There is no doubt that physics occupies a unique place amongst the sciences. The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded before the others which is in keeping with the field’s role as the cornerstone of science. In its theoretical expressions it borders on pure mathematics and even philosophy as great thinkers contemplate worlds existing in-between dimensions and beyond our current space time continuum.
Physics departments receive incredible funding and resources. Studying physics affords its pupils a myriad of choices from government research, medical applications, industrial uses, astronomy, and the study of the outer fringes of humanities knowledge. Physicists steer our most ambitious projects, from the Mars rovers to the Hubble Space Telescope. Governments will expend massive resources in order to win prestige through success in physics, as America’s moon landings, the European CERN hadron collider, and the growing interest in a mission to Mars show.
For this ranking, we looked to QS World University Rankings This center specializes in ranking universities as well as their individual programs of study. International in scope and focused on academic performance, the QS world academic rankings display unmatched rigorous and integrity.
From the QS World University Rankings, we identified the 50 best programs in the latest 2018 University Rankings for Physics & Astronomy. Taking this Ranking as our point of departure, we researched the most important characteristics of each top 50 physics programs on the list in order to reveal why each university physics program appears where it does.
The 50 Best Physics Programs
1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Many consider MIT to be the world’s leading school for science. Located near other leading institutions, such as Harvard, MIT enjoys many collaborative research opportunities. Since the school’s founding in 1861, students have been exploring the field of physics through hands-on learning experiences. Offering some of the best undergraduate physics programs in the U.S., MIT’s Department of Physics has seen four Nobel Prize recipients and seven Oersted Medal recipients since 1990.
The physics department prides itself on its outreach efforts to underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students through MIT’s Summer Research Program and Physics Bridge Program. Learners participating in these initiatives finish as stronger candidates for the school’s physics graduate programs. MIT’s physics department works with 16 affiliated labs and centers including the Haystack Radio Observatory, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and the Plasma Science and Fusion Center.
2. Harvard University
Harvard’s Department of Physics has offered some of the best undergraduate physics programs since 1642 and hosts the Jefferson Laboratory, the oldest physics lab in the U.S. Members of the department have received recognition for work in high-pressure physics, the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method, and the development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements. In total, the department can claim association with 10 Nobel Prize recipients.
Harvard’s campus hosts eight research centers: the Center for Ultracold Atoms; the Center for Nanoscale Systems; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; the Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics; the Laboratory for Particle Physics and Cosmology; the Minerals Research Science and Engineering Center; and the Rowland Institute. In addition, the school’s faculty and students have developed research relationships with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, CERN, the Cornell Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, the Soudan Mines in Northern Minnesota, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
3. Stanford University
Stanford’s Physics Department was among the first to open after the university’s founding in 1891. In 1934, Swiss physicist Felix Bloch began work at Stanford, bringing with him his theory of electron transport and ferromagnetism, the Bethe-Bloch equation, and his invention of spin waves and Bloch walls. Recently, Stanford physicists had a key role in monitoring and analyzing the brightest gamma ray burst ever measured.
With offerings among the best undergraduate physics programs in the U.S., the department holds a record of three consecutive Nobel Prize recipients: Professor Robert Laughlin in 1998, Professor Steven Chu in 1997, and Professor Douglas Osheroff in 1996. A total of 18 Nobel Prize recipients associate with the school. Research centers affiliated with Stanford’s department of physics include: the Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials, the E. L. Ginzton Laboratory, the Picosecond Free Electron Laser Center, the W. W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, the PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science, the Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, and the Institute for Theoretical Physics.
4. University of Cambridge
By 1642, the study of physics was available at Cambridge but had a theoretical focus and fell under the umbrella of mathematics. In 1874, the Cavendish Laboratory opened, fostering the school’s first explorations of applied physics through some of the best physics programs available at that time. Past contributors to Cambridge’s Department of Physics include Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, and Niels Bohr, who studied the structure and function of the atom. The discovery of the neutron, the first splitting of the atom, and the discovery of antimatter are also attributable to professors and students of Cambridge. A total of 20 Nobel Prize recipients in the field of physics have associated with the university. Research programs affiliated with the physics department at Cambridge include the Centre for Scientific Computing Collaboration, the Winton Programme for the Physics of Sustainability, and the Centre for the Physics of Medicine.
5. University of California – Berkeley
Berkeley’s Department of Physics operates within the College of Letters and Science. Approximately one-third of the Nobel Prize recipients associated with Berkeley come from the physics department, including nine full-time faculty members and seven alumni. The numerous achievements of past and present members of the department include the invention of the cyclotron, the invention of the bubble chamber, and the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.
Unlike many other physics Ph.D. programs, Berkeley does not require its doctoral students to participate in dissertation defenses; instead, these students must prove effective research skills to peers and faculty through other means. Available research topics cover the full range of theoretical and experimental physics, including astrophysics and cosmology, molecular and optical physics, condensed matter, elementary particles and fields, fusion and plasma, and low-temperature physics. Berkeley’s Department of Physics maintains research associations with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Space Sciences Laboratory, and the Molecular Design Institute. Students have access to a total of eight science libraries on campus, including the Physics-Astronomy Library.
6. Oxford University
Delivering a variety of physics master’s programs, the Department of Physics at Oxford falls under the Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences Division. One of the largest in the world, the physics department features more than 100 research groups and facilities. These include the Accretion and Jet Physics Group, the Beecroft Institute of Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, the Climate Dynamics Group, the Earth Observation Data Group, the MARS Project, and the Oxford Centre for High Energy Density Science.
There have been five Nobel laureates who studied or worked at Oxford; the most recent of these was Anthony J. Leggett, who earned a Nobel Prize in 2003 for his pioneering work on superfluidity. Much of the history and archived material of Oxford’s physics department can be found in the school’s Museum of the History of Science. The department has also donated material to the Science Museum in London.
