Five centuries ago Francis Bacon formalized the scientific method. In his empirical vision of epistemology Bacon saw the lab-based experiment as providing the foundation for trusted knowledge, which could then be built up into higher level, more abstract thinking. From this point onward many began to see physics as the queen of the sciences. To this day the Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded before the others which is in keeping with the field’s role as the cornerstone of science.
Regardless of whether one accepts the reductionist framework underlying this thinking, there is no doubt that physics occupies a unique place amongst the sciences. 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. Yet, in its most applied forms it looks comparable to engineering and cares little for hypotheticals instead of concrete results.
Consequently, 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.
Furthermore, physics is one of the most international of all the academic disciplines, since every university knows it can build a reputation on success in this discipline. Furthermore, physics is one of the fields which both governments and businesses are the first to invest money in, which affords its scientists an unusually wide array of career opportunities. As we move further into the information age, there is little doubt that this science uniquely positioned on the border of math and matter will continue to advance humanities farthest frontiers.
For this ranking, we looked to the Center for World-Class Universities operated by Shanghai Jiao Tong University (right). This center specializes in ranking universities as well as their individual programs of study. International in scope and focused on academic performance, these are known as the “Shanghai Rankings.”
From the Shanghai Rankings, we therefore identified the 50 best programs in the latest 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities in Physics. Taking this Shanghai Ranking as our point of departure, we researched the most important characteristics of each of the top 50 physics programs on the list in order to reveal why each university physics program appears where it does.
The Top 50 Best Physics Schools
At the University of California, the Physics Department is held under the jurisdiction of the College of Letters and Science. Approximately one-third of the Nobel Prize recipients at Berkeley come from the Physics Department including nine full-time faculty members and seven alumni.
Of the numerous achievements, past and present members of the Physics Department have been credited with the invention of the cyclotron, the invention of the bubble chamber, and the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.
The Department maintains research associations with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Space Sciences Laboratory, and the Molecular Design Institute. A total of eight science libraries are available on campus, including the Physics-Astronomy Library.
Unlike many other graduate programs, students are not required to participate in dissertation defense exams, but must prove effective research skills to peers and faculty.
Research topics and opportunities 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.
Princeton, New Jersey
The history of physics at Princeton dates back to 1832 with the arrival of the expert in natural philosophy, Professor Joseph Henry. By the 1930’s, the program expanded into researching nuclear physics, under the direction of Milton G. White, at which point Princeton built a cyclotron in the Palmer Laboratory.
Over a dozen faculty members and students have been awarded the Nobel Prize. These prestigious 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.
Positive research relationships have been maintained with various departments including astrophysical sciences, mathematics, and molecular biology. External relationships have been established with the Institute for Advanced Study, PRISM, PPPL, and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.
The study of physics at Harvard University has been required since 1642. The department houses the Jefferson Laboratory, the oldest physics lab in the United States. Members of the department have been noted for work in high pressure physics, the invention of the separated oscillatory field’s method, and the development of new methods for nuclear magnetic precision measurements. There have been 10 Noble Prize recipients in the department.
A total of eight research centers have been established on campus: the Center for Ultracold Atoms, the Center for Nanoscale Systems, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the Institute for Theoretical Atomic and Molecular Physics, the Laboratory for Particle Physics and Cosmology, the Minerals Research Science and Engineering Center, and the Rowland Institute.
Off campus, 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.
MIT is considered by many to be the world’s leading school for science. It is well situated near many other leading institutions, such as Harvard, which leads to many combined research opportunities. The study of physics has been taught through hands-on experience since the school’s founding in 1861. The department has seen four Nobel Prize recipients and seven Oersted Medal recipients since 1990.
The department is known for its outreach to under-represented minorities and first-generation college students through the MIT Summer Research Program and the MIT Physics Bridge Program. Students attending these programs will be stronger candidates for the doctoral program.
There are 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.
The California Institute of Technology is unusually small for such a world class research institute. Normally small schools struggle to compete with the cutting edge resources provided by their much larger competitors. Thus, many schools will sacrifice a small school environment for first class equipment. But CalTech’s more than 2.5 billion dollar endowment leaves plenty of funds for leading laboratories and professors in conjunction with small class sizes that let students easily access their professors.
The subjects of Applied Physics and Material Science are both managed by the same department at CalTech under the Division of Engineering and Applied Science. The department runs five User Facilities including the Kavli Nanoscience Institute, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and X-ray Diffractometry. There are 10 Specialized Facilities including Inelastic Neutron Scattering, Melting and Processing, Transport Measurements, and Elastic Moduli.
