Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

Department of Physics and Astronomy


The Master of Science (M.S.) in Physics and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physics programs offer opportunities for advanced study and research designed to prepare students for roles in industry, government, research institutions, or educational institutions.

Graduate students will be able to choose from several areas of specialization in experimental and theoretical physics, including condensed matter, advanced materials, nanomaterials, biophysics, laser spectroscopy, astrophysics, theoretical particle physics, cosmology, mathematical physics, and computational physics. The graduate program includes a partnership with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Doctoral program includes a partnership with The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB). Areas of expertise among the Adjoint Faculty at the Space Science and Engineering Division of SwRI span Space Physics, including space weather, ionospheric-thermospheric-mesospheric physics, plasmaspheric physics, magnetospheric physics, heliospheric physics, cometary and planetary science, space physics instrumentation, and computational space physics. Areas of expertise among the Adjoint Faculty at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTB include gravitational wave astronomy, optics, biophysics and nanomaterials.

A limited number of teaching and/or research assistantships and fellowships are available to qualified students. Financial assistance is limited and is awarded on a competitive basis.

Master of Science Degree in Physics

The purpose of the Master of Science (M.S.) degree program in Physics is to offer students the opportunity to acquire a sound preparation of the fundamentals in several areas of physics, to introduce students to recent advances in physical theory and experimentation, and to encourage research in a specific area of study.

Faculty expertise in each of the interest areas offers the opportunity for direct student-faculty interaction for thesis development through coursework and research. Additional cooperative projects and programs are available with other area research institutions.

Qualified students are encouraged to apply for teaching and/or research assistantships and fellowships. Requests should be sent to the Graduate Advisor of Record for physics when application is made for admission to UTSA.

Admission Requirements. Students must satisfy the University-wide graduate admission requirements. Applicants must have a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited university and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) in their last 60 credit hours of coursework, preferably in physics. Applicants with fewer than 12 credit hours of upper-division undergraduate physics coursework may be admitted as Special Graduate students under the condition that they complete 12 hours of upper-division undergraduate physics coursework before admission as Master’s students.

Applicants must submit scores from the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE). A minimum of two letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s undergraduate scholastic record must be sent to the Graduate School at the same time application is made for admission to UTSA. Background or remedial courses in physics may be required to remove deficiencies.

Applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The English Language Assessment Procedure is a mandatory assessment for incoming international students whose TOEFL scores are between 550 and 600 (paper version) or 79 and 100 (Internet version) or an IELTS score below 7. See Chapter 1, Admission, of this catalog for details.

Thesis Option in Physics

Degree Requirements. The Master of Science program requires the successful completion of a minimum of 30 semester credit hours. Candidates must complete the following:

  1. Required courses (24 semester credit hours):

    PHY 5103    Classical Mechanics I
    PHY 5203    Electrodynamics I
    PHY 5303    Statistical Mechanics
    PHY 5403    Quantum Mechanics I
    PHY 6983    Master’s Thesis, including an oral defense of the written thesis (repeated for a total of 6 semester credit hours)
    PHY 7003    Directed Research
    PHY 7013    Research Seminar

    Students must enroll in Master’s Thesis each semester that they receive advice and assistance in writing the thesis until final approval of the completed thesis has been given and the thesis has been filed with the Dean of the Graduate School. However, no more than 6 hours will count toward the M.S. degree.

    Students must attend the Research Seminar for three (3) full semesters during their graduate studies. However, no more than 3 semester credit hours may be applied to the M.S. degree.

  2. 6 semester credit hours of advanced electives, including graduate courses offered by other departments, as approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record and by the comprehensive examination committee, or up to 6 hours of credit of undergraduate courses if the courses are appropriate for the student’s program of study, if they were not taken as an undergraduate, and if they are approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record.

  3. Students must successfully defend their thesis research results before their comprehensive examination committee prior to the submission of the thesis to the Dean of the Graduate School for approval.