7. California Institute of Technology
Unusually small for a world-class research institute, Caltech boasts a $2.5 billion endowment that allows plenty of funds for impressive laboratories and eminent professors in conjunction with small class sizes. This extends to the school’s physics department, housed within Caltech’s Division of Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. The department’s research centers and institutes include the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, the Moore Center for Theoretical Cosmology and Physics, and the Walter Burke Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Involved in both undergraduate and graduate programs, topics explored by Caltech’s department of physics include experimental elementary particle physics, gravitational wave astronomy, observational astrophysics, and condensed-matter physics. Students and faculty involved with the school’s physics graduate programs often work closely with professors and learners focusing on other sciences, including planetary science, chemistry, and engineering.
8. Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey
The history of the Department of Physics at Princeton dates back to 1832 with the arrival of Professor Joseph Henry, an expert in natural philosophy. By the 1930s, the program expanded into researching nuclear physics under the direction of Milton G. White, at which point the university built a cyclotron in its Palmer Laboratory.
Over a dozen faculty members and students associated with Princeton have been awarded the Nobel Prize. These esteemed individuals have been a part of or credited with the discovery of the diffraction of electrons by crystals, the discovery of a new form of quantum fluid with fractionally charged excitations, and discoveries related to the structure of nucleons using electron scattering.
With medical physics programs among its many offerings, Princeton’s physics department has maintained research relationships with various other departments at the school, including astrophysical sciences, mathematics, and molecular biology. The school also works with the Institute for Advanced Study, PRISM, PPPL, and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.
9. The University of Tokyo
Kenjiro Yamakawa was the first Japanese professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Tokyo and in 1888 became the first member of the physics faculty to hold a doctorate. In 2002, the school’s professor Masatoshi Koshiba received the Nobel Prize in physics for the first detection of neutrinos from a supernova explosion with the Kamiokande detector.
UTokyo’s physics department focuses primarily on astrophysics, supported by associations with the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. In addition, the school’s physics department also served as the birthplace of the study of biophysics in Japan.
The department traditionally celebrates the Newton Festival, commemorating Isaac Newton, as an opportunity for professional and academic networking. More than 90% of undergraduate students in UTokyo’s physics department progress to the graduate school to undertake physics master’s programs or physics Ph.D. programs.
10. ETH Zürich
Of the 21 Nobel laureates associated with ETH Zurich, eight have been students or faculty from the Department of Physics; these include Heinrich Rohrer, Felix Bloch, and Albert Einstein. Rudolf Clausius, famous for his formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, was the first chair of the institute’s physics department.
Four institutes manage research within the physics department at ETH Zurich: the Institute for Quantum Electronics, the Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Laboratory for Solid-State Physics, and the Institute for Particle Physics and Astrophysics. Featuring some of the best physics programs in the country, the department conducts research in a wide variety of areas within the field, like innovative technologies, computational sciences, and supercomputing.
Scientific facilities affiliated with the department include the European Organization for Nuclear Research, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the High-Energy Accelerator Research Organization, and the Paul Scherrer Institute.
11. Imperial College London
London, England, UK
The Department of Physics at Imperial College London dates back more than a century. Nobel Prize winners, Fellows of the Royal Society, and many other prize-winning students and faculty call the department home. Today, it offers both undergraduate and graduate-level programs.
Graduate students can earn their master of science in one of eight areas, including optics and photonics, quantum fields and fundamental forces, plastic electronic materials, physics with nanophotonics, and quantum engineering. Full-time graduate students complete their coursework in a year; part-time students complete the same coursework over a two-year span. The school also offers 13 physics Ph.D. programs that explore areas such as astrophysics, condensed matter theory, high energy physics, and theoretical physics.
The physics department, one of the largest in the United Kingdom, recently grouped its primary areas of research into four major themes: fundamental physics; photon science; condensed matter physics; and space, plasma, and climate.
To connect students to industries in their areas of research, the department maintains an Industry Club. The club hosts an annual recruitment fair and a postgraduate research symposium to help connect students and employers while creating opportunities for research and development.
12. University of California – Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
UCLA enjoys a reputation as one of the premier research schools in the California public system, offering some of the best undergraduate physics programs in the U.S. The faculty members of the school’s Physics and Astronomy Department are particularly respected, especially for their role in the development of the X-ray free-electron laser and the advancement of high-end scientific computing. Research facilities on the UCLA campus include the Plasma Science and Technology Institute, the California Nanosystems Institute, the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering, the Institute for Digital Research and Education, the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, and the Center for Biological Physics.
Student opportunities outside the classroom include the Physics Education Research Journal Club, the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, the UCLA Science Lab Teaching Club, and the Society of Physics Students. Instructional support available to UCLA students includes the Science and Engineering Library in addition to the Division of Physical Sciences Machine Shop and Instrument Fabrication Facility.
13. École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
The physics department at EPFL, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, boasts 40 full-time faculty members and 50 senior researchers. At the doctoral level, around 150 students pursue their degrees in physics — creating a strong presence in the school’s research labs.
The physics section at EPFL offers some of the country’s best physics programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students earning their master of science (MS) in physics complete a four-month thesis project at a lab in the school’s Research Institutes of Physics, where many students publish their research in well-regarded publications. Graduate students can also earn their MS in nuclear engineering. At the bachelor’s level, students not only learn about the experimental and theoretical aspects of physics, but they also explore topics in the humanities to better understand the philosophical and real-world implications of the discipline.
The Institute of Physics at EPFL, where students conduct their research, focuses on five areas of physics: physics for energy, particle and astrophysics, condensed matter physics, quantum science and technology, and biophysics and complex systems. The Institute’s labs boast various support systems, including a crystal growth/X-ray facility, mechanical and electronic workshops that assemble equipment necessary for research, and clean rooms for micro- and nano-fabrication.
