Physics program

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Are you curious about how things work?

From wind energy to computer chips, physics concepts are at work in the technology we use every day. Even the GPS in your phone wouldn’t work without Einstein’s famous Theory of General Relativity. A degree in physics provides robust quantitative, analytical, and experimental skills to prepare for futures in hi-tech jobs, medical fields, engineering, and a wide variety of graduate school programs. If you are curious and enjoy problem solving, physics may be the perfect fit for you.

UWL's Physics Department is a nationally-recognized leader in physics education and one of the largest undergraduate physics programs in Wisconsin. Students experience a quality physics education in a supportive community with many opportunities to work closely with faculty on undergraduate research projects.

Physics degree jobs

UWL’s diverse physics program makes graduates highly sought after in modern industries where physics and engineering are applied. In addition, many UWL physics graduates are accepted into top graduate degree programs where they can pursue a master’s or doctoral degree. Learn more about the career paths of 50 different physicists on The American Physical Society website. 

Career examples

  • Engineering physicists
  • Research physicists (government or private industry)
  • Space scientist
  • Science policy
  • Radiation safety officer
  • High school science teacher (with teacher certification)
  • Planetarium director
  • Technical writer

Further education

  • Physics
  • Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Astrophysics
  • Optical science
  • Medical physics
  • Mathematics
  • Computer science

What distinguishes UWL's Physics program?

Successful history awarding degrees

UWL has one of the largest undergraduate physics programs in Wisconsin. And the program also has a national reputation for awarding physics degrees. In 2020, UW-La Crosse was ranked No. 1 nationally in awarding physics bachelor’s degrees, according to the American Physical Society. The department is consistently ranked among the top. 

Nationally-recognized leader in undergraduate physics education
Emphasis on undergraduate research experience

The Physics Department places an emphasis on student involvement in undergraduate research. This research contributes to the sense of community throughout the department. Research projects are available in astrophysics, biomechanics, biophysics, computational physics, quantum optics, material science, nuclear physics, solid-state physics and physics education.

Annual visit from a Nobel-winning physicist

The Physics Department annually hosts a physicist who has won the Nobel Prize as part of a Distinguished Lecture Series in Physics. The laureates meet and interact with students, faculty and staff, along with giving a public lecture and physics seminar related to their unique discovery. The department has hosted Nobel laureate nearly every year since 2000, thanks to the generosity of members of the La Crosse Community.

Student involvement opportunities

The department’s chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) routinely receives Outstanding Chapter Award from the national SPS office. Additionally, the department sponsors a chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma (the physics honor society), a Physics Club, and a Women in Physics Club.

Faculty are active in research and bring diverse backgrounds and interests

Faculty are actively engaged in research in a variety of fields and involve undergraduate students in their research endeavors. The Physics Department faculty have received more than $2 million dollars in external funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and other external agencies to support faculty and student research activities in the last six years. 

State-of-the-art equipment, facility

The Physics Department has all of its experimental facilities in UWL's modern science labs building, the Prairie Springs Science Center. The use of high-tech research equipment and laboratories prepare students for the skills required in the modern world as all faculty labs are available for student research. Students also have access to a multidisciplinary radiation center.

Scholarship and other award opportunities

Scholarship opportunities are available for students majoring in physics or physics/engineering. Physics students have also received a number of awards, fellowships, and scholarships based on their academic performance and ability to excel in research, including nationally competitive awards.

Areas of study


Physicists study and uncover the fundamental rules of why and how things work, from quarks to galaxies. Physicists have uncovered some really weird and unexpected things about nature. But applying these principles of physics has transformed the way we interact with the world. Physics concepts are in action all around us — in computer chips, headphones, air bags, and many other everyday devices. It has also made a major impact in healthcare with medical diagnostics and treatments like MRIs and radiation therapy.

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Applied Emphasis

The applied emphasis gives you theoretical background to focus on the experimental aspect of physics. While not an engineering degree, this emphasis requires the same basic classes as the Bachelor of Science in Physics & Bachelor of Science in Engineering Dual Degree Program. 

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Astronomy Emphasis

The science of astronomy applies principles of physics to everything beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Students use what they learn in core classical and modern physics courses to study the properties of stars, planets and exoplanets, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes, other galaxies, dark matter, dark energy, and cosmology.

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Biomedical Concentration

Do you like physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology? Are you struggling to choose just one for a major? You don’t have to with the biomedical concentration! This physics concentration combines all of these subjects by providing a set of core courses and allowing you to choose the advanced courses you will take to prepare for your future. Whether you are looking ahead to the rigors of medical school, a program in medical physics, a future in biomedical engineering or other options, a biomedical concentration could be the perfect path for you.

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Business Concentration

Combine physics with business to grow your problem-solving skills while expanding your background in business including economics, accounting, finance and marketing. This concentration requires the physics core courses and provides the flexibility to choose from 12 additional physics classes from a catalog of classes. The rest of the classes are taught in the College of Business Administration.

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Computational Physics Emphasis

Computational physics employs mathematics, computer science and physics to solve complex problems using computational methods.

