Overview of Nuclear Physics Degree Programs
Students who are interested in topics like nuclear power, energy, and nuclear medicine, as well as research, may be considering pursuing a degree in nuclear physics. These degrees can lead to a diverse number of careers across different fields, from the military to medicine. When searching for a degree, students can typically choose either a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Physics or a Bachelor of Science in Physics with a nuclear science concentration. Below, we will discuss these programs in greater detail by covering admission requirements, common courses in these programs, how to choose a program, and what types of jobs are available with a nuclear physics degree.
Admission Requirements for Nuclear Physics Degree Programs
To gain admission to a nuclear physics undergraduate program, students will generally need to submit strong ACT or SAT scores and high school transcripts in addition to a completed application form and fee. Some programs admit applicants directly into the physics program, while others allow students to take general education courses and then apply to the physics program.
Common Courses in Nuclear Physics Degree Programs
Bachelor's degree programs in nuclear physics generally require that students take core courses in physics and nuclear physics in addition to a number of other related science, engineering, and math courses. Students may also have the option of selecting some elective courses, depending on how their program is structured. Below are five courses that are commonly found in nuclear physics degree programs.
Principles of Physics
Students in a nuclear physics bachelor's degree program are generally required to take foundational courses in physics before taking courses in more specific subfields. A course that covers the principles of physics focuses on topics like mechanics, thermodynamics, wave motion, and kinetic theory. This course helps provide students with a strong base from which to build their knowledge as they progress through the program.
A course in modern physics exposes students to more advanced topics that are commonly discussed and applied in the field today. Topics that this course may cover include atomic structure, statistical mechanics, elementary particles, and nuclear structure. In addition, students may learn about the theory of special relativity and the uncertainty principle.
In this course, students build on the basic thermodynamics principles they examined in their introductory physics course. They study the laws of thermodynamics, their applications, and pure substances' thermodynamic properties. Topics that may be discussed include equilibrium, expansion, compression, and reversible processes.
After taking more general courses in physics, students then take one or more course specifically in nuclear science. In this class, students learn about nuclear models, nuclear reactions, and radioactivity. Students might also examine nuclear imaging, dosimetry, and isotopic dating in a course focusing on nuclear science's applications.
Nuclear Power and Power Plant Systems
In a course that focuses on nuclear power and nuclear power plant systems, students learn about basic concepts that relate to the operation and design of nuclear power facilities. They may cover topics like fuel management, different types of nuclear power systems, various reactor types, and the flow of heat. A study of electric systems may also be included.
How to Choose a Nuclear Physics Degree Program
When selecting a nuclear physics degree program, there are a number of factors that students will likely want to consider. For example, some students may be more inclined to choose a school that has a dedicated program in nuclear physics, rather than a physics program with a concentration in nuclear science. Students will also likely want to look closely at each program's curriculum in order to see if the course offerings are aligned with their interests. Another factor that may be worth considering is whether the faculty in the program are working on research areas that are of interest, as well as whether programs actively help connect students with internships and job opportunities following graduation.
Career Options with a Degree in Nuclear Physics
Students who earn a degree in nuclear physics have a number of opportunities that they can choose to pursue after graduating. Some students may wish to continue their studies in graduate school, while others may be ready to enter the workforce. Individuals who would like to begin working may be interested in becoming a nuclear technician. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that these professionals made an annual median salary of $82,080 in 2019, and the field is projected to decline by 4% between 2018 and 2028. Other career opportunities are listed below, some of which may require additional education: