Physics is about understanding and formulating the principles and laws that govern the motions and interactions of the material world we live in. The resulting knowledge has provided not only many surprising discoveries about how our universe functions, like in quantum mechanics, but also made possible many developments in technology and quality of life our society depends on and enjoys today. Two examples of these applications are the Global Positioning System (GPS) which relies on the relativity of time in Einstein’s theories, and imaging diagnosis devices in medicine, which use the properties of wave phenomena.

In the Physics track at University College Utrecht you learn about the impact that physics knowledge has in our life and society in the spirit of an Liberal Arts & Sciences learning. In addition, the Physics track also offers you the option to learn the principles of physics at a deeper and more fundamental level. You learn about the theoretical knowledge, mathematical methods, some experimental and computational skills, as well as academic practices and standards required in physics. The specific goals of this track are presented in the appendix below.

Most importantly, at University College Utrecht you have the possibility of taking a Double Degree in Liberal Arts & Physics (DDLP), offered in conjunction with the Physics Department at Utrecht University. This will only entail one or two additional semesters of study. The Double Degree programme qualifies you to enter a Master’s programme in Physics in any leading national or international physics department.

It is hard not to find a development in technology where physics played a central role. Here are just a few: radio, television, lasers, masers, transistors, medical imaging (X-rays, magnetic resonance, ultrasound), microelectronics and telecommunications. Given the omni-presence of physics in technology, anyone who wishes to be in a position of influence should have an elementary knowledge of physics. We could call this education the Liberal Arts of Technology. In our energy-hungry society research in physics can also provide solutions in the search for more sustainable and cleaner forms of energy. Besides its societal and technological relevance, studying physics offers a source of deep and insightful knowledge of how the physical world works, and the origins of the universe and life itself. Following the 100 years old paradigm shift which brought the concepts of spacetime and quantum mechanics, we might be nearing a new shift following the recent discoveries of the Higgs particle and the accelerated expansion of our universe in our understanding of the origins and nature of matter and constituents of our universe. Both the societal technology relevance and the fundamental understanding of our world are on their own compelling reasons to take courses in Physics.

The physics you learn in this track is relevant to other areas of study like atmospheres and oceans, earth sciences, alternative energies and medical applications amongst others. The most obvious connection is the one between Physics and Mathematics track, as the study of physics always require at some level the language of mathematics. The distinction between Physics and Chemistry is often blurred. In particular, USCICHE22 Physical Chemistry is a course that should not be missed in a well-rounded education in physics. 2 The UCSCIEAR22 Atmosphere and Climate course in the Earth and Environment track is to some extent a physics course. The rest of that track studies sustainability issues, both from a (geo)physical perspective as well as ecological and is a good Liberal Arts and Sciences complement to the physics track. The interdisciplinary course UCINTSUS21 Sustainability provides an even more well-rounded view on this topic, including societal, economic, legal and ethical aspects. The level-0 physics course UCSCIPHY01 Energy Systems and Sustainability offers an effective introduction to the physics and chemistry you need to get the most out of the interdisciplinary course in sustainability.

Other important connections include Cognitive Neuroscience in what concerns the physics of touch and vision. Applications of X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging techniques in Biomedical Sciences would not be possible without the Electromagnetism and Quantum Physics. The decay of radioactive elements is used by (Art) Historians to date the age of objects. In Linguistics you study the reproduction and transmission of sound; it is hard to imagine communication without physical means. Philosophers have wondered for ages about the meaning of time, reality of the physical world, and the origin of being. It is interesting to combine that study with the insights offered by a physicists’ perspective on such issues. One last example of interdisciplinary fertilisation is the topic of econophysics, where the methods from complex systems in physics are used to model the random behaviour of very many independently acting economic agents.

There are two main Physics track branches. The one finishing in the level-3 course Topics in Physics is the track branch for those aiming at learning physics as the Liberal Arts of Technology. The course starters for this branch are UCSCIPHY13 Wave Phenomena in Nature and the mathematics course UCSCIMAT11 Calculus, which are the prerequisites to UCSCIPHY21 Classical Electrodynamics. This level-2 is then the only prerequisite to the track finisher UCSCIPHY33. An added value to this track is to take the laboratory module on Waves and Optics. In addition, for the more mathematical minded, any of the level-2 mathematics track courses are good complements for this track. It is recommended to start this track with the Calculus course.

The track finishing in the level-3 course Advanced Physics offers a more in depth and analytical study of physics. This track starts with the level-1 Relativistic and Classical Physics. All level-1 and -2 courses from the other track branch are required here. This is so as both level-1 physics courses are prerequisites for the level-2 course UCSCIPHY25 Statistical and Quantum Mechanics, and the track finisher UCSCIPHY31 Advanced Physics requires both level-2 physics courses. This track should be combined with the laboratory modules on Waves and Optics, and Statistical Mechanics. If you aim at joining the DDLP the courses, PHY13 and PHY21, must be taken with the Honours option format.

