Hadron ColliderWhat is Physics?

Physics is the most fundamental of all the sciences, the study of matter and energy and their interactions. It provides the underlying framework for chemistry, biology and beyond.  

Physics is not just a body of knowledge — it is a set of approaches that allows one to solve all kinds of problems. Physics seeks to describe the most basic features of a system and the underlying general rules that govern them.  These rules are powerful tools for understanding that system and similar ones that one may encounter later.  

Finally, physics is ultimately an experimental science, grounded in the truth of the phenomena that are observed in the real world.  Theories are tested by experiments and then repeatedly refined to give the best description of the observed data.  Designing experiments to give the most accurate and useful information is itself an art form.

Tim Gay and studentWhat Do Physicists Do?

Because the study of physics develops such strong analytical skills, physicists go into a wide variety of careers such as engineering, law, medicine, computer science and information technology, optical and laser science, and materials science.  

Many physicists work in government or industrial laboratories, but some start their own businesses.  Some complete master's or doctoral degrees after their bachelor's, but others start their careers right after college.

First floor study areaWhy Should You Study Physics?

  • Physics is fun! Physicists learn how the world works with experimentation and observation.
  • Physics is challenging! Physicists don't just describe the world, they figure out the how and why that's underneath.
  • Physics makes you a better thinker! It will help you develop analytic and quantitative skills, tools which will prepare you for success in a wide range of careers solving problems that have never been encountered before.
  • Physics leads to technology! Many innovations that we take for granted in our daily lives (like our smartphones) were developed out of research in physics.

Major Requirements

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Students preparing for graduate study or a professional career in physics should pursue the Bachelor of Science degree by following the professional track.  For students who have special interests, the Department offers additional tracks in optics and lasers, materials physics, and computational physics. (The interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in engineering physics is offered through the College of Engineering.)
The courses required for the Bachelor of Arts degree in physics offer a broader program in science and the liberal arts suitable for a variety of preprofessional curricula and for interdisciplinary studies in areas including biophysics, chemical physics, and geophysics. Students in this degree program should select elective courses in consultation with their advisers.
There are four tracks that can be used to fulfill the Bachelor of Science requirements. All tracks require a 52-hour set of core courses, mostly in physics with some ancillary courses in mathematics and chemistry. The remaining courses in each track consist of an additional 17-18 hours.
  • The Professional Track is designed for students intending to pursue graduate study or employment in physics or a related scientific or engineering discipline. 
  • The Optics and Lasers Track is designed for students intending to pursue graduate study or employment in optical or laser physics or in related engineering disciplines.
  • The Materials Physics Track is designed for students intending to pursue graduate study or employment in materials physics or in related disciplines.
  • The Computational Physics Track is designed for students intending to pursue graduate study or employment in computational physics or in related disciplines.

Physics lab


See the Undergraduate Bulletin for a full description of degree requirements. 

The Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science pages have detailed information about the various tracks.



Chief Major Adviser
Kenneth Bloom
258E Jorgensen Hall
(402) 472-6093

Physics Advising

Every declared physics major is assigned to one of the four Personal Advisers listed above. The Personal Adviser stays in regular contact with his advisees and helps them decide which courses to take. They also provide information about opportunities for students within the department and beyond. Students stay with their Personal Adviser for their entire career at UNL.

The Personal Advisers are majors' first point of contact for routine issues; more difficult problems are handled by the Chief Adviser, who also works with non-majors and prospective majors that are interested in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Physics Major Curriculum

The physics major course curriculum for the Bachelor of Science degree is relatively large (about 70 hours) and is highly structured. One course builds on another and courses must be taken in sequence.  Thus, it is important to keep track of which courses need to be taken at any given time. 

No matter which track a student chooses to follow, the first two years of coursework in physics and math are identical:

  • First Semester:
    PHYS 201, PHYS 211, PHYS 221, MATH 106
  • Second Semester:
    PHYS 212, PHYS 222, MATH 107
  • Third Semester:
    PHYS 213, PHYS 223, MATH 208
  • Fourth Semester:
    PHYS 231, PHYS 311, MATH 221

Tips for Success as a Physics Major

  • Physics majors should be taking at least one, and more generally two, physics courses every semester to graduate within four years at UNL.
  • The required math courses should be taken as early as possible. This is especially true for students who are not ready for MATH 106 when they enter UNL, as at least concurrent enrollment in that course is required for PHYS 211, the first introductory course for physics majors.
  • Physics majors should consider taking the honors variants of the introductory courses (PHYS 211H, 212H, 213H), even if they are not in the Honors College. These courses are pitched at a slightly higher level than the non-honors versions, and students will be better prepared for upper-level coursework. The honors sections are also smaller, and students will receive more personal attention.

