We study physics to better understand the universe

That's pretty broad, but so is a physics degree. Physics majors of course most often go into scientific or technical fields (like optics, superconductivity, nanotechnology, new energy methods, etc.), but it is a very flexible degree. Physics majors go on to careers in biology, law, financial firms, teaching, and other areas — basically anywhere there are difficult problems to solve.

Career possibilities

Physics provides a background for numerous scientific career fields, including:

  • Aerospace, aviation and defense
  • Astronomy and astrophysics
  • Atomic and molecular physics
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Cosmology
  • Geophysics
  • Ocean science
  • Robotics

We focus on undergraduates

Pacific's Department of Physics and Astronomy is smaller than departments at larger research-focused schools, which means we get to know you on an individual basis. We know your personal strengths, needs and interests. In larger departments at other universities, the faculty work primarily with their graduate students, leaving undergraduates at a distance. We work closely with our undergraduate students, mentoring them through the most formative time in their career.

Success After Pacific
Louis Johnson

Louis Johnson graduated from Pacific with a BS in physics. He conducted research at the National Center for Astrophysics in Trieste, Italy where he studied quasars and had the opportunity to spend a summer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, paid for entirely by the National Science Foundation. Johnson is currently enrolled in a bridge program at Princeton University in preparation for graduate school in astrophysics. 

physics major Louis Johnson

Exceptional faculty

The faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are exceptional teachers and world famous researchers in their fields of study, selected to become members of our department by the most rigorous standards. Physics professors are active researchers in astrophysics, astronomy, planetary science, particle physics and computational science.

Meet the Professor
Kieran Holland

"Teaching should be dynamic and interactive. It's not about what I can do, it's about students trying something for the first time, and seeing if they can do it." 

Meet the Professor
Investigating dark matter

Much like the eternal question—which came first: the chicken or the egg? —scientists are debating how galaxies can exist if they do not have any dark matter, the mysterious substance thought to compose up to 27% of the makeup of the universe.

This is one of the questions University of the Pacific physics professor Elisa Toloba, with the support of her students, is trying to answer by analyzing galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. The team has found that some ultra-diffuse galaxies, which have extremely low luminosity, may appear to be dark-matter free.

Physics professor Elisa Toloba

Explore physics and astronomy with us

Our small size does not limit our ability to expose students to cutting-edge research. Students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy have numerous ways to get involved in physics activities. Students can work on projects outside the classroom to experience the science of physics. Our faculty are world renowned for their research into supermassive black hole formation at the center of galaxies, characterizing Earth-sized exoplanets, discovering new galaxies with unexpected properties and testing particle physics models with supercomputer simulations.

Because of our small size we can work closely with our undergraduate students and give them opportunities to participate in research. The physics faculty have won more than $900,000 in external funding to support their research.

The offices, laboratories and classrooms of the physics and astronomy department occupy Olson Hall. Labs are equipped with modern facilities for courses in optics solid state physics, advanced experiments, as well as for the Introductory Physics, Music, and Astronomy courses. Equipment includes a 2.3 meter radio telescope for student use. The department has two computer labs with PCs, and a scientific computing (unix) lab.

Recently, physics and astronomy department faculty and students went on a field trip for night-time viewing at the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton near San Jose. The observatory is owned and run by the University of California, thanks to our faculty Elisa Toloba and Guillermo Barro we had permission for a private tour. 

We've recently hosted talks by Chris McKay from the NASA Ames Research Center on terraforming Mars by Prof Raja Guhathakurta from UC Santa Cruz on studying galaxy formation as well as career advice for undergraduate students, and by Tomer Tal (Ph.D. Yale) from Chegg on data science and machine learning.

Undergraduate students Kadri Bin Mohamad Nizam and Justin Barber presented posters on their research at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle in January 2019. Katie Ram, Nina Madsen and Katie Christensen were at the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in Los Angeles last year. 

Choose your concentration

You can choose to focus your studies further by selecting a concentration for your Bachelor of Science degree. Concentrations build on the research strengths of the physics faculty to offer one-on-one activities and undergraduate research opportunities. A student declaring a concentration in one of the following areas must take two specific upper division electives and will have advanced laboratory and senior thesis work related to the topic of their concentration.

Three concentrations are available:

Using supercomputers to simulate the physics of complex phenomena

The study of planets, stars, galaxies and the large scale structure of the universe

The interface of math and physics (for the theoretically inclined)

Childress Scholarships

Thanks to our $1 million endowment, the Department of Physics and Astronomy awards between $40,000-$50,000 in scholarships each year. Students in their second year and beyond are eligible. The physics faculty chooses awardees based on merit. Typical scholarships are $8,000.

physics major in lab
data science students
Data science minor

Data science is one of the fastest-growing career fields. Pacific offers a minor in data science to help students be more prepared for a digital world that is constantly changing.

Bachelor of science

This degree is jointly offered with Pacific's School of Engineering and Computer Science. Pacific is one of only 21 schools in the United States with an accredited bachelor's degree in engineering-physics.

engineering-physics students in a lab
Noyce Scholars
Pacific Noyce Scholars Program

The PacNoyce Scholars Program provides scholarships and other support for STEM majors at Pacific who become teachers in high-needs school districts, such as Stockton.

You could be eligible for the Robert Noyce Teachers Scholarship worth up to $13,750 a year, for juniors and seniors or $20,000 for the final MA/teaching credential year.

Teaching credential track

In addition to training the current generation of college students to be physicists, there is a great need in the United States for highly qualified secondary (8-12th grade) physical science teachers who will prepare the following generation of scientists. The Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics includes slightly fewer specialized upper division courses, so that the student interested in becoming a teacher can focus on building a strong content foundation across the physical sciences by taking additional courses in chemistry and geosciences, as well as courses in education though the Pacific’s Benerd College.


Degrees Offered

Bachelor of Arts in Physics
Bachelor of Science in Physics
Bachelor of Science in Engineering-Physics
Minor in Physics
Minor in Data Science