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Undergraduate Catalog 2015-2016


College of Computer, Mathematical, & Physical Sciences
1120 John S. Toll Physics Building, 301-405-5979
Chair: T. Einstein (Prof)

The Major

The role of the Physical Sciences Program (PSCI) is to develop skills in the areas of analytic thinking, problem solving, understanding systems, and multidisciplinary perspectives. In a world of increasing technical complexity, knowledge of the physical sciences helps individuals to evaluate scientific claims and to make informed decisions about industrial and medical technology, environmental concerns, intellectual property, etc. The Program helps prepare students for a variety of careers requiring a broad scientific background, including meteorology, earth sciences, scientific computation, science writing/journalism, patent law, military/industrial leadership, technical sales, and public policy.

The Physical Sciences Program consists of a basic set of courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics, followed by a variety of courses chosen from these and related disciplines: astronomy, geology, atmospheric & oceanic sciences, and computer science. Emphasis is placed on a broad program as contrasted with a specialized one.

Students are advised by members of the Physical Sciences Committee. This committee is composed of faculty members from each of the represented disciplines. The selection of a primary advisor depends upon the interest of the students. Usually the student will choose to work with one of the committee members representing the discipline the student has selected as the primary area of concentration to satisfy the distributive requirements of the program. Two secondary area advisors are also required.

Program Learning Outcomes

Students are expected to fully engage with the curriculum and the opportunities presented for learning and research. Having completed the degree program, students should have acquired the following knowledge and skills:

  • Analytic thinking and problem solving skills in a variety of areas of the Physical Sciences.
  • Advanced levels of knowledge in three areas of concentration within the Physical Sciences.
  • Preparation to enter the workforce in careers that require a broad scientific background.

Admission to the Major

The Physical Sciences Program is not a Limited Enrollment Program.  However, students must submit a program application and have it approved by the Physical Sciences Program Committee prior to graduating.  The Committee is made up of the following faculty and staff:

Astronomy: G. Deming
Chemistry: M. Montague-Smith
Computer Science: B. Adams
Geology: J. Merck
Mathematics: I. Chan
Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences: T. Canty
Physics: T. Einstein
Advisor: T. Gleason

Approval of Program Plans

All students must submit a program plan outlining what courses they plan to take to complete their program. These should include both the core courses and the distributive 300-400 level courses of 24 credits beyond the core.

In preparing such a program plan, students should keep in mind that the Physical Sciences Committee will look for courses that will support the purpose or goals of the program. These plans should be submitted as early as possible, normally no later than the beginning of the junior year. This is important because it will provide students with sufficient time to plan an appropriate program. The program plans will be approved by the Physical Sciences Committee and filed in the Dean's Office. Any changes to the plan must be approved in writing by the student's advisor and the Chairperson.

Students planning to use any of the special topics, or special programs topics courses (including PHYS 318) as part of their Physical Sciences requirement must obtain written approval to do so. Many of these special topics courses are intended for non-science students and are not suitable for Physical Sciences majors.

In preparing a program plan, students should keep in mind that certain other courses are also not considered suitable for a Physical Sciences major. In particular, courses at lower levels than the core courses designed primarily for non-sciences students may be disallowed. Contact the Program Advisor for specific details.

Requirements for the Major

The curriculum of the Physical Sciences Program has a high degree of flexibility to allow selection of courses to meet the interests and goals of the individual student. To earn a Bachelor of Science degree in the Physical Sciences Program, a student must satisfactorily complete the following requirements:

1. Basic Requirements. Courses are required in four foundational disciplines.

a. Chemistry: CHEM135 and CHEM132 or 136 (4 credits)
b. Mathematics: MATH140, 141 and one other math course for which MATH141 is a prerequisite (11 or 12 credits)
c. Physics: PHYS161, 260, 261, 270, 271 (11 credits) or PHYS171, 174, 272, 273, 275, 276 (14 credits). Students desiring a strong background in physics should take the 171-276 sequence, which is required of physics majors and offers much smaller classes than the 161-271 sequence.
d. Computer Science: CMSC106, CMSC122, or CMSC131, or PHYS165, or ENEE114, or ENEE240, or ENEE241. Students who are taking Computer Science as an area of concentration must also complete: CMSC114 or 132, CMSC214 or 212, and CMSC250.
e. Science/Technical Elective (3 or 4 credits): See undergraduate advisor for details

2. Distributive Requirements. Beyond the basic courses, students complete 24 upper level (300-400) distributive credits. All students must complete 18 of the 24 distributive credits as physical sciences majors. The distributive credits must be divided among three areas of concentration with at least 6 credits in each area. The areas of concentration include the disciplines of chemistry, physics, mathematics (including statistics), astronomy, geology, atmospheric & oceanic sciences, or computer science.

3. General Major Requirements. Programs in the Physical Sciences are usually sequential in nature, and students must be careful to satisfy prerequisites in all cases. Students are advised to develop a physical sciences curriculum with the help of the Physical Sciences advisors as soon as possible, but preferably by the end of the sophomore year. All Physical Science students must have a planned program of study approved by the Physical Sciences Committee. In no case shall the committee approve a program which has less than 18 credits in the three distributive areas of the Physical Sciences program to be completed, at the time the program is submitted.  A grade of "C-" or better must be earned in all program courses (basic prerequisite and distributive requirement courses).

4. General Education. The requirements of the general education program are described in Chapter 5 of this catalog.

5. Elective Requirements. In addition to meeting the requirements stated above, each physical sciences student must plan a sufficient number of elective courses to meet the minimum 120 credits needed for graduation.  Certain courses offered in the fields included in the program are not suitable for Physical Science majors and cannot count as part of the requirements of the program. These include any courses corresponding to a lower level than the basic courses specified above (e.g. MATH115), some of the special topics courses designed for non-science students, as well as other courses. See department for a list of excluded courses.

Other Requirements for the Major

Students must complete all courses required for the major with a grade of "C-" or higher.

Science Journalism Specialization

Science and technology are major and ever-growing forces in our economy, and science related issues are prominent among forefront public-policy issues regularly encountered in the mass media and in the political arena. Thus, there is a great need for journalists with training in science. The Science Journalism specialization offers a broad but rigorous background in science as well as strong journalism training.

  1. Basic requirements as described above.
  2. Upper-level Distributive Requirements: Beyond the basic courses, students complete 21 upper level (300-400) distributive credits. All students must complete 18 of the 21 distributive credits as physical sciences majors. The distributive credits must be divided among three areas of concentration with at least 6 credits in each area as described above.
  3. In addition, students taking the Science Journalism specialization are required to complete the following lower- and upper-level courses in Journalism:
    JOUR201: News Writing and Reporting (3)-requires JOUR100: Professional Orientation (1) as a prerequisite
    JOUR202: News Editing (3)
    JOUR300: Journalism Ethics (3)
    JOUR320: News Writing and Reporting II: Print (3) Or: JOUR360: News Writing and Reporting II: Broadcast (3)
    JOUR380: Science Writing for News Media (3)
    JOUR399: Supervised Internship (1)
    JOUR400: Media Law (3)
  4. The Physical Sciences Committee believes that good preparation for Science Journalism in today's world should include a substantial exposure to introductory biology, such as provided in BSCI105-106: Principals of Biology I and II (both 4 credits); thus, these two courses are strongly recommended. Students should consult early with the PSCI advisor to set up a schedule of courses that includes BSCI105-106 in a way that proceeds efficiently through the lower-level PSCI requirements while avoiding a semester with 15 credits of science courses or with several courses having time consuming labs and computer projects.
  5. The regular University requirements for graduation apply. 


Advising for undergraduates is available throughout the year in Room 1120 PHY. Students should also consult with the committee members for their areas of concentration.  For early registration, advising is mandatory; students should check Testudo for their early registration date and should email ugrad@physics.umd.edu for information about signing up for appointments. Students who have been away more than two years may find that due to curriculum changes the courses they have taken may no longer be adequate preparation for the courses required to complete the major. Students in this situation must meet with the Program Advisor to make appropriate plans.

Honors Program

The Physical Sciences Honors Program offers students the opportunity for research and independent study, and will lead to a BS degree with Honors or High Honors. The requirements are:

a)  Overall grade point average of 3.0 or better.

b)  Physical Sciences courses grade point average of 3.2 or better.

c)  An independent study course in the Physical Sciences Program - three credit minimum which may be distributed over two semesters (e.g. Astronomy 399 or 498, Chemistry 399, Computer Science 498, Geology 499, Mathematics 498, Meteorology 499 and Physics 399 or 499B).

d)  An honors thesis summarizing independent research submitted to the Physical Sciences Committee.

e)  An oral examination concerning thesis and related subjects. The thesis advisor and two other faculty members (at least one a member of the Physical Sciences Committee) will comprise the examining committee.


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