Physics and Astrophysics, Bachelor of Science

Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science

College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences

This degree is physics-intensive providing a strong fundamental physics foundation as well as a strong foundation in astrophysics and the physical rules guiding the universe.

  • To receive a bachelor's degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete at least 120 units of credit that minimally includes a major, the liberal studies requirements, and university requirements as listed below.

    • All of Northern Arizona University's diversity, liberal studies, junior-level writing, and capstone requirements.
    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s).
    • At least 30 units of upper-division courses, which may include transfer work.
    • At least 30 units of coursework taken through Northern Arizona University, of which at least 18 must be upper-division courses (300-level or above). This requirement is not met by credit-by-exam, retro-credits, transfer coursework, etc.
    • A cumulative grade point average of at least 2.0 on all work attempted at Northern Arizona University.

    The full policy can be viewed here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • At least 72 units of major requirements

  • Up to 9 units of major prefix courses may be used to satisfy Liberal Studies requirements; these same courses may also be used to satisfy major requirements.

  • For this major the liberal studies prefixes are PHY and AST

  • Elective courses, if needed, to reach an overall total of at least 120 units.

Students may be able to use some courses to meet more than one requirement. Contact your advisor for details.

Minimum Units for Completion 120
Highest Mathematics Required MAT 239
Research Optional
University Honors Program Optional
AZ Transfer Students complete AGEC-S Recommended
Progression Plan Link View Progression Plan

Purpose Statement

Physics seeks to explain everything from the structure, evolution, and formation of the universe to the nature of matter and energy. Astrophysics is the application of physics to celestial bodies and seeks to understand the formation, structure, and evolution of stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe. At its heart, physics aims to provide fundamental and predictive explanations to observed phenomena, establishing relationships between measurable quantities, and developing mathematical models to interpret, leverage and understand these phenomena. The physics and astrophysics major emphasizes foundational skills for understanding key physical phenomena in astrophysics, including matter, motion, energy, electricity and magnetism, quantum theory, and gravity, including Einstein´s theory of general relativity. Students will acquire the skills to understand the observed abundance of the elements, the age of the universe, the nature of gravitational waves, and the cosmic microwave background. Through a mastery of physics and astrophysics, students will develop advanced mathematical, computational, and experimental skills. Major work is completed through classroom and laboratory exercises. The critical thinking, scientific analysis, and communications skills obtained through the completion of a physics and astrophysics degree will prepare graduates for entry to graduate and professional schools, industry careers, and research laboratory work.

Student Learning Outcomes

The BS in Physics and Astrophysics program is designed to prepare students for a career in a technical field or for graduate studies in physics, applied physics, astrophysics, or astronomy.

Physics Content
Students will understand the laws of physics in the following areas:

  • Classical Mechanics
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Special Relativity
  • Waves
  • Optics
  • Atomic Physics
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • General Relativity
  • Particle Physics
  • Nonequilibrium Phenomena

Astrophysics Content
Students will be able to apply the laws of physics in order to understand the following:
  • Origin and evolution of the Solar System and other planetary systems.
  • Origin and evolution of stars.
  • Origin and evolution of galaxies.
  • The evolution of the Universe, i.e., cosmology, using the general theory of relativity.
  • Cosmological models.
  • Solar systems tests of general relativity.
  • Gravity as a result of space-time curvature.
  • The properties of compact objects, such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.
  • Gravitational waves and Hawking radiation.
  • Impacts of dark matter and dark energy on our understanding of the universe.

Laboratory Skills
  • Understand how to take data with increasingly sophisticated equipment in introductory, intermediate, and advanced physics laboratories.
  • Be able to take data with a research-grade telescope and a CCD imaging system.
  • Understand how to identify and quantify experimental errors, perform statistical error analysis, and quantify measurement confidence.
  • Be able to design and create experiments to measure physical/astrophysical phenomena.
  • Be able to synthesize an appropriate conclusion from a physics experiment or an astrophysical observation.

Computational Skills
  • Be able to apply mathematical tools such as elementary probability theory, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, differential and integral calculus, vector calculus, ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations and linear algebra, quantum theory and differential geometry to solve physics and astronomy problems.
  • Become proficient in a computing language such as MATLAB, Mathematica, or Python.
  • Be able to write code in a computing language in order to explain or predict the behavior of a complex physical system.

Problem-Solving Skills
Students will develop problem-solving capacities.
  • Ascertain the known and unknown aspects of a problem.
  • Describe the fundamental physical principles of the problem.
  • Articulate a pathway toward solving the problem.
  • Successfully follow the path and solve the problem.
  • Identify and understand the physics/astrophysics literature as it relates to specific problems.

Communication Skills
  • Clearly communicate and defend their work in verbal, written, and visual formats to scientific and non-scientific audiences.
  • Learn scientific writing best practices, including:
    • Structure and format a scientific article.
    • Properly cite and acknowledge prior work.
    • Create effective figures.
    • Present experimental data.
  • Use scientific word processing software such as LaTeX.

Major Requirements
  • Take the following 72 units:

    • *PHY 171 and PHY 172 are recommended in consultation with your advisor.

  • Students enrolled in this plan may not enroll in or pursue the following due to the number of overlapping units:

General Electives
  • Additional coursework is required if, after you have met the previously described requirements, you have not yet completed a total of 120 units of credit.

    You may take these remaining courses from any of the academic areas, using these courses to pursue your specific interests and goals. You may also use prerequisites or transfer credits as electives if they weren't used to meet major, minor, or liberal studies requirements.

    We encourage you to consult with your advisor to select the courses that will be most advantageous to you.

Additional Information
  • You may not count more than one grade of "D" in a physics or astronomy course toward the major requirements for this degree.

  • 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.