14. Columbia University
New York, New York
Delivering some of the best physics programs available, the graduate Department of Physics at Columbia was formally created in 1892 and can claim association with 29 Nobel laureates in the field. Michael Pupin, well known for his work in X-rays and electromagnetism, served as a central figure in establishing the department. Additionally, the American Physical Society can trace its roots back to a meeting at Columbia in 1899.
On-campus facilities include the Columbia Astrophysics Lab, the Microelectronics Sciences Laboratories, Nevis Laboratories, and the CEPCR Cleanroom. Among the research centers and institutes on campus are the Center for Electron Transport in Molecular Nanostructures; the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics; and the Environmental Molecular Science Institute. Other departments associated with Columbia’s physics department include the Astronomy Department, the Electrical Engineering Department, and the Mathematics Department.
15. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
There have been at least eight Nobel laureates associated with the Department of Physics at Yale, including Raymond Davis Jr., David Lee, and Ernest Lawrence. Research centers on campus catering to students in physics graduate programs include the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Wright Laboratory. Among the school’s other research facilities are the Center for Quantum Information Physics, the Center for Microelectronic Materials and Structures, the Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering, and the Sackler Institute.
Yale’s physics department hosts three outreach programs: the Yale Physics Olympics allows teams of high school students to compete in performing basic physics experiments, Girls’ Science Investigations provides hands-on experience to encourage young women in physics and the sciences, and the APS Conference caters to undergraduate women in physics.
16. University of Chicago
A.A. Michelson, one of the most notable American scientists of his time, began work at UChicago in 1893. Since that time, members of the school’s Department of Physics have made a number of significant contributions to the field, including the application of mass spectrometers to determine nuclear constants, the discovery that the proton has an excited state, and the construction of the Fermi National Accelerator. In addition, a total of 29 recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics are connected with UChicago, which features a variety of physics master’s programs.
On-campus research centers and institutes at UChicago include the Enrico Fermi Institute, the James Franck Institute, the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, the Computation Institute, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, the ASC Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes, and the Institute for Molecular Engineering.
17. Kyoto University
KyotoU was founded in June 1897. One year later, the school opened its Department of Physics. Research groups in the department center on four key areas as part of its physics graduate programs: condensed matter, particle physics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics. Research centers on campus at KyotoU include the Data Analysis Center for Geomagnetism and Space Magnetism and the Institute for Geothermal Sciences. The school also hosts two observatories: the Hida Observatory and the Kwasan Observatory. Both facilities focus on solar physics, cosmic plasma physics, and stellar physics.
Three notable figures associated with the physics department at KyotoU have won the Nobel Prize: in 1949, Hideki Yukawa received recognition for his prediction of the existence of mesons through theoretical work in nuclear forces; in 1965, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga was recognized for his work in quantum electrodynamics; in 2008, Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa were recognized for the discovery of the origin of broken symmetry and the prediction of three families of quarks in nature.
18. Peking University
Established in 1913, the School of Physics at Peking University in China harbors departments for physics, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, and astronomy. In physics, it offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Each year, the school accepts roughly 200 graduate students, 100 in its physics master’s program and 100 in its Ph.D. program. At the undergraduate level, roughly a third of all students continue on to earn their advanced degrees at top international institutions.
The School of Physics employs roughly 200 personnel, many of whom boast national distinctions. For instance,15 faculty members identify as Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 2018, Peking University professors Jian Wang and Xincheng Xie spearheaded research that ultimately discovered log-periodic quantum oscillation. The year before, a graduate of the school’s Ph.D. program received the Ph.D. prize from the International Astronomical Union, one of three graduates to receive the prize since its establishment.
The school boasts a strong collaborative research presence. After celebrating its 100th anniversary, it began hosting an annual lecture series that attracts scholars from around the world, cultivating dialogue in the physical sciences. Three of the school’s research groups receive sponsorship from the National Natural Science Foundation of China: QCD and Hadron Physics, Biological Networks, and Femtosecond Optical Physics and Mesoscopic Optics.
19. (tie) Tsinghua University
Located in Beijing, China, Tsinghua University’s Department of Physics is one of the best physics programs in the country. Today, the school fosters strong international collaborations, sending its scholars to different countries and inviting many scholars from abroad to study in Beijing.
After its original inception, the department experienced several disruptions as a result of war and politics. In the 1930s, the department briefly merged with departments at Peking University and Nankai University. During this time, the triumvirate of academic centers, known then as the Physics Department of Southwest Associated University, produced two Nobel Prize winners. The physics department at Tsinghua emerged as an autonomous entity in 1982. It is now a power within China’s academic system.
Today, the school boasts four research institutes that focus on condensed matter physics; high energy and nuclear physics; atomic, molecular, and optic physics; and astrophysics. It also harbors seven interdisciplinary research centers that focus on research in nanophysics; quantum science and technology; and atomic, molecular, and nanoscience. Two laboratories, the State Key Laboratory of Low Dimensional Quantum Physics and the Virtual Laboratory for Material Design, aid in campus-based research.
19. (tie) Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
Cornell’s contributions to the field of physics have proved so important that a comprehensive history of the growth and achievements of the school’s Department of Physics was captured by the late Paul Hartman in his book titled The Cornell Physics Department. In particular, the department boasts acclaim for Nobel Prize-winning work in low-temperature physics and theoretical astrophysics.
Two major laboratories comprise the majority of research in physics Ph.D. programs conducted at Cornell: the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics and the Laboratory for Elementary Particle Physics. The department also manages the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education, a facility that runs the Xraise outreach program to stimulate interest in the sciences. Other affiliated institutions include the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, the Center for Materials Research, and the Kavli Institute.
