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Why Major in Physics?

The goal of physics is to understand the behavior of matter and energy on every level, from the origins of the universe in the Big Bang to the interior of atoms in your computer screen. In seeking a pure understanding of how the world works, physicists have revolutionized our lives.

Some of the physics driven achievements of the 20th century include:

  • Electrical power
  • Radio, television, and cellular communication
  • Travel to the moon and planets
  • The transistor and the electronic revolution, including computers and networks
  • The world-wide web: invented to facilitate communication among high energy physicists
  • Medical imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound, positron emission tomography, and endoscopes
  • The discovery of the Big Bang, black holes, and the accelerating expansion of the universe

Despite this remarkable record of achievement, great mysteries remain and fundamental physics research continues at a furious pace. Here are some of the questions now being pursued by physicists at the University of Michigan:

  • Can practical quantum computers be built? How would they outperform today’s digital computers?
  • What is the origin of mass? Why do electrons and quarks have the masses that they do?
  • What is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate, and will it continue to do so forever?
  • How does the mechanical stretchiness of proteins like DNA affect their biological function?
  • What causes electrons to flow with absolutely no resistance in some materials?

In all these areas of research, the faculty are assisted by undergraduate students, who in addition to learning about physics in class, are doing physics in the lab.

Many physics students have broad interests and more than a third graduate with double majors. Common companion majors in recent years include mathematics, astronomy and astrophysics, education, philosophy, and music.