CalTech collaborates with the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, The Materials and Molecular Simulation Center, and the Resnick Sustainability Institute.
Physics was among the first departments to open after Stanford was founded in 1891. In 1934, Swiss physicist Felix Bloch began work at Stanford, bringing passion and achievements with him, including 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.
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. There have been a total of 18 Nobel Prize recipients associated with the school.
Associated research centers include: Astronomy Program, Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials, E. L. Ginzton Laboratory, Picosecond Free Electron Laser Center, W. W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, PULSE Institute for Ultrafast Energy Science, Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences, and the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics.
Kenjiro Yamakawa was the first Japanese professor in the Department of Physics and became the first in the department to hold a doctorate in 1888. There is a strong emphasis on astrophysics in the department supported by associations with the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
In 2002 Professor Masatoshi Koshiba was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the first detection of neutrinos from a supernova explosion with KAMIOKANDE. The department was also the birthplace of the study of biophysics in Japan.
The Department of Physics traditionally celebrates the Newton Festival, commemorating Isaac Newton, as an opportunity for departmental networking.
More than 90% of undergraduate students in the Department of Physics decide to advance to the graduate school to undertake further study.
In 1893, one of the most notable American scientists of the time, A.A. Michelson, began work at the University of Chicago. Since that time, a number of significant contributions have been made by members of the physics department including: one of the world centers of molecular and atomic theory, 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.
There have been a total of 29 Nobel Prize recipients in Physics connected with the University of Chicago.
On campus centers and institutes for research 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.
Cambridge, United Kingdom
By 1642 the study of Physics became required at Cambridge, but was mostly theoretical and considered to be under the jurisdiction of Mathematics. By 1874, the Cavendish Laboratory opened bringing the first aspects of applied physics to the department.
Past historical contributions to Physics include Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics, and Niels Bohr studying 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 attributed to professors and students of Cambridge. There have been a total of 20 Nobel Prize recipients in Physics associated with Cambridge.
Currently, Professor and author Stephen Hawking is the director of research at the Department of Applied Math and Theoretical Physics, and the Center for Nanoscale Systems has recently been awarded a $5 million nanotechnology research grant.
Research programs include the Center for Scientific Computing Collaboration, the Winton Program for the Physics of Sustainability, and the Physics of Medicine.
Ithaca, New York
Cornell’s contribution to the field of Physics is so important that a comprehensive history of the growth and achievements of the school’s Physics Department has been captured by the late Paul Hartman in his book titled “The Cornell Physics Department.” The department is particularly well known for the Nobel Prize-winning work in low-temperature physics and theoretical astrophysics.
Two major laboratories comprise the majority of research, 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. This laboratory runs the Xraise outreach program to stimulate interest in the sciences.
Other unique research laboratories and associations include the Cornell Nanoscale Science and Technology Facility, the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, the Center for Materials Research and the Kavli Institute.
Santa Barbara, California
With a relatively recent history that only stems back to 1944, the Physics Department at UCSB has made tremendous strides and rapidly become respected the world over. There are currently three Nobel Prize recipients and 16 members of the National Academies on staff. The majority of Professors have experience in Condensed Matter in Theoretical or Experimental Physics and High Energy Theoretical Physics.
Associations with related research organizations include the California Nano-systems 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.
The undergraduate physics degree has established a joint program with the College of Creative Studies for highly motivated and talented students. The graduate degree offers a PhD in Physics with an emphasis on Astrophysics. The Physics Machine Shop fabrication facility on campus is open to students for a materials coverage fee.
At the University of Colorado at Boulder, both PhD and Master’s studies are available. The PhD offers concentrations in Chemical Physics and Geophysics. Women in the doctoral program have the opportunity to benefit from the L’Oreal Fellowship for Women Postdoctoral Scientists.
There are three Federal Laboratories associated with Colorado at Boulder, the Center for Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
On campus, the Trades Teaching Laboratory managed by the Physics Department provides basic knowledge on safely and effectively utilizing a machine shop. The two classes offered are Machine Shop Technology and Beginning Welding.
The Physics Instrument Shop provides the fabrication needs of the Department and the University at large. The Instrument Shop works in conjunction with the Colorado Nanofabrication Laboratory.
Manchester, United Kingdom
The University of Manchester houses the School of Physics and Astronomy. The distinguished Ernest Rutherford was employed by the university and is credited with the discovery of the atomic nucleus and the first ‘artificial’ nuclear reaction. There have been a total of 11 Nobel Prize recipients from Manchester, including Rutherford. The most recent laureates are Sir Andre Geim and Sir Kostya Novoselov for their work on graphene in 2010.
