Undergraduate Overview

Physics is the fundamental science underlying the investigation of all natural phenomena. Its elegant experiments and fundamental theories have provided much of the advancements in present-day science and technology. From the smallest sub-atomic particles to the vastness of cosmic expansion, and at the intermediate scales of our lives – in such areas as solid-state electronics, superconductivity, biological function, and geologic events – physics profoundly impacts our understanding of nature and our ability to harness its secrets.

Our Mission

The Department of Physics aims to provide our students with an outstanding educational experience, consisting of comprehensive and rigorous coursework, laboratory training and hands-on research experience, culminating in a baccalaureate degree.

The department also provides physics education to students majoring in other sciences, in engineering and professional programs, and to non-science majors. We commit to excellence in teaching and mentoring at all levels of study, and actively advise prospective and current students on their educational choices and career paths.

Undergraduate physics student Anne Fortman, recipient of the 2017 Goldwater Scholarship

Our Degree Options

Most of the undergraduate physics degree tracks require a GPA in the following prerequisite courses: MTH 141, MTH 142, PHY 107 or 117, PHY 108 or 118 and PHY 158. The order in which these courses are taken is important, so please view the Summary of Physics Major Requirements to ensure you register correctly. 

The Department of Physics also partners with the Department of Electrical Engineering to offer a BA in Engineering Physics. 

Our Curriculum

The core of our major tracks involve courses focused on five key topic-areas: classical mechanics; electricity and magnetism; thermal and statistical physics; modern physics (including quantum mechanics and relativity); and experimental methods. In addition, our upper-level electives, research courses and internships allow students to experience an array of specialty areas in further preparation for graduate study and future careers.

Learn More About Undergraduate Physics Study at UB

The Learning Environment

Introductory courses consist of large faculty-led lectures that introduce new material using many demonstrations to show physics principles in live action. Smaller recitation sections, taught by graduate teaching assistants, focus on applications and problem-solving. Most of the introductory lectures use personal response systems, in which students use clickers to respond to the instructor’s questions. The homework assignments for the introductory courses are typically submitted online. We also offer purely online introductory courses during winter session.

The introductory lab courses explore basic physics topics, including: forces, kinematics, friction, electrostatics and electric circuits. These experiments are designed to illustrate and expand upon material from the introductory lecture courses.

Class sizes in the upper division courses are much smaller, generally around 25-35 students. The department offers two upper division lab courses:

  1. Modern Physics Laboratory (PHY 307): Students work on the experiments that established modern physics in the early 20th Century. 
  2. Advanced Physics Laboratory (PHY 407 and 408): Students choose to work on three experiments that were developed by our faculty, and use research-grade equipment.

Many of our majors, and even non-majors, complete independent study projects (PHY 498 and PHY 499) with our faculty. Our majors are encouraged to write a senior thesis (PHY 497), which allows them to graduate with honors.

Our Faculty

The Department of Physics consists of 25 full-time faculty members and about 45 graduate teaching assistants. The faculty is comprised of approximately an equal number of theorists and experimentalists. Faculty members are involved in all most areas of physics, including condensed matter physics, biophysics, high energy physics and astrophysics/cosmology and non-linear dynamics and statistical physics. Courses are primarily taught by full-time physics faculty members, supplemented by one or two sections per semester taught by adjunct faculty.

Six faculty members have received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching, nine are Fellows of the American Physical Society, eight have won National Science Foundation Career Awards and five are SUNY Distinguished Professors. To learn more, please view our faculty directory

Our Facilities

Any visitor to the Fronzak Hall, where the Department of Physics is located, will quickly see that we are passionate about teaching. Our building contains dozens of exhibits – ranging from a Foucault pendulum to a camera obscura – that are used to teach physics and support community outreach. The exhibits were designed and built locally, and nearly all contain an interactive element.

The department's main laboratory space is dedicated to teaching introductory physics (five classrooms) and upper-level physics (two classrooms). Undergraduate students conducting independent research projects may be found in any one of our many research labs, working with faculty and graduate students on cutting-edge topics.

Beyond the Classroom: Experiential Learning

Research Mentorships

Undergraduate physics majors regularly become involved in the research activities of the department. This can involve independent study, part-time employment and/or full-time employment during the summer.

Interested students should seek information on the opportunity to engage in undergraduate research mentors program. Students earn credit for their undergraduate research in PHY 498 Undergraduate Research.

Undergraduate Physics Club 

This organization is an active group open to all students. The group sponsors special speakers and workshops, and organizes open houses and social activities. Club members also belong to the Society of Physics Students (SPS) which is affiliated with the American Physical Society. Within SPS, students with a GPA above 3.5 are eligible for election to the UB Chapter of Sigma Pi Sigma National Physics Honor Society. For further information, please call (716) 645-2017.

Instructions for Transfer Students

The UB Department of Physics welcomes students who wish to transfer into an undergraduate physics degree track.

To transfer (articulate) a physics course from a different institution, please visit http://taurus.buffalo.edu/. If the course in question is not already listed as equivalent to a UB physics course, you will need to fill out a Course Articulation Form and submit a detailed syllabus (including textbook used and chapters covered). 

For further information on this process, please visit the UB Undergraduate Catalog or contact John Cerne, director of Undergraduate Studies.

Contact Us

John Cerne

Professor; Director of Undergraduate Studies

Research area: Condensed Matter Experiment

128 Fronczak Hall

Phone: (716) 645-2542

Email: jcerne@buffalo.edu

Rachel Bolden

Office Assistant

239 Fronczak Hall

Phone: (716) 645-3645

Email: rebolden@buffalo.edu