What type of student might consider a Physics degree? As a child, famous UC alumnus Ernest Rutherford was intrigued by seeing a stick apparently bend when dipped into a farm bucket of water; Albert Einstein asked how his face would appear in a hand-held mirror if he ran at some significant fraction of the speed of light. A budding physicist may share this fascination with and curiosity about the natural world.
Physics aims to understand the behaviour of matter and energy from the scale of subatomic particles to that of the Universe itself. From computers to communication systems, architecture to agriculture; modern life is overwhelmingly built using the understanding of nature that physics provides.
We are currently in an incredibly exciting period in Physics. The technological advances of the last 20 years have had an enormous impact on all our lives and almost all of these rely on advances in Physics. Modern physics provides a framework for understanding – and contributing to – major advances in technology now and in the future.
UC physicists are currently involved in the following exciting projects:
- building huge laser equipment to study gravitational waves
- creating tiny nanoelectronic devices that can act as transistors or sensors
- measuring the behaviour of the upper atmosphere in order to understand global warming
- obtaining fundamental theoretical understandings of cosmology and subatomic physics.
Te Kura Matū | School of Physical and Chemical Sciences has many collaborations nationally and internationally that give access to some of the best facilities around the world. For example, UC is a member of CERN, the enormous particle accelerator centre in Geneva and also collaborates with the Van der Veer Institute and hospitals on medical imaging and radiation therapy.
The Ōtautahi Christchurch Aerospace Strategic Plan aims to make the city the centre of Aotearoa New Zealand's aerospace technology sector by 2025, which will extensively use UC's facilities and research programmes, and offer students internships and other entrepreneurial opportunities in the industry.
UC is ranked in the top 250 universities in the world for Physics and Astronomy (QS World University Rankings by Subject, 2020).
Certain courses require a strong background in Year 13 physics and calculus. If students don't have a strong background in physics and calculus, they may need to take both PHYS 111 Introductory Physics for Physical Sciences and Engineering and MATH 101 Methods of Mathematics.
Where you start in first year will depend on your secondary school results. See 'Courses' below for more details.
UC offers a major and a minor in Physics as part of the Bachelor of Science.
To complete a major in Physics within the Bachelor of Science, you will need to take the following courses throughout the degree:
- PHYS 101 Engineering Physics A: Mechanics, Waves, Electromagnetism and Thermal Physics
- PHYS 102 Engineering Physics B: Modern Physics and Electromagnetism (2)
- MATH 102 Mathematics 1A
- MATH 103 Mathematics 1B
COSC 121 Introduction to Computer Programming or COSC 131 Introduction to Programming for Engineers is also recommended.
Students who have not taken physics or mathematics to Year 13 level are also strongly advised to take PHYS 111 Introductory Physics for Physical Sciences and Engineering and MATH 101 Methods of Mathematics.
- PHYS 285 Technical and Professional Skills for Physicists
- MATH 201 Multivariable Calculus
- Three 200-level PHYS courses
- PHYS 310 Thermal, Statistical and Particle Physics
- PHYS 311 Quantum Mechanics
- PHYS 313 Advanced Electromagnetism and Materials
- PHYS 381 Advanced Experimental Physics and Astronomy
Students interested in postgraduate studies in Physics will also need to take PHYS 326 Classical Mechanics and Symmetry Principles, another two 300-level PHYS or ASTR courses, and another two 300-level MATH or STAT courses.
For the Physics minor in the Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Commerce, Bachelor of Sport Coaching, or Bachelor of Youth and Community Leadership, you will need to take these courses throughout your chosen degree:
- 75 points in 100 to 300-level PHYS courses, with at least 45 points at 200-level or above
Many of our graduates are employed as physicists and can be found at Crown Research Institutes, the National Radiation Laboratory, medical physics departments of hospitals or universities, and the Meteorological Service, among others.
Some Physics graduates are not employed as scientists – however, their analytical skills, numeracy, and all-round thinking ability are in demand in many industries. Some of these graduates are snapped up by the IT and electronics industries, but those same skills are equally valued by merchant banks, stock brokers, and other financial services companies, as well as by the armed services, police, and aerospace industries (including airlines such as Air New Zealand).
Teaching, journalism, and science communication also need people with Physics training.
Find out more about what you can do with a degree in Physics.
See the School's website for up-to-date location details.
College of Science | Te Rāngai Pūtaiao
University of Canterbury | Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha
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