Research has continued in the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which houses the famous Lovell Telescope, and in the Photon Science Institute. Multidisciplinary research is conducted in the Center for Nonlinear Dynamics, the Dalton Nuclear Institute, and the Mesoscience and Nanotechnology Center. Approximately 200 papers are published in research journals annually.
International facilities utilized by researchers in the Physics Department include the Hubble Space Telescope, XMM-Newton X-ray Telescope, the United Kingdom Infra-Red Telescope, the Diamond Light Source at RAL, the 88-Inch Cyclotron at the Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratory, and CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
John Hopkins University was initially designed to be a research orientated school distinct from the various liberal arts schools in America. Years later, the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy is the largest building on Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. The Center encompasses the Maryland Space Grant Observatory with the Morris W. Offit Telescope on the roof of the Bloomberg Center. The center also holds a computer lab exclusively used by undergraduate physics students.
The NASA Space Telescope Science Institute, home of the Hubble Space Telescope, is located just across the street from the University.
There are four primary areas of study and research in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy: Condensed Matter Physics, Particle Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Plasma Physics.
The Instrument Development Group is a specialized engineering services group within the Johns Hopkins University Department of Physics and Astronomy. The Physical Science Machine Shop is operated jointly with the Chemistry Department.
London, United Kingdom
The Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine holds the largest and one of the most prestigious Physics Departments in the United Kingdom. There have been 46 Fellows of the Royal Society and three Nobel Prize recipients associated with the department. Nobel Laureates have been credited with the development of the Wolson cloud-chamber, ground breaking work on the unified theory of weak and electromagnetic interactions, and the demonstration of the wave nature of electrons.
On campus, Master level programs are available in addition to three centers for Doctoral training. The department recently established an Industry Club to help maintain relationships within the community. There are also numerous resources available for women in science including the Departmental Juno Transparency and Opportunity Committee.
Research Centers and Institutes include the Center for Cold Matter, the Laser Consortium, the Institute of Shock Physics, John Adams Institute, the Center for Complexity Science, and the Thomas Young Center.
New York, New York
The graduate department of Physics at Columbia University was formally established in 1892. Michael Pupin, well known for his work in x-rays and electromagnetism, was a central figure in establishing the department. In 1899, the American Physical Society was founded at a meeting at Columbia.
The department has been associated with 29 Physics Nobel Laureates, 11 of whom received their PhD’s from Columbia and 10 performed research in the on- campus laboratories.
On-campus laboratories include the Columbia Astrophysics Lab, the Microelectronics Sciences Laboratories/Columbia Radiation Laboratory, Nevis Laboratory, and the CEPCR Cleanroom.
Research Centers and Institutes include the Center for Electron Transport in Molecular Nanostructures, the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics, and the Environmental Molecular Science Institute.
Relationships are maintained with affiliated departments as well, including the Astronomy Department, Electrical Engineering Department, and the Mathematics Department.
Nagoya University was founded in 1871 and chartered in April 1939. Despite the hardships of World War II, the Physics department was able to persevere with minimal resources. It was inaugurated as Japan’s ninth Imperial University and has become one of the nation’s leading research centers.
Professors and students have been credited for a number of research successes, including the discovery of the Kobayashi-Maskawa Matrix, the development of a reflection high-energy electron diffraction device, the development of x-ray diffraction topography, and the creation of the Ooi Map, a two-dimensional distance map of amino-acid pairs.
There are four main areas of research: Astrophysical research, Elemental particle research, Materials research, and Biological research. The 25 research laboratories associated with Nagoya University include the Laboratory of Galaxy Evolution, the Radio Astronomy Laboratory, Theoretical Biophysics Laboratory, and the Laboratory of Magnetism.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
The University of Michigan is one of the largest state schools in America. Construction for Michigan’s Physics building began in 1888. Since then the department has greatly contributed to the field, and is now ranked 11th in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
Over the years, the department has seen a number of renowned professors and researchers including H. Richard Crane, David Dennison, Samuel A. Goudsmit, Otto Laporte, and George Uhlenbeck.
On campus, the Demonstration Laboratory is open for faculty-requested experiments. A co-located instrument/machine Shop produces items for the Physics department and manages the student shop, while the electronics shop is involved with fabrication for the High Energy Physics research groups.
Research centers and programs include: the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, Space Physics, and Complex Systems.
Undergraduate students have the opportunity to work as a paid research assistant, part time or full time, during the summers.
