Computational physics is a relatively new branch of physics which focuses upon using computers to solve problems in physics where a theory has existed, but cannot be solved by traditional analysis. The approach of computational physics can be applied to a wide range of problems in the discipline. Graduates of master's and PhD programs in computational physics are well-prepared for careers in academia, scientific research, the gaming industry, and finance. Read more to find out about graduate program requirements in this area as well as the common courses you can take.
Program Requirements for a Master's in Computational Physics
A master's degree in computational physics can typically be completed in two years and applicants will also generally hold a bachelor's degree with a physics major or other closely related major. You can expect that specific study in fundamentals of physics, as well as college-level math and a range of computer programming languages, will be required. Applicants should be prepared to submit undergraduate transcripts, references, a statement of intent, and scores on the GRE exam and/or the physics GRE since these may be required. Much of the master's program will focus on graduate level courses and in addition to coursework, students will typically be required to provide oral presentations and a thesis which incorporate a computer component. Attendance at departmental seminars and colloquia will provide opportunities for additional learning outside of the classroom setting.
Program Requirements for the PhD in Computational Physics
To be admitted to PhD programs in computational physics, students will need to present GRE scores and references, specifically GRE subject tests in physics may be required. They will also be expected to provide undergraduate transcripts showing mastery of basic principles in physics. To complete a PhD program, students will be required to complete required coursework, pass qualifying examinations, complete a thesis, and defend an oral examination. PhD candidates also normally participate in teaching and/or research assistantships as part of the degree program since these further hone their skills in the academe. The PhD may be earned in physics with a research focus on computational physics, or specifically in the field of computational physics.
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Core courses will be similar for both a master's and PhD; however doctoral level students will take more courses and complete more independent research. Some common core courses would include the following.
In this course, students will gain experience on how to apply computational methods to traditional problems in physics such as electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. They will be introduced to complex issues including linear algebra and fourier analysis. Students will typically complete independent research projects.
This course will focus upon modern mathematical concepts that are essential for physics and other scientific disciplines. Students study vector and tensor analyses, functions, and complex variable theory, among other topics in this field.
Computational Plasma Physics
Students taking the course in computational plasma physics will learn about turbulence, plasma rays, and charged particles. They will be introduced to direct Vlasov and particle mesh, which are the two main types of kinetic plasma simulations. Students may practice common problems such as ring beam instability and collisionless shock waves.
Stochastic Methods in Computational Physics
Students enrolled in this course will learn about stochastic processes, stochastic differential equations, and Ito calculus. Students will also learn about the Chapman-Kolmogorov equation. Applications of computational physics to chemistry, biology, and finance will be considered.
In this course, students will consider the computational methods that are used by astrophysicists. They will cover precision, error analysis, differentiation, and Monte Carlo. They may also discuss solutions to problems in computational astrophysics.
The field of computational physics is growing quickly as new modeling techniques are developed and computing power continues to grow. Though program requirements and specific courses may differ for each school, students may enter this field at the graduate level by typically having a background in physics or a related major and eventually take more advanced courses while pursuing the program.