21. Technical University of Munich
Technical University Munich (Technische Universität München), located in Garching, Germany, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics. The physics department at TUM remains one of the largest and most well-regarded in Germany, with faculty members boasting expertise in biophysics, nanotechnology, novel materials, cosmology, condensed matter physics, and nuclear physics. The department serves as home to several Nobel laureates, including Erwin Neher, Wolfgang Ketterle, Klaus von Klitzing, and Johann Deisenhofer. In addition to Nobel Prizes, scientists affiliated with the department received four Leibniz prizes and 17 grants from the European Research Council.
The department includes research groups that explore areas such as dark matter, the physics of synthetic biological systems, neutron scattering, functional materials, and biomedical physics. The school’s four research centers — including a center for nanotechnology and materials and the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Research Neutron Source — attract scholars and scientists from across the globe.
The school’s proximity to Munich — the country’s main location for research and technology industries — creates a smooth pathway between graduation and employment for students in the physics master’s program. Students in TUM’s physics department also enjoy access to nearby amenities such as Europe’s fastest supercomputer, a tandem accelerator, and research institutes such as Max Planck Institutes.
22. LMU Munich
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) boasts a multi-century long history that reaches back to 1472. Since that time, the school has grown to service more than 50,000 students and now hosts one of the largest physics departments in Germany, with some of the best physics graduate programs in the country. LMU’s Department of Physics can claim association with many notable figures, including Wilhelm Wien of Wien’s displacement law. In 2005, LMU professor Theodor Hänsch received a Nobel Prize for the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy.
The many excellent research laboratories and centers on LMU’s campus include the Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics, the Center for NanoScience, and the Laboratory for Extreme Photonics. The school also hosts the Maier-Leibnitz Laboratory, a joint facility co-managed by the Technische Universität München.
23. (tie) University of California – Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, California
With a relatively short history dating back only to 1944, the Department of Physics at UCSB has earned an impressive amount of respect since its creation. The department’s current staff includes three Nobel Prize recipients and 16 members of the National Academies, and the majority of the professors possess experience in theoretical or experimental physics and high-energy theoretical physics. Research organizations associated with UCSB’s physics department include the California NanoSystems Institute, the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids, the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering, the Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology, and the WM Keck Observatory.
UCSB’s undergraduate physics program offers a joint degree with the university’s College of Creative Studies for highly motivated and talented students. The university’s physics graduate programs include a Ph.D. in physics with an emphasis on astrophysics.
23. (tie) University of Toronto
The Department of Physics at U of T has seen 115 years of academic history, with Sir John C. McLennan and John Tuzo Wilson both serving as major figures in shaping the department’s foundations. As part of the school’s physics graduate programs, the department conducts research in three main areas: planetary physics, quantum optics and condensed matter physics, and subatomic physics. The research group on condensed matter physics features a number of strong research associations, including relationships with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the Experimental Nonlinear Physics Group, the Center for Quantum Materials, and the Highly Efficient Applications of Thermoelectronics Research program.
Other organizations affiliated with U of T’s physics department include the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the Institute for Aerospace Studies, the Institute for Optical Sciences, the Institute of Particle Physics, and IsoTrace. In addition, U of T runs the Museum of Scientific Instruments, which is managed by volunteer graduate students and faculty members.
25. National University of Singapore
National University of Singapore features a strong, research-intensive Department of Physics. Physics research at NUS began in earnest in the 1990s when the country’s National Science and Technology Board launched a plan to spur research and development. The NUS used funds from the initiative to create the Center for Superconducting and Magnetic Materials, the Center for Quantum Technologies, a Surface Science Laboratory, and the Center for Advanced 2D Materials.
Today, the department focuses on eight major research areas: graphene and 2D materials, quantum information, physics of nanoscience, biological physics, condensed matter and advanced materials, physics of nonlinear and complex systems, atomic molecular physics, and computational and theoretical physics, which comprises cosmology, particle physics, and string theory. In conjunction with these research interests, the school serves as home to centers like the Center for Quantum Technology and the Center for Ion Beam Application.
Students at NUS can earn their undergraduate degree in physics or enroll in postgraduate programs. Students can pursue a physics Ph.D. or master of science degree (MS) by way of research. Students less interested in research can pursue an MS in physics or applied physics by way of coursework.
26. Tokyo Institute of Technology
Housed within the School of Science, the Department of Physics at Tokyo Institute of Technology in Tokyo, Japan offers undergraduate and graduates degrees in physics. Undergrads can earn their bachelor of science in physics while graduate students can pursue a master of arts, master of science, doctor of science, or doctor of philosophy in physics. Undergraduate students and those in physics graduate programs enjoy access to critical research equipment, from small, tailor-made devices to accelerators.
Graduate students can participate in the school’s International Physics Leadership Program, which prepares them to navigate the global physics community. Students in the program travel abroad to attend conferences, present research, or participate in research at a foreign lab or university. Students also learn how to organize and host their own international physics conference. To further encourage international exchanges, the department regularly hosts invites researchers to hold seminars dedicated to nanoscience and quantum physics.
The school boasts numerous research labs that explore multiple subjects. Some areas of research include subatomic physics, problems in cosmology, novel optical physics, and explosions in the distant universe. Researchers benefit from centers such as the Research Center for Low Temperature Physics and the Advanced Instrumentation Laboratory for Physics.
27. (tie) Lomonosov Moscow State University
Faculty of Physics at Lomonosov Moscow State University offers one of the best physics programs in Russia. The school harbors eight divisions: nuclear physics, geophysics, astronomy, solid-state physics, radiophysics, applied mathematics, experimental and theoretical physics, and complementary education. Students can also take courses in engineering physics and management of research and high technologies. To support interdisciplinary research, the school offers several research centers, including a Center for Hydrophysical Research, a Center for Computer Physics, and a Center for Information Tools and Technology.