Nonthesis Option in Physics

Degree Requirements. This program requires the successful completion of a minimum of 30 semester credit hours. Candidates for the degree must complete the following:

  1. Required courses (21 semester credit hours):

    PHY 5103    Classical Mechanics I
    PHY 5203    Electrodynamics I
    PHY 5303    Statistical Mechanics
    PHY 5403    Quantum Mechanics I
    PHY 7003    Directed Research (repeated for a total of 6 semester credit hours)
    PHY 7013    Research Seminar

    Students must attend the Research Seminar for three (3) full semesters during their graduate studies. However, no more than 3 semester credit hours may be applied to the M.S. degree.

  2. 9 semester credit hours of advanced electives including graduate courses offered by other departments, as approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record and by the comprehensive examination committee, or up to 6 credit hours of advanced undergraduate courses if appropriate for their program of study, if not taken as an undergraduate, and if approved by the Graduate Advisor of Record.

  3. Students must pass a final oral comprehensive examination for completion of the degree program. The comprehensive examination is scheduled during the student’s last semester of work and includes a written report of the research activity carried out in the 6 hours of Directed Research as well as a seminar where the results of such research activity is presented.


Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Physics

The Department of Physics and Astronomy, in partnership with the Southwest Research Institute and The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB), offers opportunities for advanced studies and research leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Physics. The Ph.D. in Physics is awarded to candidates who have displayed an in-depth understanding of the subject matter and demonstrated the ability to make an original contribution to knowledge in their field of specialty.

The regulations for this degree comply with the general University regulations (refer to Chapter 2, General Academic Regulations, and Chapter 5, Doctoral Degree Regulations).

Admission Requirements. In addition to satisfying the University-wide graduate admission requirements, applicants must have a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited university and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) in the last 60 credit hours of undergraduate coursework and all graduate work, preferably in physics. Applicants must submit scores from the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE). A minimum of two letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s undergraduate (and graduate, where applicable) scholastic record must be sent to the Graduate School at the same time application is made for admission to UTSA. Background or remedial courses in physics may be required to remove deficiencies.

Students who want to enroll in the program under the UTSA-UTB partnership program, must first complete the Master of Science degree at UTB.

Applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The English Language Assessment Procedure is a mandatory assessment for incoming international students whose TOEFL scores are between 550 and 600 (paper version) or 79 and 100 (Internet version) or an IELTS score below 7. See Chapter 1, Admission, of this catalog for details.

Degree Requirements. The doctoral degree requires a minimum of 81 semester credit hours beyond the baccalaureate degree. The coursework in the Program of Study includes a Core Curriculum (12 semester credit hours) and Advanced Electives (27 semester credit hours) including graduate courses offered by other departments with the approval of the student’s Graduate Advisor and the student’s Dissertation Committee. Research hours, including Research Seminar (3 semester credit hours), Directed and Doctoral Research (27 semester credit hours) and Dissertation (12 semester credit hours), totaling at least 42 semester credit hours, complete the Program of Study.

Transfer of Credit. Transfer of credit from other institutions is possible under the following regulations:

  1. Transfer of credit for core classes is granted only if the syllabi of the classes adhere to the standard of the syllabi used for the core classes in the current program and typically is allowed only from institutions that grant Ph.D. degrees in Physics.
  2. A maximum of 30 semester credit hours is allowed to be transferred, excluding thesis hours, and must adhere to the Transfer of Credit policy in chapter 5, Doctoral Degree regulations, in the UTSA Graduate Catalog
  3. .
  4. No research hours can be transferred to the program.

Students enrolled in the program under the UTSA-UTB partnership program must complete the remaining hours of the 39 credit hours of course requirements (exclusive of the transferred hours and 42 hours of doctoral research) with UTSA-generated courses taken either by distance learning or by attending the semester at UTSA. They must also attend PHY 7013 Research Seminar via distance learning. Students at UTB can, however, do their research at UTB with a UTB faculty advisor and complete the research credit hour requirements at UTB by enrolling in Directed Research (PHY 7001-3), Doctoral Research (PHY 7101-3), and Doctoral Dissertation (PHY 7111-3) at UTSA.

