Graduate study in the Department of Physics is strongly focused on research and only offers the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program. The physics department maintains an active research program with equal emphasis on theoretical and experimental studies. Primary research areas are theoretical and experimental elementary particle physics, theoretical and experimental gravity and cosmology, experimental nuclear and atomic physics, mathematical physics, theoretical and experimental condensed matter physics, and theoretical and experimental biophysics.
Students are encouraged to involve themselves in research activities right from the beginning. Early research participation leads to a more mature appreciation of the formal aspects of graduate study. It also allows a closer association with faculty members and a more natural transition to independent research later on. The research for the doctoral dissertation is by far the most important part of the program and should prepare students well for careers in research and teaching at universities, or in research at government or industrial laboratories. The average time to completion of the Ph.D. in the Department of Physics is 5.4 years.
Interdepartmental Research Opportunities
Physics department faculty and graduate students are active in research collaborations with scientists in several other departments, including astrophysical sciences, plasma physics, chemical and electrical engineering, chemistry, biology, neuroscience, and quantitative and computational biology, as well as the Institute for Advanced Study and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials. If prior approval is obtained, students may conduct their research under the supervision of advisers from outside the physics department.
You will be required to indicate at least one choice from a menu of Department's current Areas of Research – see the Department of Physics website "Research" section for descriptions of the research areas and the current activities in each. Your Statement of Purpose is a good opportunity to make your interests clear. The Department of Physics notes that it is not necessary to describe how you became interested in physics. Applicants are usually better served by devoting the statement to a description of their research background and interests. However, if your path to applying to the Princeton Department of Physics was unusual or compelling, please feel free to describe it. In any case, your Statement of Purpose should focus on your specific research interests at Princeton and any relevant research experience.
All students must complete the core curriculum requirement.
The core curriculum is divided in three groups, and students are required to take and pass (at least) one course in each group, within the first two years of study. Thus minimally, a student needs to pass three core courses. A passing grade is a B or higher. The three groups and associated courses are:
Quantum Mechanics/Quantum Field Theory
PHY 506 Quantum Mechanics
PHY 509 Relativistic Quantum Theory I
PHY 510 Relativistic Quantum Theory II
PHY 529 Introduction to High Energy Physics
Condensed Matter/Biophysics/Atomic Physics
PHY 525 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics I
PHY 526 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics II
PHY 551 Atomic Physics (not taught every year)
PHY 561 & 562 Biophysics
General Relativity/High Energy Physics
PHY 523 Introduction to General Relativity
PHY 524 Advanced Topics in General Relativity
PHY 529 Introduction to High Energy Physics
During the fall term of the first year, students generally take one core course to supplement their undergraduate physics background and prepare for the preliminary exam. Students are encouraged to take other more advanced courses to expand their knowledge in their chosen specialty.
It is the goal of the graduate program to have all students engaged in active research as soon as possible upon arrival, with all students settled on a thesis topic and a thesis adviser by the end of the second year.
The preliminary examination, the experimental project and the required minimum number of core courses constitute the general examination. All sections of the general examination must be completed by the end of the second year.
Students take the first section of the general examination, the preliminary examination, in January or May of the first year. The preliminary examination covers topics of electromagnetism, elementary quantum mechanics, mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics
The second section of the general examination is the experimental project, which consists of a report and presentation on an experiment that the student has either performed or assisted others in performing, at Princeton. The report is due and the presentation is scheduled in November of the second year.
The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully completes all components of the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.
While teaching is not a requirement, we offer the opportunity to graduate students to teach at least one semester during their graduate tenure.
The Pre-Thesis Project
The pre-thesis project is a research project in the student's area of interest, conducted under the supervision of a faculty advisor who is likely to become the Ph.D. advisor for the student The final product is a written report and an oral defense in the presence of a pre-thesis committee, which is strongly encouraged to comprise faculty who will also serve as the student’s Ph.D. committee. The report's length and format are typically comparable to a journal article. It is advisable to include an introduction aimed at physicists who are not expert in the field.
The goals of the pre-thesis projects are:
- to give the student a serious introduction to his or her final area of specialization
- to get the student involved with the faculty in the research group of interest
- to get the student known by the faculty in the research group of interest
In order to get a rapid start on their thesis research, students are expected to start actively working on their pre-thesis project as soon as possible. The evaluation by the pre-thesis advisor will be an essential part of the reenrollment process at the end of the third year. The pre-thesis defense should take place no later than the fall of the third year.
The Ph.D. is awarded once the dissertation is accepted and the final public oral (FPO) has been completed.
Herman L. Verlinde
Director of Graduate Studies
James D. Olsen
Robert H. Austin
Bogdan A. Bernevig
Curtis G. Callan
Frederick D. Haldane
MD Zahid Hasan
David A. Huse
Igor R. Klebanov
Daniel R. Marlow
Peter D. Meyers
James D. Olsen
Nai Phuan Ong
Lyman A. Page
Jason R. Petta
Alexander M. Polyakov
Michael V. Romalis
Joshua W. Shaevitz
Shivaji L. Sondhi
Suzanne T. Staggs
Paul J. Steinhardt
Christopher G. Tully
Herman L. Verlinde
Waseem S. Baker
William C. Jones
Silviu S. Pufu
Lecturer with Rank of Professor
Stephen L. Adler
Juan M. Maldacena
Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.