Students can earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physics. Graduate students can choose from one of 38 master’s programs. The programs cover diverse topics including low-temperature physics, plasma physics, physics of the atmosphere and near-Earth space, physics of the sea and land, physics of accelerators and radiation medicine, and medical physics.
Graduates of the Faculty of Physics lead impactful careers. Eight Nobel Prize recipients either taught at or earned their degrees from the program. Additionally, 170 faculty members earned a state prize for scientific achievements while 38 received a Lenin prize. Research takes place at the school’s campus in Moscow, at the Russian Academy of Science, and at universities around the world.
27. (tie) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
As early as 1870, Dean and Professor Stillman Robinson introduced the study of physics to the University of Illinois. Just two years later, the school’s Physics Laboratory started producing quality research as part of physics master’s programs and physics Ph.D. programs.
Since its inception, the university’s Department of Physics has been associated with 13 Nobel laureates, including John Bardeen, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in physics. The various recipients have been recognized for their contributions to the theory of superconductors and superfluids, the invention of the separated oscillatory fields method, discoveries concerning the classification of elementary particles and their interactions, the discovery of the antiproton, and the determination of the magnetic moment of the electron.
Facilities on campus include the Physics Machine Shop, the Physics Liquid Helium Facility, the Physics Interaction Room, and the Virtual Physics and Astronomy Library. Departmental community outreach includes the physics van, a traveling science show for kids.
29. École polytechnique
Located in the heart of Paris, Ecole Polytechnique dates back more than 200 years to the Age of Enlightenment. Today, it serves as one of France’s most highly regarded institutions for science and engineering, attracting students from across the world. Many graduates and employees of the school lead meaningful careers. In 2018, former physics faculty member Gerard Mourou received a Nobel Prize for his work with laser pulses.
The Department of Physics serves a critical role within the larger institution, where its research helps inform advancements in technology and engineering. The department operates two laboratories in conjunction with the school’s chemistry and biology departments. It also carries out research at the Ecole Polytechnique Research Center, where its primary interests involve optics, lasers, and plasmas; nanoscience, nanotechnology, information, and communications; condensed matter, materials, and energy; and the physics of the two infinities.
Students at Ecole Polytechnique can earn a four-year degree in physics. During the fourth year, students can pursue a specialization either at Ecole Polytechnique or abroad. This specialization may feed into a physics graduate program. Students also participate in a semester-long project or internship. Additionally, the school offers a two-year master’s in physics and applications program.
30. University of Manchester
The University of Manchester delivers some of the best undergraduate physics programs through its School of Physics and Astronomy. The distinguished Ernest Rutherford, who was employed by the university as a professor, is credited with the discovery of the atomic nucleus in 1910. There have been a total of 13 Nobel Prize recipients linked to Manchester, including Rutherford. The most recent laureates associated with the school are professors Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov for their work on graphene in 2010.
Research facilities at Manchester include the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which houses the famous Lovell Telescope, and the Photon Science Institute. Students and faculty also conduct multidisciplinary research in the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics, the Dalton Nuclear Institute, and the Mesoscience and Nanotechnology Center.
International facilities utilized by researchers involved with Manchester’s physics programs include the Hubble Space Telescope, XMM-Newton X-ray Telescope, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, the Diamond Light Source at RAL, the 88-Inch Cyclotron at the Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratory, and CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
31. Seoul National University
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul National University dates to the late 1800s. In 1946, it officially became the first national university in Korea. Located in Seoul, South Korea, SNU boasts the largest campus in the city and operates 15 colleges, 11 professional schools, and a graduate school.
Its physics department, housed within the School of Natural Sciences, offers a four-year bachelor’s degree, a master of science in physics, and a doctoral degree in physics.
The department of physics and astronomy’s faculty comprises SNU professors, visiting professors, staff, students in the physics Ph.D. program, and researchers. Physics research groups within the department explore areas such as elementary particle physics, dark matter, string theory, condensed matter, and quantum field theory. SNU researchers involved in the Hadron physics lab work alongside scientists from the U.S. and Japan.
The department features new buildings and research centers, including the Korea Neutrino Research Center and the Research Center for Terahertz-Based BioApplication Systems, which are Centers for Excellence.
32. Universität Heidelberg
At Heidelberg University, an institute that dates to the 14th century, physics and astronomy share a home within the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Over the years, the department served as home to many notable figures in physics. Past Nobel Laureates Hans Jenson, Walther Bothe, and Philipp Lenard all taught in the department. The school’s Kirchoff Institute for Physics is named for the physicist Gustav Kirchoff, who spent more than two decades at Heidelberg.
Today, the department offers a bachelor of science in physics, a master of science in physics, and doctoral degrees. The bachelor’s program requires three semesters of coursework in which students can specialize in areas like medical physics, environmental physics, biophysics, computer science, mineralogy, economics, mathematics, and biology. After six semesters, students can continue into the physics master’s program, which requires two additional years of study. The first year involves seminars and lectures while the following year involves an independent research project. Professors typically teach in English with some German.
Learners in the doctoral program can earn specialization within either the department of physics or through one of its affiliated research schools. Graduate students can also specialize in one of the department’s research programs focused on simulational methods in physics, high resolution and high rate detectors in nuclear and particle physics, or particle physics beyond the standard model.
33. University College London
Located in the historic Bloomsbury district, University College of London boasts a strong Department of Physics and Astronomy. Three Nobel prize winners are affiliated with UCL, including Francis Crick, who helped discover the double-helix structure of DNA. Today, the physics department champions equality and diversity. It even received a Juno Champion Award, recognizing it as one of the best physics programs to address the under-representation of women in the field.
