Physics and Astronomy

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The Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy combines a strong research program, world-renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities. The instruction and research programs within the department reflect two features which have a long tradition at Johns Hopkins: an emphasis on graduate study and research, supplemented with a strong undergraduate program; and a flexibility that is possible only in a department of our size.

Our undergraduate and graduate courses are purposefully designed to provide a core group of basic subjects at the appropriate levels, which naturally lead to courses in a variety of specialized areas. All students are encouraged to engage in independent work outside of the classroom, such as special projects or independent study. The atmosphere is enhanced by the presence of NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute—home of the Hubble Space Telescope—located just across the street.

Research in the Department of Physics and Astronomy primarily centers on three areas: astrophysics, condensed matter physics, and particle or high energy physics. The Center for Astrophysical Studies comprises areas within the discipline: cosmology, extragalactic astronomy, galactic astronomy, numerical simulations, large datasets, and instrumentation. The condensed matter physics group maintains active experimental and theoretical research programs at the forefront of both hard and soft condensed matter physics. The particle physics group conducts research in both theory and experiment.

What can you do with your degree?

A degree in physics can lead to many diverse career paths. Many of our students apply and are admitted to graduate school, either here at Johns Hopkins or at another one of the nation’s top universities. Others want to pursue research and teaching positions. Physics and astronomy graduates can also be found in the fields of engineering, law, and medicine. Still others secure employment in government or industrial laboratories.

The Ph.D. program has strong emphasis on early and active involvement in graduate research. Thus, students are required to have a research advisor and file a research summary every semester they are enrolled in the program, starting with the first one. Furthermore, students must complete the required courses with a grade of B- or better; the coursework is typically done over the first two years. In the beginning of the second year, students complete the research examination, and in the beginning of the third year – the University’s Graduate Board Oral examination, both of which are based on completed or proposed research. During the first two years, students are typically involved in introductory research projects, which may or may not be related to their thesis work, and sometimes work with several different advisors, but they must identify (and have an agreement with) a thesis advisor no later than the beginning of their third year in the program, after which point students focus on their thesis research. The thesis is to be completed by no later than the end of the 6th year, ending with an oral presentation of the thesis to a faculty committee.

Course Requirements

Ph.D. in Physics

Students must complete the following courses:

AS.171.603 Electromagnetic Theory  
& AS.171.606
Quantum Mechanics
and Quantum Mechanics
AS.171.703 Advanced Statistical Mechanics  
AS.172.632 Physics Seminar  

Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics

Students must complete the following courses:

AS.171.611 Stellar Structure & Evolution  
AS.171.612 Interstellar Medium and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics  
AS.171.613 Radiative Astrophysics  
AS.171.627 Astrophysical Dynamics  
AS.172.633 Language Of Astrophysics  

The department offers a wide range of graduate physics, astrophysics, mathematical methods and statistics classes, and while only five are required, the students are encouraged to use the flexibility of the graduate program and the available classes to design programs of study that best prepare them for their chosen area of research. In addition to the required courses listed above, below is the list of the graduate courses that have been taught in recent years:

AS.171.602 Order of Magnitude Physics  
& AS.171.610

and Numerical Methods-Physics
AS.171.617 Extragalactic Astronomy  
AS.171.618 Observational Astronomy  
& AS.171.622
Condensed Matter Physics
and Condensed Matter Physics
AS.171.625 Experimental Particle Physics  
AS.171.626 Data Analysis: Theory & Practice  
AS.171.628 Practical Scientific Analysis of Big Data  
AS.171.633 Graphics Processor Programming in CUDA  
AS.171.672 Introduction Plasma Physics  
AS.171.699 Planets, Life and the Universe  
& AS.171.702
Quantum Field Theory
and Quantum Field Theory II
AS.171.704 Phase Transitions and Critical Phenomena  
AS.171.713 Magnetic Materials and Spintronics  
AS.171.750 Cosmology  
AS.171.751 Neutron Scattering and Quantum Condensed Matter Physics  
AS.171.755 Fourier Optics and Interferometry in Astronomy  
AS.171.756 Astrophysics of Compact Objects  
AS.171.762 Advanced Condensed Matter  
AS.171.783 Advanced Particle Theory  
AS.171.784 Advanced Quantum Field Theory  
AS.173.608 Advanced Laboratory  
AS.270.661 Planetary Fluid Dynamics  

Students in both programs must receive at least a B- in each required course, or they will be required to retake the specific course once more and pass it.


All entering students are assigned to a first-year advisor who works closely with the student through the first two years of graduate study, or until a thesis advisor is found. The first-year advisor advises the student on courses of study, helps familiarize them with the department and provides guidance in finding research opportunities. In the beginning of each fall semester, the department holds a “research jamboree” where incoming students are introduced to the research in the department through a series of brief talks, lab tours, and research group open houses. Thus, the students are familiar, immediately upon their arrival, with the scope of research in the department and can identify prospective research advisors they may wish to work with.

First and Second-Year Research Requirement

First-year students must find, by the end of the third week of class in the fall semester, and by the end of the first week of class the second semester, as well as before the summer term begins, a member of the professorial faculty to advise them in some type of research project. The students are required to submit a short written summary of that research experience at the end of the semester. Students may continue with one advisor through all three semesters, or they may choose to cycle through several different research advisors. In some cases, one of these first-year research advisors may become a thesis advisor, but in others, the thesis advisor may change. This research requirement continues until the end of the second year, or until the student finds a thesis advisor.

The nature of these first-year research projects may vary from student to student, from one advisor to another, and from one sub-field of physics to another. In some cases they lead to published research. In other cases, they may be first steps in a longer-term research project. And in some cases, they may comprise reading or independent-study projects to develop background for subsequent research. It is left to the individual advisor to determine what the written summary should entail. These research projects are not research assistantships and are performed in addition to other graduate student responsibilities (teaching and graduate classwork), although they are typically merged with RA-supported research for those students supported by RAs.

Thesis Research and Defense

Students are required to find a thesis advisor no later than the beginning of the third year. After the student chooses a thesis advisor, the student forms their Thesis Committee consisting of the advisor and two other faculty members (all Thesis Committees contain at least two full-time faculty from the department). These committees function as extended advisory bodies; students have the opportunity to discuss their progress and problems with several faculty. They also conduct one formal annual review of each student’s progress. Research leading to the dissertation can be carried out not only within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, but with appropriate arrangements, either partly or entirely at other locations if necessitated by the project goals. At the conclusion of thesis research, the student presents the written dissertation to the faculty committee and defends the thesis in an oral examination.

Requirements for the M.A. Degree

Although the department does not admit students who intend to pursue the master’s degree exclusively, students in the department’s Ph.D. program and students in other Ph.D. programs at Johns Hopkins may apply to fulfill the requirements for the M.A. degree in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students from other JHU departments must seek approval from their home department and from the Department of Physics and Astronomy before beginning their M.A. studies.

Course Requirements for the M.A.

Students must master the basic undergraduate material covered by the following courses:

AS.171.204 Classical Mechanics II 4.00
AS.171.301 Electromagnetic Theory II 4.00
& AS.171.304
Quantum Mechanics I
and Quantum Mechanics II
AS.171.312 Statistical Physics/Thermodynamics 4.00

 Courses taken elsewhere may qualify at the discretion of the Graduate Program Committee.

Students must also complete six one-semester graduate-level (at least three hours/week) courses offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. For this purpose, each semester of AS.171.609 -AS.171.610 Numerical Methods-Physics counts as a graduate-level course. In addition, AS.171.801 Independent Research- Graduates-AS.171.802 Independent Research-Graduate may be substituted for any of the above-mentioned graduate or undergraduate courses. The research course must include an essay supervised and approved by a faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The student must receive a grade of B- or above in each of the courses. The graduate-level courses may be retaken once; the undergraduate courses cannot be repeated.

Furthermore, the student must complete at least two semesters of research projects, as described in the requirements for the Ph.D., and complete the departmental research exam. The deadline to fulfill all requirements is the date of the Ph.D. thesis defense.

  • Letters of Recommendation (3),
  • GRE,
  • Statement of Purpose,
  • Transcripts,
  • GRE Subject
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