Of the 21 Nobel Laureates associated with the Swiss Federal Institute, eight have been awarded to students or faculty from the physics department to names such as Heinrich Rohrer, Felix Bloch, and Albert Einstein. Rudolf Clausius, famous for his formulation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, was the first chair in the Physics department.
The core of research is managed by five institutes: Astronomy, Particle Physics, Quantum Electronics, the Laboratory for Solid State Physics, and Theoretical Physics.
Affiliated Scientific facilities include: FIRST – the Center for Micro and Nanoscience, The Scientific Center for Optical and Electron Microscopy, The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center, The Paul Scherrer Institute – the largest research center for natural and engineering sciences within Switzerland, CERN, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the European Southern Observatory, and KEK – the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization.
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
In 1993, the University of Edinburgh merged the Department of Physics and the Department of Astronomy to create the School of Physics and Astronomy. All of the academic and research staff members belong to at least one of four institutes at the school: the Institute for Astronomy, the Institute for Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, the Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics, or EPCC.
There are also four multidisciplinary research centers, the Center for Science at Extreme Conditions, the Higgs Center for Theoretical Physics, the Tait Institute for Mathematical Physics, and the UK Center 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.
The University of Munich has a multi-century long history spanning back to 1472. During that time, it has grown to service well over 50,000 students. It also runs one of the largest Physics departments in Germany, the LMU, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität. The department has seen many notable figures including Wilhelm Wien of the Wien Displacement Law. Recently, Theodor Hänsch received the Nobel Prize for the 2nd time in 2005 for the development of laser-based precision spectroscopy. His first award was in 1997, when he helped establish the fundamentals for laser cooling.
The many excellent research laboratories and centers include the Arnold Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics, the Center for Nano-Science, and the Laboratory for Extreme Photonics. The Maier-Leibnitz Laboratory is a joint facility managed by Munich and the Technische Universität München.
The Wendelstein Observatory is another respected resource, located on the peak of the Wendelstein Mountain in the Bavarian Alps.
The University of Arizona teaches over 40,000 students and has blossomed into one of America’s premier, public research schools. The College of Science at Arizona has been ranked #1 by the National Science Foundation. Among other unique characteristics, Arizona is the only University in America with its own Radio Telescope. It also offers a Professional Science Master’s Program in Medical Physics.
The Physics Department’s community outreach comes in the form of weekly presentations in the Flandrau Science Center for K-12 students. The R.E.U. Summer Training program is a bridge program available for Community College students. There is also a very active “Women in Physics Club” on campus.
Research programs and centers include the Theoretical Astrophysics Program, the Chemical Physics Program, the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Lab, Biosphere 2, and the Life and Planet Astrobiology Center.
The University of Paris-Sud is organized into different facilities. The physics department is found under the management of the Faculty of Science. As a whole, the Faculty comprises 47 research laboratories and a botanical garden.
Two notable figures associated with the department are Albert Fert and Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. Fert was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007 for the discovery of giant magnoresistance. Gennes was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1991 for his work on liquid crystals and polymers.
Paris-Sud is in close proximity to, and has maintained relationships with, the Atomic Energy Institute and the CNRS laboratories in Gif sur Yvette. Other research associations include Inserm, Inria, Inra and CEA, and with the French Grandes Écoles such as Polytechnique, Supélec and HEC.
Two of 11 research laboratories receive funding from the government: PALM, which focuses on Fundamental and Applied Physics, and P2IO, which consists of a network of laboratories in the South Island of France.
College Park, Maryland
The graduate programs in the Physics Department at the University of Maryland have been ranked number 14 by U.S. News & World Report. There are many excellent student opportunities outside of the classroom including participation in the Graduate Resources Advancing Diversity with Maryland Astronomy and Physics program which help advance diversity in the departments.
Other student programs include the Society of Physics Students, the Women in Physics program, and the S-STEM program which provides financial assistance and field experience for qualifying students. The S-STEM program is funded by the National Science Foundation.
There are 16 Laboratories and Centers focused on research excellence 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.
Los Angeles, California
The University of California in Los Angeles is known as one of the premier schools in the California public research system. The faculty members of the Physics 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.
Campus research facilities 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, Research Experience for Undergraduates, the UCLA Science Lab Teaching Club, Women in Science, and the Society of Physics Students.
Instructional support includes the Science and Engineering Library and the Division of Physical Sciences Machine Shop and Instrument Fabrication Facility.
Based in Seattle, the University of Washington has become the flagship university for its state. With an endowment approaching three billion dollars and over 45,000 students, the University of Washington is replete with networking and research opportunities. The school runs four physics-related research institutes: the Institute for Nuclear Theory, the Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics, the Dark Universe Science Center, and the Clean Energy Institute.