The department offers undergraduate programs, including a three-year bachelor of science in physics, astrophysics, and theoretical physics. Students can continue for another year to earn their master of science (MS) in physics, astrophysics, or theoretical physics. The department also offers several postgraduate programs such as its MS or postgraduate diploma in biological physics, quantum technologies, planetary science, and nanotechnology.
Doctoral students pursuing their Ph.D. in physics at UCL can join one of five research groups: high energy particle physics; biological physics; astrophysics and atmospheric physics; condensed matter and materials physics and biological physics; and atomic molecular, optical, and positron physics. Students interested in space science can also pursue a Ph.D. with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
34. National Taiwan University
Renamed National Taiwan University in 1945, the school originally started under Japanese colonial administration in the late 1920s. Today, NTU boasts 11 colleges, 108 graduate institutes, and 54 departments. Its Department of Physics, established in 1946, serves as the oldest center for physics and physics research in the country. Today, it offers degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level, boasting nearly 100 academic awards. Students in the school’s physics graduate programs can earn their master’s or Ph.D. in physics, astrophysics, or applied physics.
The department features 11 labs, including a string theory group; a nanomagnetism lab; a superconductor and low-temperature electronics lab; a microscopic biophysics and biophotonics laboratory; an optoelectronics, medical physics, and biomedical engineering lab, and a cleanroom. The department also holds affiliations with the Graduate Institute of Astrophysics, the Graduate Institute of Applied Physics, the Center for Theoretical Sciences, and the Leung Center for Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics.
Students can also attend special seminars that draw visiting academics and researchers from all over the world. In 2018 alone, the school hosted scholars from Germany, China, Japan, Canada, Singapore, and the U.S. Additionally, the department hosts regularly colloquiums.
35. (tie) Tohoku University
Tohoku University hosts one of the oldest and largest physics departments in Japan. Founded in 1911, the school’s Department of Physics has been working with the university’s Research Center for Prediction of Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions since its establishment in 1997. Other research institutes affiliated with Tohoku University’s physics department, which delivers a variety of physics graduate programs, include the Planetary Plasma and Atmospheric Research Center, the Research and Analytic Center for Giant Molecules, and the Museum of Natural History, which features over two million specimen samples.
Research-related institutions within the physics department at Tohoku University include the Center for Electron Photon Science, the Institute for Materials Research, the International Research Institute of Disaster Science, and the Cyclotron and Radioisotope Center. Associated institutions outside the university include the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency, NTT Basic Research Laboratories, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies.
35. (tie) Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, located in Karlsruhe, Germany, originated in the 19th century as Karlsruhe University but legally emerged as KIT in 2009. Today, the school’s Department of Physics offers a bachelor of science and a master of science in physics, geophysics, and meteorology.
Undergraduates take courses in experimental and theoretical physics, mathematics, computer programming, and key skills such as patent law, English, or project management. To graduate, students first complete a thesis in which they solve an independent problem. Those earning their master’s in physics complete an internship component. The physics master’s program continues topics introduced in the bachelor’s program.
The department consists of nine institutes, each with a unique research focus such as applied physics, experimental particle physics, geophysics, meteorological and climate research, theoretical solid-state physics, and theory of condensed matter. Other KIT institutes associated with the physics department include the Institute of Nuclear Physics, the Institute of Nanotechnology, and the Laboratory for Electron Microscopy.
Research interests in the school’s physics department fall into three centers for excellence: The Cluster of Excellence
3D Matter Made to Order (in collaboration with Heidelberg University), the KIT Center for Elementary Particle and Astroparticle Physics, and the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology.
37. Osaka University
Osaka University dates to 1931. The school’s Department of Physics emerged at this time, under the auspices of the school’s first president, the physicist H. Nagaoka. Since its establishment, the department has served as home to notable physicists and scholars such as H. Yagi, S. Kikuchi and the first Japanese Nobel laureate, H. Yukawa. In recent years, the school’s faculty boasted professors T. Nagamiya and J. Kanamori. Today, the department’s research focuses include nuclear physics, condensed matter physics, computational physics, and elementary particle physics. It also engages in interdisciplinary physics.
Undergraduates at Osaka University in Japan can earn a bachelor of science in physics. The four-year program lets students tailor their studies to meet their goals. At the graduate level, students can earn a master of science or Ph.D. in physics. The master’s degree requires two years of study while the doctoral degree requires three.
Students in the physics master’s program attend lectures and complete coursework, with minimal research requirements; doctoral candidates engage in more research. Each student joins a research group that aligns with his or her interests. Current research groups explore topics like interface physics and the theory of electrons in solids, particle, and nuclear reactions.
38. Nanyang Technological University
NTU emerged in 1991 as a teaching University. Nearly 30 years later, it boasts an enrollment of over 30,000. Located in western Singapore, the school’s campus features environmentally friendly buildings. The campus serves as home to the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, which contains Physics and Applied Physics.
Physics and Applied Physics undergrads at NTU can earn their bachelor of science in physics. They can also minor in physics or concentrate in nanotechnology, semiconductor technology, or optical technology. The department also offers a medical physics program. During their final two semesters of study, undergrads complete a research project that culminates in a thesis, oral exam, and presentation. In lieu of the final project, students may complete a professional internship.
At the graduate level, NTU offers a master’s in physics and a four-year Ph.D. in physics. Both degrees require students to compose and defend a thesis. Doctoral candidates work with faculty members who boast expertise in photonics; soft matter physics; quantum information; spintronics; condensed-matter physics; biophysics; and atomic, molecularly, and optical physics. Students and researchers enjoy facilities and labs to support their research.