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Science Education

Completion of the physics: science education concentration program and associated benchmark assessments will lead to endorsement for the Wisconsin teaching license in middle and high school science, grades 4-12 (2600). Students in all teacher education programs must satisfy the School of Education (SOE) core requirements. 

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Optics Emphasis

From lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to fiberoptics, microscopes, spectrometers and telescopes, optical instruments play a key role in how we live and study the universe around us. In this emphasis, students take specialized optics courses where they learn about the fundamental properties of light and how modern optical instruments work.

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Undergrad dual degree

This is special dual degree program enables students to receive both a Bachelor of Science degree (physics major) from UWL and a Bachelor of Science degree (engineering major) from UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Platteville, UW-Stout, the University of Minnesota Duluth, or Winona State University. The total length of time for both degrees is expected to be five years. 

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Graduate dual degree

This dual degree program enables students to receive both a Bachelor of Science degree (physics major with biomedical concentration) and a graduate degree (physical therapy) from UWL. The total length of time for both degrees is expected to be six years. 

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Sample courses

PHY 104 Fundamental Physics II Continuation of PHY 103. Topics covered are electric forces and fields, electric potential, electrical circuit theory and applications, magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction, alternating current circuits, electromagnetic waves and the nature of light, lenses, mirrors, optical instruments, interference and diffraction of light, Einstein's theory of relativity, and the photoelectric effect. Additional topics may be selected from the area of quantum physics. Wherever possible, applications to other fields of science such as chemistry, biology and medicine will be discussed. Lect. 3, Lab 2. Prerequisite: PHY 103 or PHY 203; MTH 150 recommended. Offered Fall, Spring, Summer.

PHY 302

PHY 311 Experimental Physics Basic techniques of measurement used in all areas of physics and engineering. Selected experiments may include thin lens systems, spectrometers, microwave optics, interference and diffraction, aberrations, interferometers, thin films, polarization, speed of light, charge-to-mass ratio of an electron, electron spin resonance, quantization of energy states, and radioactive decay. Computational techniques include error analysis, graphing and curve fitting. Lect. 1, Lab 3. Prerequisite: PHY 250 and PHY 302 or PHY 305 and PHY 306. Offered Fall.

PHY 321 Classical Mechanics Rigorous mathematical development of classical dynamics using vector calculus. Dynamics of a single particle, oscillations, noninertial frames, central potentials, energy/momentum methods, systems of particles, collisions and plane motion of rigid bodies. Prerequisite: PHY 306; MTH 310. Offered Fall.

PHY 334 Electrical Circuits Physical principles underlying modeling of circuit elements and fundamentals of analog electrical circuits are explored through lecture and laboratory. Topics will include the following: current and voltage sources, resistors, I-V characteristics, Ohm's Law, Kirchhoff's Laws, capacitors, inductors; Thevenin and Norton theorems; circuits in sinusoidal steady state; diodes, transistors (bipolar junction and field-effect); op-amps; and elementary amplifier circuits. Lect. 2, Lab 2. Prerequisite: PHY 104 or PHY 204; MTH 208. Offered Spring.

PHY 362 Astrophysics The application of principles studied in fundamental or general physics to various areas of astrophysical research. This course emphasizes topics like measuring star and exoplanet properties, stellar structure and evolution, the solar neutrino problem, white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, the interstellar medium, and galaxies. Prerequisite: PHY 305, PHY 306; MTH 310 or concurrent enrollment. Offered Occasionally.

PHY 374 Computational Physics This course is an introduction to computational physics. Students will learn the fundamentals of applying numerical and graphical methods to a variety of physics topics ranging from mechanics, optics, electrodynamics, thermodynamics, and quantum mechanics. Lect. 2, Lab 2. Prerequisite: PHY 104 or PHY 204; MTH 308 or MTH 309 or concurrent enrollment in either. Offered Occasionally.

PHY 376 Introduction to Nuclear Science An introduction to the structure and properties of atomic nuclei. This course explores the production of ionizing radiation, its interactions with matter, and the instrumentation used to detect it. While all types of ionizing radiation are studied, particular emphasis will be placed on X- and gamma-rays. Lect. 2, Lab 2. Prerequisite: MTH 150; PHY 104 or PHY 134 or PHY 204. Students may not earn credit in both PHY 376 and PHY 386. Offered Fall.

PHY 386 Radiation Physics This course, building on knowledge of basic physics, explores the area of radiation physics. Characteristics of x and gamma rays are described as well as their interactions in air and matter. The principles involved in the production of radiation are investigated. Methods and instrumentation of measurement of radiation are also covered. Prerequisite: MTH 150; PHY 104 or PHY 134 or PHY 204. Students may not earn credit in both PHY 376 and PHY 386. Offered Fall.

PHY 401 Quantum Mechanics A comprehensive treatment of the modern theory of quantum mechanics, including Schroedinger equation, operators, free particles, particles in potentials, harmonic oscillator, angular momentum, and the hydrogen atom. The course includes the use of Fourier analysis and eigenvalue equations. Prerequisite: PHY 321; MTH 308 or MTH 309; MTH 310. Offered Fall.