The school also runs a Physics Shop with three divisions that include the Student Shop, Glass, and Instrument/Machine. The different divisions have participated in research experiments around the world such as the Atlas Experiment at CERN, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the creation of Mars Rover components for NASA.
Recently Washington professors Hamish Roberston and Jeffrey Wilkes were recognized for their contributions to research on neutrinos. Professor Hans G. Dehmelt won the Nobel Prize in 1989 after he developed the ion trap technique and isolated both a single electron and a single atom and watched them perform quantum leaps.
County Durham, United Kingdom
Research in the Physics Department at Durham University centers on five key areas: Advanced Instrumentation, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Atomic and Molecular Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, and Elementary Particle Theory. Among other accomplishments, the department is known for its work in Astronomy and Astrophysics and for the designing of giant telescopes.
Durham has the largest Particle Theory group in the UK and the largest research group on Galaxy Evolution in Europe. The research group has strong connections with and is a major user of the Hubble Space Telescope.
There are two major research centers, the Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology and the Institute for Computational Cosmology. The Department also manages the Ogden Center for Fundamental Physics. The Center is responsible for much of the department’s outreach programs.
There are also two EPSRC Centers for doctoral training in Soft Matter and Functional Interfaces and Fusion Science and Technology.
28. Kyoto University
The Kyoto Imperial University was founded in June 1897. One year later, the department of Physics opened. Research groups in the department focus on four key areas: Condensed Matter, Particle Physics, Nuclear Physics, and Astrophysics.
Research centers include the Data Analysis Center for Geomagnetism and Space Magnetism and the Institute for Geothermal Sciences. There are also two observatories, the Hida Observatory and the Kwasan Observatory, which focus on Solar Physics, Cosmic Plasma Physics, and Stellar Physics.
There are three notable figures associated with the department who have been awarded the Nobel Prize. First, in 1949 Hideki Yukawa was recognized for his prediction of the existence of mesons through theoretical work in nuclear forces. Then, in 1965 Sin-Itiro and Tomonaga were recognized for their work in quantum electrodynamics, and most recently 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.
The Pierre and Marie Curie University offers all levels of study in physics, including participation in other doctoral schools such as ‘Physics and Chemistry of Materials’ and ‘Physics of the Paris Region’. There are a total of 100 laboratories across four divisions of science: Modeling & Engineering; Energy, Matter & the Universe; Living Earth & Environment; and Life & Health. Twenty of the laboratories are specifically dedicated to physics.
There are many notable names and achievements associated with the university to make note of. Claude Cohen-Tannoudj received the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work on slowing atoms using laser cooling. Pierre-Gilles de Gennes received the Nobel Prize for his work on liquid crystals and polymers. Other Nobel Laureates were recognized for the discovery of spontaneous radioactivity, work on the atom, and reproducing colors photographically based on the phenomenon of interference.
Finally, Marie Curie with her husband Pierre Curie were honored in 1903 for their work on radioactivity. Marie Curie is the only woman to have received two Nobel prizes, her second award being in 1911 for work in Chemistry.
As early as 1870, Dean and Professor Stillman Robinson introduced physics to the University of Illinois. Just two years later, the Physics Laboratory was operational and started producing quality research.
Through history, the Department has been associated with 13 Nobel Laureates, including John Bardeen, the only person to have two Nobel Prizes in Physics. The 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.
Ohio State University boasts a strong outreach to women and children interested in physics through the OSU Women in Physics Blog, the GRASP program (Girls Reaching to Achieve in Sports and Physics), and the Breakfast of Science Champions for middle school students.
There are three main centers for research, the Center for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics, the Center for Exploration of Novel Complex Materials, and the Center for Emergent Materials. Research is supported by a number of excellent facilities, the Electronics Laboratory, the Science and Engineering Library, the Nanosystems Laboratory, and the Physics Computing Facility.
The department has been the home of two Nobel Laureates, and two Max Planck Award recipients.
In an effort to increase the program’s diversity, the department offers an MS to PhD Bridge program. This is for students with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics who would like to pursue doctoral work, but require additional training or course work.
The University of Wisconsin awarded its first PhD in Physics in 1899 and has continued to provide excellent education and research since then. The passion for Physics in education can be seen through the community outreach program; the Ingersoll Physics Museum is open to the public for free, and the Wonders of Physics Show travels around the United States engaging children and families.
The department engages on campus as well with a number of interdisciplinary programs such as the Biophysics program, the Center for Plasma Theory and Computation, the Fusion Technology Institute, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, the Neuroscience Training Program, and the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute.
