BSc in Physics

physics students working on machinery

Physics aims to understand the behaviour of matter and energy. Modern life is built on physics knowledge - from watches to computers and cars.

UC offers a choice of physics and astronomy courses designed to cater for students with a range of backgrounds and interests. We offer courses if you plan to be an engineer, or if you have biological or environmental interests, as well as courses if you plan to be a physicist or astronomer.

We also offer a cultural paper that will give non-physicists some appreciation of the revolutions in physics and astronomy. The largest group of students who take physics at Canterbury do so because Physics (along with Mathematics and Chemistry) is an essential background for their future job as an engineer or as a physical scientist.

We also offer two courses unique within New Zealand - Astronomy and Medical Physics.

Physics is a broad discipline encompassing everything from building huge laser equipment to creating tiny nanoelectric devices. Modern physics provides a framework for understanding and contributing to major advances in technology and our graduates find employment in a huge variety of industries.

At 100 level there are four core courses, PHYS 101, PHYS 102, MATH 102 and MATH 103 which are advised for all students intending to major in Physics or Astronomy. They should also take either MATH 170 or COSC 121.  In addition to these, students intending to major in Astronomy are advised to also take ASTR 112 in Semester One and ASTR 212 in Semester Two.

Students with fewer than 14 credits at NCEA level 3 Physics should take PHYS 111 before advancing to PHYS 101 and 102.

For Physical Science or Engineering, the choice of first-year courses will depend on your previous experience (in particular your results from NCEA physics and mathematics with calculus) and future plans. The core physics paper for Engineering Intermediate Year is PHYS 101 and is offered twice a year – in Semesters One and Two. Students with 14 credits in NCEA Level 3 Physics and Mathematics and Calculus, or acceptable similar qualifications, will be permitted to take this course. Other students are required to take PHYS 111 offered in the first semester. Either entry route would enable completion of the basic Engineering Intermediate Year in one year or the completion of a BSc in three years. Students who qualify for PHYS 101 but have fewer than 14 credits in Level 3 NCEA Physics) may find PHYS 101 quite challenging. These students are encouraged to consider taking PHYS 111 first.

For those planning to advance in Physical Science or to proceed to Electrical and Electronic Engineering, PHYS 102 is offered in the second semester, with PHYS 101 as the usual prerequisite. Students with 18 level 3 NCEA credits in Physics and Mathematics and Calculus will also be admitted. PHYS 102 is also offered during the summer. This enables those students who take the PHYS 111 and PHYS 101 path in their first year to pick up PHYS 102 over the summer and so complete the courses required for advancement in either Physics or Electrical Engineering.

Year 1


  • PHYS 101: Engineering Physics A: Mechanics, Waves, Electromagnetism and Thermal Physics
  • PHYS 102: Engineering Physics B: Electromagnetism, Modern Physics and 'How Things Work'
  • MATH 102: Mathematics 1A
  • MATH 103: Mathematics 1B

PHYS 101 is offered in Semesters 1 and 2 and PHYS 102 is offered in Semester 2 and as a Summer Course.

Strongly recommended

MATH 170 or EMTH 171 or COSC 121.

Year 2


  • PHYS 285: Technical and Professional Skills for Physicists
  • 45 points from PHYS 201-209
  • MATH 201: Multivariable Calculus

Strongly recommended

Year 3


  • PHYS 310: Thermal, Statistical and Particle Physics
  • PHYS 311: Quantum Mechanics
  • PHYS 313: Advanced Electromagnetism and Materials
  • PHYS 381: Advanced Experimental Physics and Astronomy


1. A student who has taken PHYS 204 is exempt from taking PHYS 310, but must select an additional 15 points from PHYS 301-379, ASTR 301-379;
2. A student may be permitted by the HOD to obtain a double major in Physics and Mathematics with PHYS 381 replaced by PHYS 326 as a required course.

Required for postgraduate 

Students intending to proceed to BSc(Hons) or MSc in Physics, Medical Physics or Astronomy should take (1) an additional two courses from 300-level PHYS or ASTR; and (2) an additional two courses from 300-level MATH or STAT. All advancing students should take PHYS 326.

For all prescribed courses for a basic Bachelor of Science in Physics see degree regulations on the University calendar.  These include recommended courses for intending postgraduate study paths.

Many students combine the study of a BSc with another degree, such as a Bachelor of ArtsBachelor of Commerce or a Bachelor of Laws. If you are considering a double degree you should get advice from a student advisor.

The regulations for the Bachelor of Science allow for 105 points of courses from any other University degree.

Suggested complementary courses include:

Electrical and Electronic Engineering - direct entry to Second Professional Year of the BE(Hons)

Subject to the approval of the Dean of Engineering, a student applying with a Bachelor of Science is expected to have an appropriate major for the specialisation they wish to study, a B grade average, and at least 200-level Mathematics to be considered for entry to the Second Professional Year. An appropriate specialisation for Electrical and Electronic Engineering would be Mathematics, Physics or Computer Science.

Additional papers at the 200 or 300 level in Management or Accounting and Information Systems would enhance your application.

With this option, a student has the opportunity to gain a double degree (BSc and BE) in five years.  Contact the department for more information.

Physics study pathways

From 300 level onwards many students choose to specialise in a particular field of Physics such as Condensed Matter, Nanotechnology, Environmental Physics, Medical Physics, Laser Physics, Astrophysics or Theoretical Physics. Students interested in the following areas will usually take the courses below:

For advice on studying Physics

Anna Chapman

Student Advisor (Undergraduate)
Okeover 110
Internal Phone: 94117

Roger Reeves (Physics & Astronomy)

100 level supervisor
Physics 618
Internal Phone: 95943