With a background in physics you will find a wide variety of Master's programmes to apply for. Many of these programmes highly value the analytical and problem-solving skills that you have developed. Next to the Master's programmes in Physics (at Utrecht University these are Theoretical Physics, Experimental Physics and Climate Physics), there are many bordering programmes, such as in life sciences, scientific computing, earth sciences, environmental sciences. There are also options in more applied areas such as science education and communication or science and business management.

UCSCIPHY12: Relativistic and Classical Physics – Fall Semester
In this course you re-visit the laws of dynamics at an intermediate level and combine them with conservation principles to study harmonic oscillators and orbits of celestial objects. The course ends with an introduction to the weird world of special relativity.

UCSCIPHY13: Wave Phenomena in Nature – Spring Semester
In this course you learn about the properties, analytical description and applications of different examples of waves in nature, including mechanical, sound, electromagnetic (lightlike) and quantum mechanical waves. This course is offered in a standard and honours format.

UCSCIPHY21: Classical Electrodynamics – Fall Semester
In this course you study the physics of electrical and magnetic phenomena at the origin of electromagnetic waves and are introduced to Maxwell’s equations. These waves are used in most technological devices and provides us with the sense of sight. This course is offered in a standard and honours format.

UCSCIPHY25: Statistical and Quantum Mechanics – Spring Semester
In this course you are introduced to statistical mechanics, the branch in physics that deals with the foundation of thermodynamics, and to the foundations of quantum mechanics.

UCSCIPHY31: Advanced Physics – Fall Semester
In this course you further explore the world of quantum mechanics and the interaction between the atomic world and electromagnetic waves.

UCSCIPHY33: Topics in Physics – Spring Semester
This is a modular course where you will be learning about the status of current research topics in different areas as varied as nanotechnology, medical imaging, material physics and the origins of our universe and life.

All of the Mathematics track courses, UCSCICHE22 Physical Chemistry, UCSCIEAR22 Atmosphere and Climate, and UCINTSUS21 Sustainability.

Black arrows: prerequisites for Topic in Physics track finisher
Blue arrows: prerequisites for Advanced Physics track finisher

UCSCIPHYL6: Modelling and Analysis of Astronomical Data – Spring Semester
In this module you learn how to analyse big data in the context of the cosmic ray detection experience HiSPARC, an international outreach project based in the Netherlands.

UCSCIPHYL8: Waves and Optics – Summer Term
In this module you will be collecting, analysing data and writing reports on three laboratory experiments involving wave phenomena and light.

UCSCIPHYL4: Experimental Statistical Mechanics – Period 1 in Fall Semester in Utrecht Science Park
In this module you will be collecting, analysing data and writing reports on computer and laboratory experiments with thermodynamics systems. This module consists of the Experimental Part of the physics course NS-204B at Utrecht University.

After completing the Physics track students:

  • Have knowledge and understanding of the fundamental laws and principles of areas such as Classical and Relativistic Mechanics, Wave Phenomena, Electromagnetism, Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics, as well as the relationships across these areas;
  • Know how to apply mathematical methods from Calculus, Linear Algebra, and Numerical Methods to solve problems in physics;
  • Can use knowledge from physics and mathematics to create a model that describes how a physical system behaves, and carry out estimates or precise calculations of physical quantities that test the validity of the model and its applicability
  • Are able to communicate and illustrate how knowledge from physics contributes to other scientific disciplines, such as Biology, Chemistry and Geosciences;
  • Know how to describe applications of wave phenomena in scientific and medical measuring and visualisation instruments and in home appliances, communication and navigation, and encoding;
  • Have acquired the basic skills to collect, analyse, formulate hypotheses and interpret experimental or/and observational data and present the results in a structured report;
  • Can formulate, under supervision, a realistic research plan, and carry out a small research project, and write and/or orally present their findings observing scholarly standards, including terminology, referencing, and creating a bibliography;
  • Are able to search for scientific sources on current research areas in physics, at fundamental level or in applications to major societal problems like climate change and sustainable sources of energy, and under supervision critical read them and identify the relevant information for the project they are undertaking;
  • Collaborate in a professional context, while undertaking a research project, and to give and receive constructive feedback from other physicists and/or scientists in academia;
  • Have the knowledge and the technical and problem solving skills required to join the double degree programme on Liberal Arts & Sciences and Physics offered at University College Utrecht and the Utrecht University Physics Department, which offers a solid preparation for master programmes in Physics at national and international level.
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