On campus facilities supplementing research include the Advanced Computing Initiative, the Materials Science Center, and the Physical Sciences Laboratory.
Santa Cruz, California
Research of Condensed Matter is a strong area for the Physics Department at the University of California at Santa Cruz. There is also a well-established Institute for Particle Physics on campus. The Institute has been recognized for its development of custom readout electronics and silicon micro-strip sensors.
The various observatories managed by UC include the Lick Observatory, numerous technical labs, and a joint partnership with the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Other research associations include the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, and the Center for Adaptive Optics.
There are two community outreach programs managed by the Physics department. First, the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics Outreach Program brings Tesla Coil demonstrations to grade schools. Second, UCSC’s new Einstein’s Rocket website offers interactive material, thought experiments, and video games based on relativity.
The first Chairman of the Faculty when UT opened in 1883 was Professor of Chemistry and Physics, John W. Mallet. Currently the Department has three members of the Nationals Academy of Science and one recipient of the Nobel Prize on faculty.
There are seven organized research units and three research groups managed by the Physics Department. Facilities supporting research include the Large-Scale Cryogenic Laboratory, Nuclear Magnetic and Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Laboratories, and Facilities for Turbulent Flow and Nonlinear Dynamic Experiments.
The Department maintains an international partnership with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Wurzburg in Wurzburg, Germany. Up to 10 senior students may travel to Germany to assist in and perform research there.
Community outreach programs include the Alice in Wonderland summer program for high-school women, and the traveling Physics Circus for K-12 schools.
Oxford, United Kingdom
The Physics Department at the University of Oxford is under the jurisdiction of the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division. The Department is one of the largest physics departments in the world with more than 100 research groups and divisions covering every area of physics.
A few of the research groups and facilities 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 Center for High Energy Density Science.
There have been five Nobel Laureates who studied or worked at Oxford, with the most recent being Anthony J. Leggett in 2003 for his pioneering work on super-fluidity.
Much of the history and archived material of the Physics Department can be found in Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science. The department has also donated material to The Science Museum in London.
36. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
There have been at least eight Nobel Laureates associated with the Physics department at Yale University, including Raymond Davis Jr., David Lee, and Ernest Lawrence. Research centers include the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Yale Wright Laboratory.
There are a number of affiliated departments including the Center for Quantum Information Physics, the Center for Microelectronic Materials and Structures, the Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering, the Sackler Institute, and the Integrated Program in Physical and Engineering Biology.
The department offers three outreach programs. The Yale Physics Olympics allows teams of high school students to compete in successfully performing basic physics experiments. The GSI New Haven, or Girls’ Science Investigations, provides hands-on experience to encourage young women in physics and the sciences. The department also holds the APS Conference for undergraduate women in physics.
37. Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
There are many excellent resources at the Pennsylvania State University Physics Department. There is a strong Gravitational Physics research group in the department that has been ranked 10th by U.S. News & World Report in their 2014 article. The research group is part of the Institutes for Gravitation and the Cosmos and is associated with the facilities of Astrophysical Multi-Messenger Observatory Network, the Center for Fundamental Theory, the Center for Particle and Gravitational Astrophysics, and the Center for Theoretical and Observational Cosmology.
The Condensed Matter Research group hosts the Interdisciplinary National Center for Nanoscale Science and manages the Center for Two Dimensional and Layered Materials. The Particle Astrophysics group is associated with the Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope, the Cosmic Rays Energetics and Mass Experiment, the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory, and the Pierre Auger Observatory.
Other student support opportunities include the Physics and Astronomy for Women Club and the Physics Machine Shop.
- See Penn State’s ranking among “The 100 Best Mathematics Programs in the World.”
- See Penn State’s ranking among “The 100 Best Universities in the World.”
At the Australian National University, the School of Physics and Engineering is managed by the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. There are ten research departments including the Atomic and Molecular Physics Laboratories, the Center for Plasmas and Fluids, and the Plasma Research Laboratory.
The Physics Department is the largest university-based research and teaching department in the nation and houses the largest acceleratory and the H1-NF National Stellarator Facility. The department is also associated with four ARC centers of Excellence and three Australian research networks.
The research facilities include the 14UD 15 Million Volt Heavy Ion Accelerator, the Superconducting Linear Accelerator, the H-1NF National Plasma Fusion Facility, X-ray Computed Tomography Microscope, and the Ion Implantation Facilities.
The department has managed a Photonics Mini-Lab for 8–12 years as part of physics educational outreach.
The Physics Department at the University of Pennsylvania is known for its strong Elementary Particle Theory Group, which works in the new Center for Particle Cosmology. Researchers in this group are working on numerous projects including the ATLAS experiment at CERN, the Sudbury Neutrino observatory in Ontario, and the Long Baseline Neutrino experiment.
The Condensed Matter research group works interdisciplinary with the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, the Nano-Bio Interface Center, and the Penn regional Nano-Tech Facility by association. Other research opportunities include the Nano-Tech Institute and the Institute of Medicine and Engineering.
The Astrophysics and Cosmology group has ongoing projects such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Dark Energy Survey, and Precision Array for probing the epoch of reionization.
As part of community outreach, the department offers research experience for High School teachers and has been working with the Philadelphia School District curriculum to provide Introductory Physics at the University City High School.
There are four focus areas of research at the École Normale Supérieure school, Quantum Physics, Cold Atoms, Condensed Matter, and Biophysics. There are five main research laboratories, the Kastler Brossel Laboratory, the Laboratoire Pierre Aigrain, the Laboratory of Statistical Physics, the Theoretical Physics Laboratory, and the Radio Astronomy laboratory. The department also manages a clean room which was inaugurated in 1981 and redesigned in 2006.
There are three Nobel Laureates associated with the department: Alfed Kastler was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1966 for his work in optical methods and study of hertzian resonances in atoms. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji was recognized in 1997 along with Steven Chu and Williams D. Phillips for work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. Most recently, Serge Haroche won the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics along with David Wineland for their work on the manipulation of individual quantum systems.
With 30,000 students, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst is the flagship public school for its state. It has developed a reputation for academic prestige at large and physics in particular.
Its physics program utilizes several on campus centers affiliated with the department. These include the Amherst Center for Fundamental Interactions, the Center for Biological Physics, the Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing, the Energy Frontier Research Center, and the IGERT program in Nanotechnology Innovation.
The physics department also runs multiple research groups, which include the Condensed Matter Physics group and the Theoretical Quantum Fluids Group. Both of these groups work with the Laboratory for Low Temperature Physics. Additionally, the Fundamental Interactions Theory Group is a part of the new Amherst Center for Fundamental Interactions.
Tohoku University has one of the oldest and largest Physics Departments in Japan. Founded in 1911, it has had over 100 years to establish excellent research centers and affiliations. The department has been working with the Center for Prediction of Earthquakes and Volcanic Eruptions since its establishment in 1997.
Other research relationships include the Planetary Plasma and Atmospheric Research Center, the Research and Analytic Center for Giant Molecules, which consists of two sections for analytical and experimental research, and the Museum of Natural History which has collected over two million specimen samples.
Research related institutions within 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. Institutions outside the University include the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency, Basic Research Laboratories, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies.
The Department of Physics at Heidelberg University in Germany can trace its history back to the 14th century. As such, it is not surprising that the department has seen a number of famous scientists including Gustav Robert Kirchhoff, Hermann Helmholtz, Robert Bunsen, Johannes Jensen, and Otto Haxel.
Heidelberg divides its study of physics into six department institutes for research excellence including the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics, the Institute of Theoretical Physics, the ’Physikalisches Institute' and the Institute for Environmental Physics. The new Heidelberg Center of Astronomy unites the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the State Observatory, and the Astronomical Computation Institute.
Research collaborations exist with many other national and international institutions including the Max-Planck Institutes for Astronomy, Nuclear Physics, and Medical Research, the German Cancer Center, the European Laboratory for Molecular Biology, and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Physics Department at the University of Toronto, Canada, has seen 115 years of academic history. Sir John C. McLennan and John Tuzo Wilson were both major figures in shaping the department’s history.
Toronto uses three major categories for research, Planetary Physics, Quantum Optics and Condensed Matter Physics, and Subatomic Physics. The research group on Condensed Matter Physics has a number of strong research associations including 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 groups affiliated with the Physics department are the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, the Institute for Aerospace Studies, the Institute for Optical Sciences, the Institute of Particle Physics, and IsoTrace.
Toronto also runs the Museum of Scientific Instruments, which is managed by the Physics department by volunteer graduate students and faculty members.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Rutgers University was founded in 1771 as Queen’s College. The school taught astronomy and physics in the form of natural philosophy from its beginning. Today, the Department of Physics and Astronomy is under the jurisdiction of the School of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to the traditional research groups, affiliated programs and facilities include the BioMaPS Institute for Quantitative Biology, the Center for Emergent Materials, the Quantum Computing Group, and the Laboratory for Surface Modification, and the Graduate Fellowship Program on Integratively Engineered Biointerfaces.
