Physics Overview

The UW-La Crosse Physics Program

Located on the second floor of the Cowley Hall of Science, the Physics Department offers both a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a dual degree in physics/engineering. In addition, the Department features emphases in special areas: Astronomy, Optics, and Computational Physics, as well as physics degrees with Business or Biomedical Concentrations. The program is designed to give students flexibility in their career choices, whether they are seeking employment in today's high-tech industries, or planning to pursue an advanced degree in a related field of study.

The Physics Department is active in several areas of physics research. Faculty members regularly publish articles in refereed journals and present papers at conferences in the areas of optics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, or materials science. The Physics Department stands out in its emphasis on undergraduate research. Students typically work with a faculty member on a research project in their specialty area. This mode of instruction gives students hands-on learning opportunities which are very different from the traditional classroom experience.

The Physics Department has been highly successful in obtaining grants and awards. In the past two years, the Department has received more than $450,000 in funding for lab equipment and research from external sources such as the National Science Foundation, NASA, and Sun MicroSystems. In the same period, students have received more than $25,000 in grants and scholarships.

The department sponsors an active Physics Club and a chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society. There is also has a weekly seminar program in which faculty, students, and visitors from national labs, high-tech companies, and other universities give presentations. The seminars provide a time for faculty and students to socialize, to learn about exciting advances in physics and astronomy, and to learn about the many career opportunities in physics and engineering.

The department has a on-going history as a nationally recognized leader in physics education.  Based on the hard work of faculty and staff in the 1990s and early 2000s, we have been highlighted as one of the most outstanding revitalized physics programs in the nation (you can read the report at, or click here to download the report in pdf format.)  More recently, we have been selected by the American Institute of Physics as a model department for providing graduates with career and educational advancement opportunities.  The findings of the AIP site visit team can be found here.  The American Physical Society has recognized our outstanding department as a recipient of an Improving Undergraduate Physics Education Award, one of only 4 such awards granted annually.  The APS announcement can be found here, and more information is available here.  Based on the most recent numbers compiled by the AIP, the UW-L Physics Department is ranked third in the nation, in terms of the number of graduating majors.  Get the full story here

Physics Majors

Dual Degree Program

This very popular program allows a student to earn two degrees - a B.S. in Physics from UW-L, and a B.S. in Engineering from one of the Engineering Colleges at UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Platteville, or the University of Minnesota. This 3-2 program typically takes 5 years to complete. Students spend 3 years at UW-L as a major in Physics, and then are automatically accepted to any of these Engineering Colleges for 2 years to complete an engineering degree in any one of the following programs: Aerospace Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biosystems/Agricultural Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Geological Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Materials Science Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering. Students under this program earn a Bachelor's Degree in Physics from UW-L after completing one year at one of the Engineering Colleges and a B.S. in Engineering at the end of the second year. At the engineering college, the student will primarily take engineering courses in his or her engineering field.

Physics Major

This traditional undergraduate major provides a broad study of physics. It is the ideal choice if you are planning to continue your study of physics in graduate school or if you are planning to teach physics at the high school level.

Physics Major with Astronomy Emphasis

If you have a strong interest in astronomy, this is the program for you. It provides excellent preparation for those students who will enter graduate school for a more in-depth study in astronomy.

Physics Major with Computational Physics Emphasis

Very few universities in the nation offer this unique major. It is designed for physics students with a strong interest in computers who are seeking industrial employment or graduate study in computationally-orientated science. This emphasis provides an excellent background in computer modeling of a wide variety of scientific and engineering problems using numerical analysis, simulation, and visualization techniques. Students gain highly sought after programming and problem-solving skills, as well as valuable experience with the latest in computer hardware and software.

Physics Major with Optics Emphasis

The Physics Major with Optics Emphasis allows students pursuing a physics degree to concentrate a portion of their studies to the area of optics. Upon graduating, students can either enter the work force or pursue graduate studies in physics or engineering in optics. In this program, students develop a solid understanding of electronics, quantum optics, and lasers. A number of our former students have pursued graduate studies in the leading optical engineering institutions in the nation. This degree is an ideal preparation for students pursuing a career in optics and offers an excellent alternative to obtaining a standard engineering degree.

Physics Major with Business Concentration

UW-La Crosse has developed this major to address the serious shortage of business managers with a solid grounding in the physical sciences. You will concentrate on the basics of business administration and also gain a thorough understanding of electronics, lasers, computers and other tools of the physicist.

Physics Major with Biomedical Concentration

This major is designed to provide students with a strong, broad background in physics while offering them flexibility in choosing relevant electives in biology, chemistry, mathematics and microbiology. The goal of this curriculum is to prepare students for graduate studies in a number of programs including Biomedical Engineering and Biomechanics, Physical Therapy and Medical School as well as entry-level positions in industry and government in the field of biotechnology. This degree is ideal preparation for students pursuing a career in Allied Health and its related fields. It offers an excellent alternative to obtaining a standard science degree.

Admission Requirements

Students may best prepare themselves for a major in physics by completing a college preparatory curriculum. They should be interested in mathematics and science and take advantage of course offerings in these areas while in high school. Studies have shown that the best preparation for a physics or astronomy student is a good background in mathematics. We recommend that students interested in a physics major complete a minimum of three years of high school mathematics. A study of calculus and computer programming are also very beneficial. We also recommend that students try to take a high school physics course if possible.

Admission requirements:(p17 UWL-catalog) University Admissions Requirements

  1. Complete University of Wisconsin System Application
  2. Graduate from a recognized High school and submit an official High school transcript.
  3. Pay a non-refundable $25 applications fee.
  4. Take Official American College Test(ACT) and have scores sent from ACT to school.
  5. Submit Wisconsin Regional Placement Test scores in Mathematics and English to the school. University Minimum preparation in high school for admission: (1 credit is one year)
  6. 4 credits English
  7. 2 credits Algebra and 1 credit geometry
  8. 3 credits of natural science
  9. 3 credits of social science
  10. 5 additional credits in either areas 1 through 4 or in arts, computer science, and other academic areas.

Generally, students are admitted based on grade point average in combination with ACT scores and rank in high school class. Non traditional and transfer students have special limits which may differ from those above and should be explored further.