What is engineering physics?
Engineering Physics prepares students to apply physics to tackle 21st century engineering challenges, and to apply engineering to address 21st century questions in physics.
Although the Engineering Physics is a relatively new program at Stanford (it was introduced around 2006), it has a long history at a number of universities; see the list at the bottom of this page for examples. You can read about Stanford's Engineering Physics major in detail in the Stanford Engineering Handbook.
What is the difference between engineering physics and other majors in engineering?
The fundamental difference between Engineering Physics and other Engineering majors is that in Engineering Physics students study the same advanced physics topics as physics majors -- in particular, at least two quarters of quantum mechanics and at least one quarter of statistical mechanics. Most engineering students (other than engineering physics students) would take these courses only as graduate students (or not at all). An Engineering Physics degree prepares students to work in the private sector or in national laboratories at the very forefront of technology, or to pursue an advanced degree in engineering. An Engineering Physics degree also prepares students to pursue an advanced degree in physics; other engineering majors do not. Industries that need people with very strong scientific backgrounds recognize the Engineering Physics major and what it stands for.
What are some of the practical differences for a student pursuing engineering physics rather than physics at Stanford?
The requirements for the Physics major add up to just over 80 units; the Engineering Physics major requires ~105 units because of the extra engineering courses students take.
There are some really great engineering courses (e.g., ME 203 or ME 210; see the Course Bulletin) that have limited enrollment. Students can take these courses if they are declared Engineering Physics majors; it would be more difficult for a Physics major to enroll in these courses.
Students who know they want to pursue formal theoretical physics should pursue a major in Physics (and perhaps double-major in Math), rather than doing Engineering Physics. Students interested in experimental physics or 21st century technology should consider Physics or Engineering Physics. The courses a student would take in the Freshman year are basically the same whether they are considering a major in Physics, Engineering Physics, or any other engineering major.
What can I do with a degree in engineering physics?
A significant fraction (over half) of both Physics and Engineering Physics majors go on to pursue advanced degrees (Masters or PhD) in engineering or physics. Engineering Physics majors tend to work on forefront ideas in technology and science, in either industry or academia. Areas might include aerospace, biophysics, medical physics, renewable energy (photovoltaics, battery technology, fuel cells, ...), transportation, quantum information science, semiconductors, or materials development. Careers could also include systems engineering, teaching, medicine, law (especially intellectual property or patent law), science writing, history of science, philosophy of science, science policy, energy policy, government, or management in technical fields.
The Physics and Engineering Physics majors are great preparation for almost any career, because they teach students how to analyze complex problems and they give students a strong quantitative background that can be applied in any technical field.
How can I learn more about career in physics-related fields?
You can find information on careers in physics, engineering physics and related fields at these very useful sites:
- American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center
- American Physical Society, Careers in Physics
- Sloan Career Cornerstone Center
Do other universities offer degrees in engineering physics?
Here is a sampling of Engineering Physics programs in North America:
- Princeton University
- Harvard University (Engineering Physics is a 'track' within Engineering Sciences in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard.)
- UC Berkeley (This is a program within Engineering Science.)
- Colorado School of Mines (Engineering Physics is the only undergraduate degree offered by the Dept of Physics at CSM.)
- Cornell University (This undergraduate program is within the School of Applied and Engineering Physics.)
- University of Toronto (Engineering Science)
- U of Wisconsin
- U of British Columbia
- Case Western Reserve
- Ohio State University
- Santa Clara University
With whom should I meet for pre-major advising in engineering physics?
Contact Prof. Pat Burchat in Physics or Prof. Mark Cappelli in Mechanical Engineering. Professors Burchat and Cappelli serve as co-directors for the Engineering Physics major. They can help you determine whether the major is a good match to your interests and work with you to sketch a four-year plan.
For a list of the advisors for each of the Engineering Physics specialties see the Engineering Physics web page.