What type of student might consider a Physics degree? Famous UC alumnus, Ernest Rutherford, was intrigued in childhood by seeing a stick apparently bend when dipped into a farm bucket of water; Albert Einstein asked how his face would appear in a hand-held mirror if he ran at some significant fraction of the speed of light. A budding physicist may share this fascination with and curiosity about the natural world.
Physics aims to understand the behaviour of matter and energy from the scale of subatomic particles to that of the Universe itself. From computers to communication systems, architecture to agriculture; modern life is overwhelmingly built using the understanding of nature that physics provides.
We are currently in an incredibly exciting period in Physics. The technological advances of the last 20 years have had an enormous impact on all our lives and almost all of these advances rely on advances in Physics. Modern physics provides a framework for understanding – and contributing to – major advances in technology now and in the future.
Why study Physics at UC?
UC physicists are currently involved in the following exciting projects:
- building huge laser equipment to study gravitational waves
- creating tiny nanoelectronic devices that can act as transistors or sensors
- measuring the behaviour of the upper atmosphere in order to understand global warming
- obtaining fundamental theoretical understandings of cosmology and sub-atomic physics.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy has many collaborations nationally and internationally that give access to some of the best facilities around the world. For example, UC is a member of CERN, the enormous particle accelerator centre in Geneva and also collaborates with the Van der Veer Institute and hospitals on both medical imaging and radiation therapy.
Certain courses require a strong background in Year 13 physics and calculus. If students don't have a strong background in physics and calculus they may need to take both PHYS111 Introductory Physics for Physical Sciences and Engineering and MATH101 Methods of Mathematics. You could also consider taking our Headstart summer preparatory courses in physics, mathematics and calculus to prepare you for PHYS111.
Where you start in first year will depend on your school results. See '100-level courses' below for more details.
We offer Physics courses suitable for four different purposes:
- studying Physics or Astronomy
- studying Engineering
- studying biological or environmental sciences
- philosophical or general interest.
The core first-year Physics courses are offered as a sequence. Where you start Physics depends on how well you have done in NCEA Level 3 physics and calculus (or an equivalent background eg, IB, Cambridge or overseas qualifications).
Students with 14 credits of NCEA Level 3 physics and calculus (or IB/Cambridge equivalent) can enrol in PHYS101 Engineering Physics A: Mechanics, Waves and Thermal Physics, in order to advance into a full second-year Physics or Astronomy programme, or to meet the Engineering Intermediate Year Physics requirements.
Those students who have not gained this credit standard will be advised to enrol in an introductory Physics course, PHYS111 Introductory Physics for Physical Sciences and Engineering. This course will build a solid foundation before enrolling in the Semester 2 Physics course, PHYS101 Engineering Physics A: Mechanics, Waves and Thermal Physics, thus completing the Engineering Intermediate Year Physics requirements. The second semester Physics course PHYS102 Engineering Physics B: Electromagnetism, Modern Physics and 'How Things Work' is also offered over the summer period.
200-level and beyond
The Physics courses beyond first year at UC include such topics as: astrophysics, classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, electronics, atomic and molecular physics, nuclear and particle physics, optics, dynamics of atmospheres, quantum mechanics, relativity, signal analysis, solid state physics and thermal physics.
If you are considering further study, Physics is an ideal first-degree choice. Continuing to pursue Physics leads to many opportunities to work or travel overseas and in New Zealand. Many graduates have continued their study in areas such as medical physics, engineering, teaching and patent law.
Many of our graduates are employed as physicists and can be found at Crown Research Institutes, the National Radiation Laboratory, medical physics departments of hospitals, or universities and the Meteorological Service among others.
Some Physics graduates are not employed as scientists however – their analytical skills, numeracy and all-round thinking ability are in demand in many industries. Some of these graduates are snapped up by the IT and electronics industries, but those same skills are equally valued by merchant banks, stock brokers and other financial services companies, as well as by the armed services, police and aerospace industries (including airlines like Air New Zealand). Teaching, journalism and science communication also need people with physics training.
Find out more about what you can do with a degree in Physics.
More informationDepartment of Physics and Astronomy
Level 7, Rutherford Building - see campus maps
University of Canterbury
Private Bag 4800