Program of Study

  1. Core Curriculum (12 semester credit hours):

    PHY 5103    Classical Mechanics I
    PHY 5203    Electrodynamics I
    PHY 5303    Statistical Mechanics
    PHY 5403    Quantum Mechanics I

  2. Advanced Physics Electives (27 semester credit hours selected from the following or from graduate courses offered by other departments, e.g., Mathematics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Chemistry, etc.):

    PHY 6103    Classical Mechanics II
    PHY 6113    Fluid Mechanics
    PHY 6123    Plasma Physics and Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
    PHY 6203    Electrodynamics II
    PHY 6303    Quantum Mechanics II
    PHY 6313    Solid State Physics
    PHY 6323    Nonlinear Optics and Lasers
    PHY 6403    Fundamentals of Space Physics
    PHY 6413    Fundamentals of Astronomy
    PHY 6503    Mathematical Physics I
    PHY 6513    Mathematical Physics II
    PHY 6523    Computational Physics
    PHY 6613    Methods of Experimental Physics
    PHY 6623    Space Physics Laboratory

    Topics courses may be repeated for credit as the topics vary. The student should consult her/his Graduate Advisor if in doubt.

    PHY 7403    Topics in Biophysics and Biomedical Physics
    PHY 7503    Topics in Experimental Physics
    PHY 7603    Topics in Condensed Matter Physics
    PHY 7703    Topics in Space Physics
    PHY 7803    Topics in Theoretical Physics
    PHY 7903    Topics in Astrophysics
    PHY 7973    Special Topics in Physics

  3. Doctoral Research (42 semester credit hours):

    PHY 7001-3   Directed Research (minimum 6 hours; prior to passing qualifying exam)
    PHY 7013      Research Seminar (3 hours)
    PHY 7101-3   Doctoral Research (minimum 21 hours; after advancement to candidacy)
    PHY 7111-3   Doctoral Dissertation (12 hours)

    Students must enroll in PHY 7111-3 Doctoral Dissertation each semester that they receive advice and/or assistance on their dissertation. However, no more than 12 semester credit hours will count toward the Ph.D. degree. Students must attend the Research Seminar for a minimum of three (3) full semesters during their graduate studies. However, no more than 3 semester credit hours may be applied to the Ph.D. degree.

The entire program of study, including graduate courses offered by other departments, must be approved by the student’s Dissertation Advisor, Dissertation Committee, and Graduate Program Committee and must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for final approval.

Advancement to Candidacy. All students seeking a doctoral degree at UTSA must be admitted to candidacy. One of the requirements for admission to candidacy is passing the Doctoral Qualifying Examination. Students should consult the University’s Doctoral Degree Regulations (Chapter 5 of this catalog) for the other requirements.

Qualifying Examination. The qualifying examination is divided into written and oral portions. The details of the written portion of the examination can be found in the handout for Ph.D. students. The oral portion covers the student’s proposed research program and related fundamentals, must be taken within one year after passing the written portion of the qualifying examination, and will be evaluated by the student’s Qualifying Examination Committee. Additional details are described in the Department’s Graduate Student Handbook.

Final Oral Examination. The final oral defense consists of a public presentation of the dissertation and a closed oral defense. It is administered and evaluated by the student’s Dissertation Committee and covers the dissertation and the general field of the dissertation. The Dissertation Committee must approve the dissertation.

Composition of the Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Committees. It is highly recommended that both committees are composed of the same faculty members (internal and external). For students completing their Dissertation with UTB or SwRI adjoint faculty as their advisors, the committee must include at least one core faculty member from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UTSA. It is also required that at least one member of the committee is external to the program.

Back to Top