Graduate Info

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Penn has active groups in experimental and theoretical astrophysics, particle cosmology, particle physics, condensed-matter physics and biophysics. The graduate program in Physics and Astronomy
currently has approximately 100 students, 34 standing faculty, 16 emeritus faculty, and approximately 35 postdoctoral fellows, plus visiting scholars and full-time scientific support staff. Emeritus faculty in many cases remain active members of the department, conducting research and
supervising graduate students.

Available to students on campus are two interdisciplinary NSF-funded research centers: the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM) and the Nano-Bio Interface Center (NBIC). Linked to these centers are the state of the art LRSM/MRSEC facilities, the NBIC/NSEC facilities, and the Penn Regional Nanotechnology Facility. Graduate students who have an interest in nanoscience can apply for graduate fellowships to the NSF-funded Penn-Drexel IGERT program. This program is designed to provide students with an opportunity to embark on research in the multidisciplinary field of nanotechnology.

Additional opportunities for faculty and students are provided by the state-funded Nanotechnology Institute and the Institute of Medicine and Engineering. We also perform research at the synchrotron facilities at Brookhaven National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory and the neutron facilities at NIST. We participate in high energy physics experiments at CERN, Fermilab, and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

The department operates the Homestake Neutrino and Cosmic Ray Observatory, and it participates in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada, the Baksan Neutrino Observatory in Russia, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope in Chile, and is a member of the Dark Energy Survey and the LSST consortium.

Department members participate in the medium energy facility at Michigan State University, the electron accelerator facilities in Newport News, VA (CEBAF), the San Diego Super Computing Center, and the University of Illinois Advanced Computing Lab. Other on-going programs are with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Naval Research Laboratory.

Joint Programs

The department encourages cross disciplinary interactions. Active research programs link the department to the departments of chemistry, earth sciences, geology, computer science, electrical engineering and materials science, biophysics and the medical school.

The Doctor of Philosophy in Physics

The Ph.D. is the primary graduate degree offered by our department. The degree is granted upon completion of an original and significant investigation in physics or astronomy, which must be presented in a written dissertation and defended in a final oral examination. For students with normal undergraduate preparation, the Ph.D. requires 4 to 6 years to complete.

In the first year, most students enroll in formal courses which cover the basics of Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Statistical Mechanics, and Mathematical Methods. In addition, there is a Graduate Seminar which provides an introduction to ongoing research opportunities in the department. Exemption from these courses is granted only if the student has already completed equivalent coursework elsewhere; up to 8 credits may be transferred from another institution. Most students continue to take advanced classroom and seminar courses for the duration of their studies. There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. in Physics and Astronomy, and no written qualifying exam. However, a grade of B+ or better in 9 courses is required to proceed towards the PhD.

Most students in the Ph.D. program participate in the teaching activities of the department at some time during their graduate careers, usually serving as teaching assistants during the first year. Some serve as part-time teaching assistants in subsequent years.

The M.S. Degree in Physics and Astronomy

Although essentially all our students are admitted to the Ph.D. program, the department will award an M.S. degree upon completion of the following requirements:

Overall satisfactory performance (B average) in eight graduate-level courses, which must include one semester of classical mechanics and two semesters of electricity and magnetism, and may include not more than two courses in scientific fields other than physics.

The M.S. Degree in Medical Physics

The Department of Physics and Astronomy in the School of Arts and Sciences, in conjunction with the Departments of Radiology and Radiation Oncology in the School of Medicine, is pleased to offer the Master of Medical Physics (MMP) degree. This program meets the academic and career interests of technically prepared college graduates who seek to combine their interests in graduate physics with growing career opportunities in the field of medicine. Please go to the Master of Medical Physics Program
for more information.

Admission to Graduate Studies

Please go to for more information.

Transfer of Credit

Students may receive credit for graduate courses taken at other institutions, though no more than 8 credits may be transferred. After the Graduate Chair determines whether an equivalent graduate course has been taken, the student must go to the current instructor for that course for a standardized evaluation of the instructor's design. If the instructor determines that the student knows the course material that course will be waived and, if appropriate, credit will be given.

If a student received a grade below B+  in Physics 531 (Quantum I) and subsequently received a grade of B+ or higher in Physics 532 (Quantum II) they may take the transfer of credit evaluation to have their 531 grade changed the following fall.

Financial Aid

The department attempts to support all students during the course of their work for the Ph.D. Most graduate students in Physics and Astronomy receive financial aid in the form of research, teaching, or non-service fellowships. In practice, essentially all students are fully supported for the
duration of their studies. The financial support includes both full tuition and an annual stipend. The annual stipend for the year beginning September 2009 is $25,500.

Entering graduate students are usually supported as teaching fellows. Teaching fellowships require no more than twelve hours of service per week; this amount of time does not interfere with a
student's progress toward his or her degree.

Most second-year students, and virtually all advanced students, are supported as research fellows. Second-year students whose interests have not crystallized sufficiently to allow them to choose a field of specialization serve as teaching fellows for a second year. Research carried on as a research fellow is either part of or preparatory to dissertation research.

The First Year at Penn

The first year of graduate education is devoted to two goals. Students take formal courses on the basic subjects in physics and astronomy, and at the same time familiarize themselves with the
research done in the department so that they will be able to make informed choices regarding their fields of specialization.

Mentoring is available from the Graduate Chair and class professors. In addition, faculty members in every research field participate in Physics 501, the "first-year seminar", where they present talks on the research in their particular fields and describe what their experience has been. These seminars are intended to introduce the beginning graduate students to the range of potential Ph.D. projects which are possible while they are in the program at Penn.

Some students prefer to come to the University during the summer prior to their first year of graduate studies. We provide summer research positions for essentially all entering students who want them, since a few months spent in one of our labs can aid in meeting the second part of the student's educational needs. For the same reason, all students are expected to devote the summer between the first and second years of study to do research in one of our labs or with one of our faculty members. Summer research frequently serves as a very useful trial period or as a time to start on one's ultimate thesis research.

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