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Courses & Requirements

Courses & Degree Requirements

Degree Requirements

To earn their degree, students in the UW Master of Science in Physics program must complete core courses, elective courses at the 400-level or above, and a capstone/independent study project, for a total of 36 credits.

Of the 36 required credits, at least 18 credits must be at the 500-level or above and at least 18 credits must be numerically graded (not credit/no-credit).

Core Courses

The program includes a sequence of four core courses, which provide essential background for more advanced study. Students must take at least three of the core courses — but are encouraged to enroll in all four.

Below are the core courses, as well as the quarters they are offered.


The program offers one elective each quarter. Examples of electives offered recently include Atomic Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Numerical Methods for Physics, Quantum Computing, and more.

Students may also take daytime courses in physics or courses in other departments as electives, with permission of the faculty coordinator and the course instructor.

Capstone Project and Independent Study

At the end of their studies, students undertake a capstone/independent study project (PHYS 600) under the supervision of a faculty member. Learn more about the capstone project.

Besides the capstone project, you may take additional independent study credits, mentored by a faculty member, to explore research topics or pursue greater depth in areas of personal interest.

Independent study can be taken any quarter, including summer.

2023–2024 Course Offerings

Autumn 2023

PHYS 543: Electromagnetic Theory

Quarter: Autumn
Credits: 4
This course covers the principal concepts of electromagnetism, static electric and magnetic fields, boundary-value problems, the electric and magnetic properties of materials, and electromagnetic waves and radiation.

PHYS 546: Condensed Matter Physics

Credits: 4
Introduction to the theory of solids: atoms and binding; order, symmetry and crystals; lattice vibrations; electrons and bands; physical properties — transport, scattering, mechanical, and thermodynamic.

Prerequisite: PHYS 540 or equivalent

Winter 2024

PHYS 540: Quantum Physics

Quarter: Winter
Credits: 4
This course introduces students to concepts and methods of quantum physics: wave mechanics (de Broglie wavelength, uncertainty principle, Schrodinger equation), one- and three-dimensional examples (square well, free particle, tunneling), formalism of quantum physics (Hermitian operators and eigenfunctions), angular momentum and spin. 

PHYS 542: Numerical Methods in Physics

Credits: 4
This course focuses on numerical methods for analysis and computation in physics. Topics may include integration, differential equations, partial differential equations, optimization, data handling and Monte Carlo techniques. Emphasis is on applications in physics. 

Prerequisite: Calculus, mathematical physics or equivalent

Spring 2024

PHYS 541: Applications of Quantum Physics

Quarter: Every other spring
Credits: 4
This course focuses on techniques of quantum mechanics as applied to lasers, quantum electronics, solids and surfaces. The emphasis on approximation methods and interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter.

Prerequisites: PHYS 540 or equivalent

PHYS 531: Contemporary Atomic Physics

Credits: 4
This course covers the theory of atomic structure and spectra; atomic and molecular beams; resonance techniques; atomic collisions; and topics of current interest.

Prerequisite:  PHYS 540 or equivalent

Summer 2024

PHYS 600: Independent Study or Research

Credits: 1–9 (per term)
Study or do research under the supervision of individual faculty members.

Prerequisite: Permission of supervisor. Credit/no-credit only.

Additional Core Courses & Electives

The core courses PHYS 543 and PHYS 544 are offered every other spring; one elective is also offered each quarter.

Core Course

PHYS 544: Applications of Electromagnetic Theory

Quarter: Every other spring
Credits: 4
The emphasis of this course may vary from year to year. Topics may include electromagnetic waves, radiation, scattering, wave guides, plasma physics, quantum electronics and accelerator physics. 

Prerequisite: PHYS 543 or equivalent

Rotating Electives

PHYS 530: Physics of Lasers

Credits: 4
This course introduces students to the physics underlying laser design and operation in the context of common laboratory systems. Topics may include continuous and pulsed lasers; solid, liquid and gas gain media; Q-switching; mode-locking; resonator theory; nonlinear optics and others.

Prerequisite: Basic quantum mechanics, electromagnetism and optics

PHYS 536: Introduction to Acoustics & Digital Signal Processing

Credits: 4
This course introduces students to mathematical and physics principles of acoustics in digital signal processing applications. We'll cover complex analysis and Fourier methods, physics of vibrations and waves, solutions of the wave equation, digital convolution and correlation methods, and Maximum Length Sequence method in signal analysis and spread-spectrum applications.

Prerequisites: PHYS 123 and MATH 120

PHYS 545: Contemporary Optics

Credits: 4
This course covers ray optics, Fourier optics, lens systems, optical instruments, interferometry, laser optics, holography, polarization, crystal optics, birefringence, light sources and detectors.

Prerequisite: Calculus, mathematical physics or equivalent

PHYS 548: Quantum Information and Computation

Credits: 4
This course introduces students to the theory and practice of quantum computation. Topics include physics of quantum information processing, physical implementations of qubits, quantum logic gates, quantum algorithms, quantum error correction, quantum communication, and cryptography.

Prerequisites: PHYS 540 and PHYS 543, or permission of instructor

PHYS 575: Physics of Sustainable Energy Sources

Credits: 4
This course covers thermodynamics in energy generation and transportation; fluid mechanics in relation to wind and wave energy sources; electric power generation and distribution; direct and indirect solar energy conversion; and the application of nuclear physics to new ideas in nuclear fission power systems and nuclear fusion power.

Prerequisite: PHYS 543, PHYS 540 or equivalent

PHYS 576: Nuclear Physics: Sources, Detectors & Safety

Credits: 4
This course covers solid state detectors, radiation damage, radiation risks, particle accelerators, fission and fusion, reactors, radiation risk assessment, and nuclear astrophysics. It features hands-on lab sessions, including tuning a beam through our own UW linear accelerator and identifying nuclides from radiation spectra.