Students in class


Example Schedule

The tables below show how the core courses can fit together with others that satisfy Achievement-Centered Education and UNL College Distribution Requirements to create programs of about 15 credit hours each term:

First Year
Fall Semester
Course Name
Credit Hours
Spring Semester
Course Name
Credit Hours
PHYS 201 Modern Topics 1 MATH 107 Calculus II 5
MATH 106 Calculus I (ACE 3) 5 PHYS 212 General Physics II (A&S B) 4
PHYS 211 General Physics I (ACE 4) 4 PHYS 222 General Physics Lab II (A&S B) 1
PHYS 221 General Physics Lab I 1 Arts & Sciences Your Choice 3
ACE Course Your Choice 3 Arts & Sciences Your Choice 3
Total Hours 14 Total Hours 16

Second Year
Fall Semester
Course Name
Credit Hours
Spring Semester
Course Name
Credit Hours
MATH 208 Calculus III 4 MATH 221 Differential Equations 3
PHYS 213 General Physics III 4 PHYS 231 Circuits 3
PHYS 223 General Physics Lab III 1 PHYS 311 Mechanics 3
CHEM 113 A&S E 4 ACE Course Your Choice 3
Arts & Sciences Your Choice 3 ACE Course Your Choice 3
Total Hours 16 Total Hours 15

Spring and Fall Courses

All physics courses numbered 231 and above (and PHYS 201) are offered in either the spring or the fall semesters — not both!  Students who postpone one of these courses will do so not by a semester, but an entire year.  As a result, your graduation date could slip by a year.

  • Fall Courses
  • PHYS 201, 431, 441, 452 and 462
  • Spring Courses
  • PHYS 231, 311, 361, 401, 442, 451, 461

Waitlisted Courses

Some courses with a tendency to fill quickly offer a waitlist option in MyRed. It allows students to "line up" and be registerred automatically if enrolled students remove themselves from the course prior to the beginning of the semester. The Course Waitlist Information page explains the process in detail. 

If you would like to join the waitlist for PHYS 153, you must come to the main office, 208 Jorgensen Hall, which is open 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday.


Research is an important component of undergraduate education, and the Department of Physics and Astronomy provides many research opportunities. See the Research Opportunities tab for more information.

Student Resources

Physics and Astronomy Librarian

Kiyomi Deards
N219 Love Library, City Campus 4100
Email: kdeards2@unl.edu

Physics and Astronomy Library Guides

Kiyomi has prepared a resource guide for databases, journals, and notable professional organizations.

Education at UNL

College of Arts and Sciences

Graduate and Professional Planning

Research Opportunities

How can you get involved in research?

First, do well in your classes.  If your GPA is below 3.0, you should be concentrating on academics.  Then, go knocking on doors.  

You can find out what faculty members are working on by consulting the Research section of the department website. Professors are usually happy to spend a few minutes with you to talk about their work, whether or not they have a position available at the moment.

Available positions can be quite variable and different research groups are looking for different skills at different times. If professors get to know you, they can keep you in mind for openings. The Society of Physics Students is now working to maintain a list of available research positions.

Why do research as an undergraduate?

  • You can be on the frontier of knowledge about our world!
  • You can find out what it is that physicists really do; it's not all about attending classes and doing homework problems.
  • It's a good way for professors to get to know you well, which is useful when you need letters of recommendation.
  • You might get to publish scientific papers that you can list on your CV or resume.
  • It is possible to get course credit through PHYS 391.
  • Many positions in research groups are paid positions, either through the UCARE program or individual faculty research grants.
The most important part of my education was gaining experience as a researcher. I learned many skills that make me a useful member of a research group. I also gained experience in mentoring younger students and teaching them the skills I learned as a young lab member.
Cameron Bravo, Class of 2013

Preparing for the Physics Program

Planning Your Program

Contact your undergraduate advisor to help plan your program of study:

What to Expect

In addition to a broad education in the laws of physics, you will develop laboratory skills in our state-of-the-art labs. You will also acquire a strong mathematical background (many physics students have dual majors in physics and mathematics) and a familiarity with computers and modeling.

How to Prepare

You should take as many high school math courses as possible including algebra, trigonometry, and pre-calculus so you will be ready to take calculus during your first semester at UNL.

Taking calculus in high school will, of course, advance your preparation even further. You should also take high school physics and chemistry courses and gain as much experience as you can in laboratory work.