The department also runs a number of public outreach programs. Twice a month there are public observing sessions using the Serin Observatory’s 20-inch telescope and every year the department presents the Faraday Christmas Children’s Lectures around December 10th. These events are free of charge and open to the public.
The University of California, Irvine is a relatively recent school that was only founded in 1965. Nevertheless, the school at large and the Physics Department in particular has grown exponentially in academics and research.
The Astrophysics and Cosmology research group has access to the Keck Observatory, the Lick Observatory, the UCI Observatory, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.
Biological Physics and Medical Physics are strong areas for research collaboration. Joint projects are managed with the Beckman Laser Institute, the Departments of Physiology and Biophysics, Molecular Biology, and Radiological Sciences. Other resources include the PET Center, the Chemistry Molecular Modeling Facility, and the UCI Protein Engineering Program.
In the area of Plasma Physics there are also a number of both experimental and computational resources: the Basic Plasma Physics Laboratory, the Large Plasma Device in Los Angeles, and the Hopper and Edison National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.
Hefei, Anhui, China
The Department of Physics at the University of Science and Technology of China was set up with the founding of the University in 1958. The first chairman of the Department was Professor Shi Ruwei. Other well-known and recognized physicists associated with the School include Ma Dayou, Yan Jici, Qian Linzhao, Zeng Zepei, Wang Shoujue, Zhang Zone, Li Yinyuan, and Zhang Zongsui.
There are four areas of study for Doctoral candidates: Condensed Matter, Optics, Microelectronics, and Physical Electronics.
Research labs and facilities are numerous and include the Key Laboratory on Optoelectronics of Anhui Province, the Institute of High Power Laser Technology, the Quantum Communication Key Lab of CAS, the Institute of Photonics, the Micro-Electronics Laboratory, and the Biology Laser Laboratory.
The Physics department has been associated with many national research projects including the Key Projects of National Natural Science Foundation of China, CAS Innovation Key Projects, and National “863” High Technology Projects.
The University of Hawaii is known for more than just its beautiful location. It also runs one of the world’s most reputable physics departments. In addition to the standard facilities of the Electronics Design Lab and Machine Shop, the Physics Department also directs the Particle Astrophysics program. This comprehensive center is home to the Radio Research Laboratory, the SupoerKamiokande Water Cherenkov Detector, and the KamLAND Liquid Scintillation Detector.
One of Hawaii’s most notable research achievements was is role in the installation of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer onboard the International Space Station on May 19, 2011.
The department also has John Madey, the inventor of the Free Electron Laser (FEL), and leading research groups making use of the Terahertz free electron laser and managing the installation of an infrared, rf-linac-based FEL.
Most recently, affiliate Professor Arthur B. McDonald, together with Takaaki Kajita from Japan, were recognized and awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015 for their discovery that neutrinos have mass.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne is one of the leading universities in Switzerland and one of the most respected public schools in Europe. The School of Basic Sciences manages the Physics department.
The department has an especially strong representation in the study of Condensed Matter Physics. Faculty members and researchers maintain close associations with multiple world class research initiatives such as CERN, JET, and PSI. Additionally, the Cosmology research group is connected with the Sauverny Observatory in Geneva.
There are numerous Laboratories associated with the various research groups including the Laboratory of Particle Physics and Cosmology, the European Centre of Atomic and Molecular Computations, two High Energy Physics Laboratories, the Particle Accelerator Physics Laboratory, the Laboratory for Quantum Magnetism, the Laboratory of Nanostructures at Surfaces, the Laboratory of Quantum Optoelectronics, and the Laboratory of Photoelectron Spectroscopy. Students and researchers also have access to a ’zero power' nuclear reactor on campus.
College Station, Texas
At Texas A&M University, the Physics and Astronomy department has much to offer. The Department has been recognized as a founding member of the Giant Magellan Telescope consortium and is actively designing instruments for use there.
Additionally, faculty members of the Applied Physics research group have developed the Femtosecond Adaptive Spectroscopic Technique for Coherent anti-Stokes Raman Scattering and are in the process of developing a new structured cable using the high-temperature superconductor Bi-2212 and a family of silicon microdevices for use in solid-phase DNA sequencing.
Other available resources and facilities include equipment such as superconducting solenoids, four dilution refrigerators, SQUID and extraction magnetometers, and clean ultra-high-vacuum and high-vacuum thin-film evaporation facilities.
Associated research institutes include the Cyclotron Institute with a K150 cyclotron and a superconducting K500 cyclotron, the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy.