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A 2 + 2 Plan Leading to a
Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics


All degree requirements are subject to the provisions and notices in the NIU Undergraduate Catalog.  Information is valid through August 2015.


B.S. Degree in Physics

Physics at NIU

The Department of Physics at Northern Illinois University offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Most of the faculty members in the department teach undergraduate courses, and graduate students serve as teaching and laboratory assistants when appropriate. The physics department at NIU has the advantage of being a small department at a large university. Because of its small size, the physics department offers its students more personal attention than is possible in larger departments. For example, the average class size for junior and senior courses in the physics department is fewer than 15 students. The department also has an active physics club that sponsors laboratory tours, invited speakers, and social events.

Physics majors at NIU have a wide variety of facilities available for their use, including computers, a machine shop, an observatory with a 14-inch diameter telescope, and the science library. Other research equipment is also available to students for laboratory courses and independent research projects. New equipment is added yearly, and inquiries can be made in the departmental office or with the department's computing system manager to determine what is currently available for use.

The primary research and service specialties within the department are elementary particle physics, beams physics, materials science, and the teaching of science. Particle physics (or high energy physics) studies the basic forces and particles in nature while materials science studies “bulk” properties of a large number of particles, such as in a crystalline solid. In addition to helping teachers improve their skills and knowledge, science education involves exploring ways in which technology can be used to improve the communication of information and thus aid in understanding science. The department also has a number of faculty members with strong interests in physics education. Interested students are invited to become members of the NIU chapter of the National Science Teacher Association. In addition, twelve current or former members of the physics faculty have been named University Research Professors.

Two national laboratories, Fermilab and Argonne, are located within an hour's drive of NIU. Most of the department's faculty collaborate with physicists at these national labs and utilize equipment there. Some staff members from Fermilab and Argonne teach courses at NIU and occasionally supervise the research efforts of our graduate students.

Why Physics?

Physics is the science that investigates and attempts to explain the physical universe. The study of physics ranges from the very small to the very large. At the small scale, physicists study the particles out of which all matter is made and the interactions between them. Among the particles are familiar ones, such as electrons and protons, and those less familiar, like neutrinos and quarks. In the middle of the scale, physics studies ordinary objects. Much research is being done on the properties of materials, from simple crystals to complicated materials such as high temperature superconductors. At the large end of the scale, physicists study the origin and structure of stars, galaxies, and the entire cosmos.

Physics majors learn the physical laws that explain the working of the universe and that are the foundation of our technology. Students also learn how to apply these laws to different situations. In applying the laws of physics to solve physics problems, students get training in analytical skills and laboratory methods. A knowledge of physics is valuable in the job market, and many employers are looking for the problem-solving skills that a major in physics can develop.

A B.S. degree in physics can lead to a variety of postgraduate careers. It is the usual prerequisite to enrolling in graduate school in physics. An undergraduate degree in physics can also lead to medical school or graduate work in engineering or business. It is an especially appropriate degree for a joint Ph.D./M.D. in medical physics or related research areas in medicine. Finally, a B.S. in physics can be a terminal degree leading to employment in a number of applied physics fields in both private industry and government or, with appropriate certification in education, employment as a secondary school science teacher.

Research and Teaching Opportunities

The department provides a number of research and teaching opportunities for students. NIU offers special courses for credit, research positions for undergraduate students, and opportunities for teaching and tutoring.

PHYS 459 and PHYS 499H allow students to conduct independent research projects. Some recent projects have been directly related to faculty members' own research (such as computer modeling of electron diffraction patterns), while others have been of the student's own choosing (such as measurements of the orbits of Jupiter's moon). Students interested in this course need the prior approval of a faculty member to sponsor them. The student and professor decide on the research topic and work out an appropriate set of goals.

Students can also become involved with faculty research programs. Faculty members appreciate the efforts of undergraduate students and regularly have funds available to employ students. As an example, during the past five years the particle physics group has employed more than 50 undergraduates. The students have worked on building charged particle detectors, designing and testing electronics, and analyzing data collected from various Fermilab experiments. Due to NIU's close proximity to Fermilab, such work can be done both part-time during the academic year and full­time during the summer.

Students also have the opportunity to apply for a Science and Engineering Research Semester at the nearby Argonne National Laboratory, where they will participate in ongoing research projects with Argonne scientific staff members. Some of this work is transferable for academic credit at NIU.

The physics department hires several junior and senior physics majors each year as laboratory aides and as tutors. These opportunities are especially appropriate for students planning on entering the teaching profession. Laboratory aides help in the teaching laboratories, while tutors work with students individually or in small groups. In addition to the valuable experience gained, students are paid as hourly employees of the department. Students interested in teaching can take PHYS 495 for credit.

Suggested Curriculum

NIU participates in the Illinois Articulation Initiative, designed to help students transfer credit from community colleges. The website for the IAI is at and has more details on the method to transfer courses. For students interested in physics at NIU the following courses are recommended before transferring:

General Education 38-41 Semester Hours
Communication (including equivalents to
COMS 100, ENGL 103 and ENGL 104)
Mathematics (select Calculus I - equivalent to MATH 229) 4-5
Physical Science (select General Chemistry I with lab -
equivalent to CHEM 210T/CHEM 212)
Life Sciences 3-4
Humanities and Fine Arts 9
Social and Behavioral Science
(including equivalent to PSYC 102)
Supporting Science and Mathematics Courses 13-19
General Chemistry II with lab
(equivalent to CHEM 211T/CHEM 213)
Calculus II (equivalent to MATH 230) 3-5
Calculus III (equivalent to MATH 232) 3-5
Differential Equations (equivalent to MATH 336) 3-4


Physics Core Courses 10-14
Calculus-based Physics I--Mechanics
(equivalent to PHYS 253)
Calculus-based Physics II--Electricity and Magnetism
(equivalent to PHYS 273)
Introductory Quantum Physics (equivalent to PHYS 283).

Note that the introductory physics sequence varies at different institutions, and the third semester is not well standardized; check with the physics department before taking the third semester of the introductory sequence elsewhere to ensure that it is in fact equivalent to PHYS 283.

Students without these recommended courses may need more than two years to complete a B.S. in physics at NIU.  Students who have taken Introductory Quantum Physics without a lab are required to take a 1 semester hour lab course (PHYS 284) during the spring of their first year at NIU.

NIU offers three emphases to students: professional physics, secondary school teaching, and applied physics. All of these require a core curriculum usually taken during the junior year:

Schedule valid for Fall 2014 and Spring 2015

Fall Spring 
 Electives  11-14 PHYS 370 3
PHYS 300 3 PHYS 374 3
PHYS 383 4
Electives 4-7
  14-17   14-17

Schedule valid for Fall 2015 and after

Fall Spring 
 PHYS 320  3 PHYS 370 3
PHYS 300  3 PHYS 374 3
PHYS 375  3 PHYS 383 4
Electives 8-11 Electives 4-7
  14-17   14-17

Elective credits are used to complete courses not taken at the community college and to fulfill requirements for the specific emphasis. Seniors are required to take PHYS 498, for 1 semester hour during their last semester; honors students take PHYS 499H, for 3 semester hours, instead.  A more detailed description of the electives needed for each emphasis can be found at the physics department website at with a link to the undergraduate academic program.

For students interested in high school teaching, including a semester for student teaching, the following two years are recommended. Some of the elective hours will be used to meet ISBE requirements for an endorsement in a field of teaching in addition to physics.

Year 3

Fall Spring 
PHYS 490 2 LTIC 420 3
PHYS 300 3 PHYS 493 3
Elective 3 PHYS 370 3
PHYS 367 3 PHYS 383 3
PHYS 394 2 ILAS 301 2
EPS 406 2 PHYS 374 3
ILAS 201 1   17

 Year 4

Fall Spring 
PHYS 320 3 PHYS 497 7-12
PHYS 495 3  PHYS 496 2
PHYS 498 or 499 1-3    
PHYS 401 1    
SESE 457 3    
Interdisciplinary Studies 3    
  14-16    9-12

Minimum 120 total; 40 at the 300-400 level


For More Information

Department of Physics
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115


For a current NIU Undergraduate Catalog and application materials, contact:

Office of Admissions
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, Illinois 60115-­2857
(800) 892­-3050 (toll-free in Illinois)
or (815) 753-­0446


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