39. Sapienza University of Rome
Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome dates to the 1300s. More than 700 years later, Sapienza still stands in the heart of Italy’s capital. With more than 100,000 students, it is the country’s largest university. The school’s physics department is one of the largest and most active departments on campus.
Students can earn a three-year undergraduate degree in physics, a master’s in physics, or a doctoral degree in physics. The undergraduate degree, which explores physics, applied physics, and astrophysics, prepares students to enter physics graduate programs. The school offers two master’s programs, one in physics and one in astronomy and astrophysics. At the doctoral level, students can pursue a Ph.D. in physics, astronomy, or accelerator physics through the university’s Doctoral School in Astronomical, Chemical, Physical, Mathematics and Earth Sciences.
The department boasts one of the most active research bodies in the school, with more than 300 researchers and faculty members. The department’s research covers diverse areas of the field, including physics of matter, cybernetic electronics and informatics, medical physics, geophysics, and physics of the environment. It also engages in interdisciplinary subjects like physics and cultural heritage and history of physics. The department hosts facilities in conjunction with the Institute of Nuclear Physics, the National Research Council, the Italian Space Agency, and the National Institute of Physics of Matter.
- Sapienza University of Rome is ranked on “The 100 Best Computer Science Programs in the World.”
40. University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan serves students as one of the largest state schools in the country. In existence since the late 1800s, the school’s Physics Department ranks 13th in the United States according to U.S. News & World Report and offers some of the best physics programs available. Over the years, a number of renowned professors and researchers have worked within the department, including H. Richard Crane, David Dennison, Samuel A. Goudsmit, Otto Laporte, and George Uhlenbeck.
On U-M’s campus, the Demonstration Laboratory caters to faculty-requested experiments. An instrument/machine shop produces items for the Physics Department and manages the student shop, while the electronics shop works with fabrication for the high-energy physics research groups. Other research centers associated with the department include the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science and the Leinweber Center for Theoretical Physics. Students can choose to complete affiliated programs in space physics and complex systems. In addition, undergraduate physics students at U-M have the opportunity to work as a paid research assistant — part time or full time — during the summer.
41. (tie) University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
The graduate programs available through UMD’s Department of Physics have been ranked 14th by U.S. News & World Report. Students completing physics graduate programs at UMD enjoy many excellent opportunities outside of the classroom, including participation in the school’s Graduate Resources for Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics initiative. Other experiences open to students include the Society of Physics Students, the Women in Physics program, and the S-STEM program, which provides financial assistance and field experience to qualifying students. The S-STEM program receives its funding from the National Science Foundation.
UMD’s campus hosts 16 laboratories and research centers, including the Center for Scientific Computation and Mathematical Modeling, the Condensed Matter Theory Center, the Institute for Physical Science and Technology, the Joint Quantum Institute, the Physics Frontier Center, and the Joint Space-Science Institute.
41. (tie) The University of Texas at Austin
The first Chairman of the Faculty when UT Austin opened in 1883 was John W. Mallet, a professor of chemistry and physics. Currently the university’s Department of Physics boasts three members of the National Academy of Science and one recipient of the Nobel Prize as faculty.
Featuring some of the best undergraduate physics programs in the U.S., UT Austin’s physics department manages seven organized research units and three research groups. Facilities supporting this research include a large-scale cryogenic laboratory, nuclear magnetic and electron paramagnetic resonance laboratories, and facilities for turbulent flow and nonlinear dynamic experiments. In addition, the department maintains an international partnership with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wurzburg in Wurzburg, Germany. Community outreach programs involved with UT Austin’s physics department include the Alice in Wonderland summer program and the traveling Physics Circus for K-12 schools.
43. University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia
UBC in Vancouver, Canada boasts an active and collaborative physics program. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers several physics degree options. Students can earn their bachelor of science in physics or pursue a combined major in physics and oceanography or physics and computer science. Students can also earn a bachelor of applied science in engineering physics. The department helps connect students to research, career, and volunteer opportunities.
At the graduate level, the school offers a master of science in physics, medical physics, and astronomy. It also offers a master of applied science in engineering physics. At the doctoral level, students can pursue a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy. The school even offers a medical physics program. Graduate students can participate in interdisciplinary programs such as Isotopes for Science and Medicine CREATE group, a program that bridges departments and explores the use of nuclear isotopes in medicine and science.
Researchers in the department work in areas like medical physics, condensed matter, particle and nuclear physics, and theoretical physics. Students in research groups enjoy access to several facilities and state-of-the-art equipment. The school’s campus hosts TRIUMPH, a particle and nuclear physics facility that houses the world’s largest cyclotron, a distinction that attracts scientists from all over the world.
44. Australian National University
ANU’s Research School of Physics and Engineering lies within the university’s College of Science. The school features ten research departments, including the Atomic and Molecular Physics Laboratories, the Center for Plasmas and Fluids, and the Plasma Research Laboratory. ANU’s physics department functions as the largest university-based research and teaching department in the nation, housing the country’s largest accelerator and the H1-NF National Stellarator Facility. The department also works with four ARC centers of Excellence and three Australian research networks.
Research facilities on the ANU campus include the 14UD Heavy Ion Accelerator, the Superconducting Linear Accelerator, the H-1NF National Plasma Fusion Facility, the National Laboratory for X-ray Micro Computed Tomography, and the Australian Facility for Advanced Ion Implantation Research. In addition, the university’s physics department manages photonics minilabs as part of educational outreach associated with its physics graduate programs.
45. (tie) University of Edinburgh
In 1993, the University of Edinburgh merged its physics and astronomy departments to create its School of Physics and Astronomy. All of the academic and research staff of the school belong to at least one of four institutes on campus: the Institute for Astronomy, the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics, or the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre. In addition to offering some of the best physics programs, the school also hosts four multidisciplinary research centers: the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions, the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, the Tait Institute for Mathematical Physics, and the UK Centre for Astrobiology.
