of quantum phenomena to materials) or Materials Science (e.g. interfacial science, soft or hard materials synthesis, analytical method development).  Each student within the program will complete common courses to provide the students with a breadth of knowledge in physics and materials science, while also creating a common language for scientific collaboration.  Each student may then focus their area of coursework study with electives taken within or external to the program.
The Applied Physics and Materials Science PhD program, with institutional support, will have a launch date of Fall, 2019.  This new academic plan will be supported within the College of Engineering, Informatics and Applied Sciences, however academic mentors to PhD students will be from units within CEAIS and CEFNS.   Students completing their PhD in this program will be conferred a degree in Applied Physics and Materials Science, with emphases in Applied Physics or Materials Science.
Applied Physics: This area of emphasis is focused on condensed matter physics and is the application of physics to technological targets, such as materials science.  This area of research is a direct bridge between traditional phenomena-based science to application-based engineering.  Applied Physics does not necessarily seek to integrate physics into products or devices, but instead the practical application space drives the fundamental Physics-based questioning.  While focused on fundamental studies, research in this area can be transformative and have tremendous impacts that lead to development of new breakthrough technologies (e.g. in the areas of quantum information, laser development, microscopy and spectroscopy development, etc.).  Students with a B.S. in Physics, Applied Physics or Engineering will typically create this cohort, however students from other disciplines with fundamentals in Physics and Mathematics capable of transitioning to advanced quantum mechanics and thermodynamics may also participate. 
Materials Science: Materials science is inherently a transdisciplinary field and one in which the core fundamentals shift depending on the desired emphasis.  Materials science is often considered to be a subdiscipline of engineering and thus PhD programs in this area often closely resemble traditional Engineering discipline programs.    In the proposed program, however, the area of emphasis is focused on the use of the physical sciences (chemistry, physics) to describe, understand and synthesize quantum and multi-scaled materials. This area of focus encompasses electronic, photonic, magnetic and mechanical hard and soft materials and involves synthesis and characterization of quantum materials as well as their integration into multi-scaled and adaptive assemblies.  Students with B.S. degrees in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and the Biological Sciences will create this transdisciplinary cohort. 
The proposed PhD emphases and APMS program create transdisciplinary opportunities while enabling disciplinary rigor. Both are achieved through program designs intended to create PhDs with breadth of knowledge and diverse scientific appreciation while simultaneously creating rigorous educational and research training paths.  Breadth of knowledge will be achieved through core courses designed to 1) create a common language; and 2) encourage engagement outside of areas of expertise.  This is achieved through core course(s) that are team-taught and provide exposure to multiple areas of applied physics and materials science.  The goal is to create a common language and appreciation that encourages students to move beyond their comfort zone.  Scientific rigor will be achieved by allowing PhD students to select the majority of their curriculum from a list of acceptable electives combined with their PhD thesis research.  Each PhD student’s curriculum will be tailored and created in conjunction with the student’s PhD advisor and APMS faculty advisors.  The goal is to create PhD scientists capable of not only contributing to emerging cross-sector opportunities, but actually driving transdisciplinary research. Being trained to work collaboratively with researchers from a multitude of fields, these transdisciplinary scientists will be uniquely positioned to excel in leading cross-sector research projects and teams.  The transdisciplinary nature of this program with the ‘individualized’ PhD curriculum will enable student and faculty participation from CEIAS and CEFNS academic units.

Student Learning Outcomes

Core Applied Physics and Materials Science Outcomes

  • Evaluate the major theories, research methods and approaches to inquiry in Applied Physics and Materials Science, articulate significant challenges involved in practicing the field of study, elucidate its leading edges, and explore the current limits of theory, knowledge and practice.
  • Create, design and execute experiments (theoretical or experimental) and develop necessary analytical skills for interpretation and analysis of data to create data-supported conclusions.
  • Evaluate and formulate new ideas and recognize unsolved opportunities in their field to demonstrate independent and critical thinking.
    • Recognize the best paths toward publication.
    • Design experiments (theoretical or experimental) around those ideas for pursuit of meaningful publication.
  • Compose and engage in highly-effective oral and written communication in Applied Physics and Materials Science; demonstrate clear argumentation and logical cohesion for all avenues of scholarly and lay-person dissemination of results.
Materials Science Emphasis
  • Elucidate the fundamental concepts of phenomena-based science and apply these to solve problems in materials science:
    • Apply mathematical and computational tools to quantitatively describe and understand a wide range of materials systems.
      • Develop new methodology to create new materials and describe their physical phenomena.
  • Examine or develop modern analytical instrumentation and techniques in order to identify materials and elucidate their functional properties.
Applied Physics Emphasis
  • Elucidate the fundamental concepts for the application of the physical phenomena and apply concepts to solve applied physics problems:
    • Elucidate modern problems in physics with molecular dynamics, computation or predictive methodology.
    • Examine how concepts from macroscopic observations are related to the description of microscopic states that fluctuate around an average state.
    • Develop new analytical tools, through the synthesis of the fundamental understandings of physics phenomena.

Graduate Admission Information
  • The NAU graduate online application is required for all programs. Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.

    Admission requirements include the following:

    • Transcripts.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale ("A" = 4.0), or the equivalent.

    Visit the NAU Graduate Admissions website for additional information about graduate school application deadlines, eligibility for study, and admissions policies.

    Ready to apply? Begin your application now.

    International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

    • A minimum of a BS degree in Physics, Materials Science, Engineering, Chemistry, Biology, or equivalent.
    • Three references (submitted via a web interface)
    • A personal history statement and statement of purpose
    • A resume or curriculum vitae
    • International applicants will be requested to submit official TOEFL IBT/IELTS scores taken within the last two years. 
    • Students who have completed relevant coursework in their previous graduate studies may qualify to receive up to 18 units of credit toward the degree requirements of the APMS program with course equivalencies determined by the APMS Associate Director and graduate assessment committee. 
Doctoral Requirements
  • This Doctoral degree requires 60 units distributed as follows:

    • Applied Physics and Materials Science Foundations: 11 units
    • Applied Physics and Materials Science Professional Communication: 8 units
    • Emphasis Requirements - Select One: 15 units
      • Applied Physics Emphasis
      • Materials Science Emphasis
    • Graduate Research: 3 - 20 units
    • Reading for Comprehensive Exam: 3 units
    • Dissertation: 10 units

    Take the following 60 units:

  • Emphasis Requirement - Select One (15 units)

  • Graduate Research (3 - 20 units)

  • Reading for Comprehensive Exam (3 units)

  • Milestones:

    • Advisor Affiliation: Students will actively engage with faculty during their first semester through rotations and research overview coursework (see above). Once a student decides on a faculty mentor, and that mentor concurs, a formal paperwork will be complete and filed indicating that selection and acceptance within that mentors' group. While it is anticipated that most students will select a faculty mentor by the end of their first semester of their first year, all students are required to make that selection by the end of the second semester of their first year.
    • Advancement to Candidacy:  The examination consists of a written proposal and oral defense of the proposal. The proposal is fashioned after an NSF proposal, where the student motivates the subject matter with an appropriate survey of the fundamental concept and related work, proposes a series of questions or hypotheses to investigate, presents preliminary work (completed in the end of the first year and beginning of the second year), and proposes detailed experimental/theoretical methodology to answer the defined questions. The student then defends that proposal to their dissertation committee. The outcomes of this exam will be a Pass or Fail.  Students that do not achieve a Pass on this exam many elect to re-take the exam within a six-month period from their first attempt.
    • Dissertation Defense: The examination consists of a written dissertation, per all requirements of the institution, and oral defense of the thesis to the student's dissertation committee. The student then defends that dissertation to their committee. The outcomes of this exam will be a Pass or Fail, Students that do not achieve a Pass on this exam may elect to re-take the exam within a six-month period from their first attempt.

Additional Information
  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.