Academic Programs

The Applied Physics Department offers a PhD degree program and an MS degree program. In addition, it participates in the Honors Cooperative Program (HCP) and offers a co-terminal MS degree in Applied and Engineering Physics (open to Stanford University undergraduates only). The Department does not offer an undergraduate major. Refer to the Undergraduate Programs section below for more information on physics-related opportunities for undergraduates.

Contact the Applied Physics Department Office if additional information on any of the following requirements is needed.

Graduate Programs

PhD Degree

The Ph.D. is conferred upon candidates who have demonstrated substantial scholarship and the ability to conduct independent research and analysis in applied physics. Through completion of advanced coursework and rigorous skills training, the doctoral program prepares students to make original contributions to the knowledge of applied physics and to interpret and present the results of such research.  The specific departmental requirements for the PhD degree include:

  1. Courses. A current listing of Applied Physics courses is available via Explore Courses. Courses are available in physics and mathematics to overcome deficiencies, if any, in undergraduate preparation. It is expected the specific course requirements are completed by the end of the 3rd year at Stanford.
    Required Basic Graduate Courses.39 units (quarter hours) including:

    1. Basic graduate courses in advanced mechanics, statistical physics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, and an advanced laboratory course. In cases where students feel they have already covered the materials in one of the required basic graduate courses, a petition for waiver of the course may be submitted and is subject to approval by a faculty committee.
    2. 21 units of advanced course work in science and/or engineering to fit the particular interests of the individual student. Such courses typically are in Applied Physics, Physics, or Electrical Engineering, but courses may also be taken in other departments, e.g., Biology, Materials Science and Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry. The purpose of this requirement is to provide training in a specialized field of research and to encourage students to cover material beyond their own special research interests.

    Required Additional Courses. Additional courses needed to meet the minimum residency requirement of 135 units of completed course work. Directed study and research units as well as 1-unit seminar courses can be included. In addition, courses are sometimes given on special topics, and there are several seminars which meet weekly to discuss current research activities at Stanford and elsewhere. All graduate students are encouraged to participate in the special topics courses and seminars. A limited number of courses are offered during the Summer Session. Most students stay in residence during the summer and engage in independent study or research programs.

  2. PhD Candidacy Review. This is required by the end of the 6th quarter of registration at Stanford, excluding the summer quarter. The review consists of a seminar given by the candidate on a suitable physics or technical topic as well as questioning by a departmental faculty committee on that topic and related material. The purpose of the examination is to demonstrate a broad competence in physics. The candidate’s academic and research performance at Stanford is also reviewed.
  3. Dissertation Research. The research is frequently supervised by an Applied Physics faculty member, but an approved program of research may be supervised by a faculty member from another department.
  4. Research Progress Report. During the winter quarter of the fourth year, students give an oral research progress report to their dissertation reading committee.
  5. Dissertation.
  6. University Oral Examination. The examination includes a public seminar in defense of the dissertation and questioning by a faculty committee on the research and related fields.

Most students continue their studies and research during the summer quarter, principally in independent study projects or dissertation research. The length of time required for the completion of the dissertation depends upon the student and upon the dissertation advisor. In addition, the University residency requirement of 135 graded units must be met.

MS Degree

The purpose of the master’s program is to further develop knowledge and skills in applied physics and to prepare students for a professional career or doctoral studies. This is achieved through completion of courses, in the primary field as well as related areas, and experience with independent work and specialization.  45 units of completed course work in science and/or engineering at Stanford are required for the MS degree. There is no thesis component in the MS program. A student pursuing a doctoral program may file for an MS degree en route to the PhD. The Department does not provide financial support for candidates admitted to the terminal MS. Degree program. The specific course requirements for the Master of Science degree are:

  1. Courses in physics and mathematics to overcome deficiencies in the undergraduate preparation.
  2. Basic Graduate Courses:
    1. Advanced Mechanics and Mathematical Physics – 1 quarter (3 units)
    2. Electrodynamics – 1 quarter (3 units)
    3. Quantum Mechanics – 2 quarters (6 units)
  3. 33 units of additional advanced courses in science and/or engineering. 18 of the 33 units may be any combination of advanced courses, directed study units, and 1-unit seminar courses to complete the requirement of 45 units.

Honors Cooperative Program (HCP)

The Department of Applied Physics offers opportunities through the Honors Cooperative Program to a number of qualified engineers and scientists employed by companies located in the general vicinity of Stanford University to pursue graduate work leading to a MS degree. Courses may be taken on a part-time basis by attending classes on campus or by televised courses at students’ companies. HCP students have the same privileges as other Stanford students, plus the advantage of being able to attend classes on a part-time basis with financial support provided by their companies.

Requirements for admission through the HCP and for a MS degree through the HCP are the same as the regular MS degree requirements.

General information on the Honors Cooperative Program, including which companies participate in the Program, can be obtained through the Stanford Center for Professional Development.

Co-Terminal MS in Applied and Engineering Physics

The co-terminal MS degree in Applied and Engineering Physics provides a master’s degree program for eligible Stanford undergraduates to explore the disciplines where fundamental physics meets applied science and engineering. The main goal of this degree program is to enable undergraduate students to obtain a degree that combines a rigorous physics core curriculum with an engineering discipline. This degree program prepares students for either an industrial career or further advanced degrees in applied physics, physics or engineering disciplines.

45 unduplicated units of work done at Stanford are required for the master’s degree. A student may apply for the coterminal B.S. and M.S. program after 120 units are completed and they must be accepted into our program at least one quarter before receiving their B.S. degree. A student must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in order to maintain good academic standing and complete all requirements within three years of first acquiring graduate standing.

The specific course requirements are:

  1. Four breadth courses in subdisciplines of applied physics (16 units): AP 201, AP 203, AP 204, AP 205
  2. Three engineering courses in a depth area (9units minimum). At least one must be at the 300 level and the other courses must be at the 200 level or above to provide depth in one area.
  3. One laboratory or methods course (3 or 4 units) from a list (click here)
  4. Seminar participation (3 units)
  5. Approved Technical Electives (6 units minimum that brings up the total units to 45) These include APPHYS, CS, CME, EE, ME, BIOE, MATSCI, PHYSICS courses (click here) as well as those courses that are formally approved by the graduate studies committee through petition.
For details on the application process, click here (PDF).
For the application Supplemental Form, click here (PDF).
For a page of Frequently Asked Questions, click here (PDF).
For a page of sample programs of study, click here (PDF).

Undergraduate Programs

The Applied Physics Department does not offer an undergraduate major.

Refer to the undergraduate program of the Physics Department for information on the Physics undergraduate major at Stanford.

The Engineering Physics undergraduate major, administered by the School of Engineering, is designed for students who have an interest in and an aptitude for both engineering and physics. The program provides students with a firm foundation in physics and mathematics, together with engineering design and problem-solving skills. This background prepares students to tackle complex problems in multidisciplinary areas that are at the forefront of 21st-century technology, such as solid state devices, quantum optics and photonics, materials science, nanotechnology, electromechanical systems, energy systems, and any engineering field that requires a very solid background in physics. Because the program emphasizes science, mathematics and engineering, students are well prepared to pursue graduate work in engineering, physics or applied physics.

For more information on the Engineering Physics undergraduate major and pre-major advising, contact Prof. Pat Burchat or Prof. Kam Moler.

Applied Physics faculty members are active in teaching in the physics undergraduate curriculum and provide research opportunities for undergraduates.