Nobel laureates associated with the University of Edinburgh include Peter Higgs in 2013, for his work in predicting the Higgs boson; Igor Tamm in 1958, for the joint discovery and interpretation of the Cherenkov-Vavilov effect; Sir Edward Appleton in 1947, for his contribution to the development of radar; and Charles Barkla in 1917, for his discovery of characteristic X-ray elements.
45. (tie) Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University, a private research institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began as a technical school in 1900. Today, it boasts seven schools and colleges, including the Mellon College of Science, home to the Department of Physics.
CMU’s physics department offers one of the best undergraduate physics programs in the U.S. Its relatively small faculty — around 35 faculty and 10 staff members — results in a more focused scope of research interests. The department prides itself on excellence in cosmology, biological physics, quantum electronics, and subatomic physics. The McWilliam’s Center for Cosmology supports research in computer science, astrophysics, and particle physics within the department and other branches of the university.
The department offers a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in physics. Students can also pursue a Ph.D. in applied physics in collaboration with CMU’s Data Storage System Center, the Materials Science and Engineering Department, the Robotics Institute,and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. To earn a master’s in physics, students must plan to pursue their Ph.D. — all doctoral candidates earn their master’s after their second year of study. Students who wish to earn only their master’s degree may do so, but without financial aid.
47. (tie) University of Melbourne
Founded in 1853, the University of Melbourne is one of Australia’s premier universities. Its curriculum, the Melbourne Model, stresses both depth and breadth of knowledge, preparing students to enter a global, interdisciplinary workforce.
Its School of Physics dates to the 1860s when the first physics lectures took place within the department of medicine. The School of Physics emerged in 1945. The school now offers degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Undergrads can earn their bachelor of science in philosophy. Graduate students can pursue a master of science and a Ph.D. or master of philosophy in physics. The physics master’s program blends coursework and a research project while the doctoral degrees primarily involve research. Students can also earn their graduate diploma in science or a graduate certificate in science.
The School of Physics’ six primary areas of research include experimental particle physics, astrophysics, optical physics, experimental condensed matter physics, theoretical condensed matter physics, and theoretical particle physics. To facilitate research in these areas, the school participates in four Centers of Excellence dedicated to all-sky astrophysics, advanced molecular imaging, particle physics, and quantum computation and communication technology. Each center, funded through the Australian Research Council, encourages international collaboration.
47. (tie) Universität Hamburg
The earliest physics classes at Hamburg University in Hamburg, Germany, date to the early 1600s. However, Hamburg University as it exists today did not emerge until 1919. This same year, the State Physical Laboratory became the State Institute of Physics, an official entity of the school — launching its physics program in earnest. The school’s Department of Physics now offers programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. It also offers teacher training courses.
Students can pursue their bachelor of science degree in either physics or nanoscience. Students can choose to continue their studies in the school’s two-year physics master’s program, which offers degrees in the same areas as the bachelor’s program. Students pursuing their master’s spend a year focusing on subjects like laser physics and photonics, solid state and nanostructure physics, astronomy and astrophysics, and elementary particle and accelerator physics. The second year consists of research.
At the doctoral level, students can pursue whichever area of physics aligns with their interests and goals. Research groups within the department fall into three main areas of expertise: laser physics and photon science, solid-state physics and nanoscience, and particle physics and astrophysics. Doctoral students can also work with affiliated entities like the Max Planck Institute, which offers its own Ph.D. program.
49. (tie) Delft University of Technology
Delft University of Technology, based in Delft, Netherlands, offers research programs and a variety of research facilities. The school’s physics programs, from the bachelor’s to doctoral level, fall within the Faculty of Applied Sciences department.
Students can earn their bachelor of science in applied physics or double-major in applied physics and applied mathematics. All major courses take place in Dutch. At the master’s level, students can earn their master of science in applied physics at TU Delft. Those wanting to pursue a master’s in physics can do so through TU Delft’s partner program at Leiden University.
In the master’s program at TU Delft, students choose among one of five tracks: physics for energy, physics for fluids engineering, physics for health and life, physics for instrumentation, and physics for quantum devices and quantum computing. Each track provides students the knowledge and experience necessary to apply physics in real-world settings. Master’s coursework takes place primarily in English.
Ph.D. candidates work in research groups within the Faculty of Applied Physics department. Research areas include imaging physics, radiation science and technology, bionanoscience, and quantum nanoscience. Earning a doctoral degree through TU Delft’s physics Ph.D. program typically takes four years, with an additional two years of postgraduate opportunities that culminate in a Professional Doctorate of Engineering.
49. (tie) University of Amsterdam
The Institute of Physics at University of Amsterdam boasts three research divisions: The Institute for High Energy Physics, the Institute for Theoretical Physics Amsterdam, and the Van der Waals-Zeeman Institute, which focuses on quantum gases and quantum information, soft matter, and hard condensed matter research. These institutes and the research they support play a central role in the school’s undergraduate, master’s, and physics Ph.D. programs.
At the undergraduate level, students can earn their bachelor of science in physics and astronomy through a joint program with UvA and Vrije University, another institution in Amsterdam. The bachelor of science in physics and astronomy takes place in Dutch. Students interested in a program that blends humanities and science can pursue a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in physics at Amsterdam University College in conjunction with UvA and VU. Courses are taught in English.
At the master’s level, students can pursue a master of science in physics and astronomy through UvA and VU. The combined programs allow students to take advantage of the established networks and facilities at both schools. The program takes place exclusively in English and culminates in a thesis project.
The 50 Best Physics Programs in the World | 2018