Faculty of Arts & Science
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Physics and Astronomy at Queen's University

Physics & Astronomy

Stirling Hall
Room number: 
Department Head: 
M. Dignam

Undergraduate Studies Chair: Mark Chen
Graduate Studies Co-ordinator: Martin J. Duncan

The Department of Physics at Queen’s is one of Canada’s leading teaching and research institutes in Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy. Our faculty include high-profile, world-class physicists and astronomerswho work on cutting edge areas of computational, applied and experimental physics.

Our students will learn in an engaging environment with the opportunity to conduct research in state-of-the-art laboratories, including inter-disciplinary research as well as projects involving international collaborators.

Students in Honours Physics can major in the subject and have the option to pursue a Specialization degree plan in Physics, Astrophysics and Mathematical Physics.

On top of many admissions scholarships and bursaries offered by Queen’s, the Physics Department awards three Carl Reinhardt Scholarships each year, with $4,000 value.

Degree Options

Bachelor of Science (Honours) - BScH

Specialization in Physics
An intensive course of study with approximately two-thirds of your courses within the discipline.

Specialization in Astrophysics
An intensive course of study with approximately two-thirds of your courses within the discipline.

Specialization in Mathematical Physics
An intensive course of study with approximately two-thirds of your courses within the discipline.

Major in Physics
A major is an intensive course of study in one discipline, with approximately half of your courses within the discipline with room for an optional minor in any other Arts and Science discipline.

Minor in Physics
A minor is a less intensive course of study in the discipline that must be combined with a major in another discipline.

Bachelor of Science - BSc or Bachelor of Arts - BA

General in Physics
A less intense course of study leading to a 3-year degree.

Full list of Undergraduate Degree Plans at Queen's University

Graduate Degree Options

Physics - MSc
Physics - PhD

First Year Courses

PHYS 104/6.0 and PHYS 106/6.0 are intended for students from the physical and mathematical sciences. Both are calculus-based courses.  PHYS 104/6.0 presents the material at a more fundamental level appropriate for students who are seeking a deeper appreciation of physics and who may be considering a Physics Plan. PHYS 106/6.0 has a somewhat broader curriculum, appropriate for students considering pursuing Plans in other science subjects. A grade of at least C+ in either of these courses is recommended for entry into PHYS 206/3.0, PHYS 239/3.0, and PHYS 242/3.0, which are required courses for most Physics Plans.

PHYS 117/6.0 is designed for students in the biological and life sciences. 4U physics is recommended but not required; neither is a previous or concurrent calculus course although some 4U or equivalent mathematics is required.

PHYS P15/3.0, PHYS P16/3.0, PHYS P20/3.0 and PHYS 216/3.0 are attractive electives for students in other disciplines. PHYS P10/3.0 is intended for students interested in teaching physics. PHYS P10/3.0, PHYS P15/3.0, PHYS P16/3.0 and PHYS P20/3.0 can count toward a Minor(Arts)/General(Arts) in Physics but not towards any other Physics Plan.

Students with A standing in both PHYS 117/6.0 and first-year calculus may be admitted to a Physics Plan (with PHYS 117/6.0 then satisfying the first-year physics core requirement) but only after consultation with, and approval from, the Department.

What it takes to study Physics and Astronomy in your second year >

Click here for the complete list of Courses in Arts and Science

Job and Career Opportunities for Physics and Astronomy Grads

Physics is the study of matter over a very wide range from the astronomical through condensed matter, atomic, subatomic down to fundamental particles. Physics is also the basic science that provides the framework for other natural and applied science such as geophysics, molecular biology, meteorology, oceanography, electronics, electro-optics, materials science and medical physics.

Some of our Physics and Astronomy grads work in the following industries:

  • Acoustics
  • Aerospace
  • Animation
  • Astronomy
  • Astrophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Biophysics
  • Computer Engineering
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Environmental Management
  • Environmental Conservation
  • Financial Modelling
  • Forensic Science
  • Geophysics 
  • Imaging
  • Law
  • Management Consulting
  • Medicine
  • Nanotechnology
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Oceanography
  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Radiology
  • Remote Sensing Software
  • Special Effects
  • Sound Engineering

Career paths for Physics and Astronomy grads handout from Career Services >





Physics Electives Open to Non-Physics Students

PHYS P15/3.0 Astronomy I: The Solar System
Science and technology have radically changed human culture and our view of the Universe in which we live: so much so, that without some appreciation of science and its origins, we cannot be fully-informed members of modern society. Astronomy provides an excellent example of the scientific method at work, in a field that not only excites the imagination, but also drives beneficial technological innovations (for example in computing, electronics, navigation, and scanner technology). This course is suitable for any student, but particularly for those without a strong science background, since it is taught mostly descriptively, with only occasional use of basic mathematics. Despite this, the course is not trivial: it conveys a real understanding of the Solar System in particular -- and of the Universe in general, since the Solar System cannot be fully comprehended other than in its wider spatial and temporal context.

PHYS P16/3.0 Astronomy II: The Active Universe
This course, intended for non-specialist students, will provide an overview of astronomy beyond the Solar System. Topics will include: the formation, nature, and evolution of the stars; stellar deaths, including novae, supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, and black holes; the interstellar medium; the Milky Way Galaxy; normal and active galaxies and large scale structure in the universe; and modern ideas in cosmology and the early universe.

PHYS P20/3.0 Physicists in the Nuclear Age
For those interested in the impact of science on our century. Modern physics, especially nuclear physics, will be introduced by emphasizing the personalities, thoughts and writings of key scientists such as Bohr, Einstein and Rutherford and the ways in which they related to and shaped their political, scientific and social environments. Enrolment is limited.

PHYS 104/6.0  Fundamental Physics
PHYS 104/6.0 is an advanced course in fundamental physics, primarily designed for those students who intend to pursue a Physics or Astrophysics Plan.  Even if they are not intending to study Mathematics or Physics at an upper-year level, students with a strong interest or background in physics (particularly those planning to study Mathematics and Statistics, Chemistry, Geology or Computing) are encouraged to consider this course.  Any student intending to pursue a Plan in Physics or Astrophysics should choose this course.  It is also a good elective for any Arts or Science student.

PHYS 106/6.0  General Physics
PHYS 106/6.0 is a course in fundamental physics, primarily designed for students who intend to pursue a science discipline other than Physics or Astrophysics.  Students who are planning to pursue a Plan in Mathematics, Statistics, Chemistry, Computing, or Geology in upper-years should take this course and MATH 121/6.0 or MATH 120/6.0.  Students who are intending to study any of Biology, Biochemistry or Life Sciences, especially those with a Grade 12 Physics background, are strongly encouraged to consider this course instead of PHYS 117/6.0.  If you are undecided as to what Plan you will pursue in upper-years at this time, you should choose this course.  It is a good elective for any student in Arts or Science.

PHYS 117/6.0 Introductory Physics
PHYS 117/6.0 is an introductory course in physics which is largely algebra based and MATH 4U is required.  Students without 4U MATH should not attempt this course. Students who are planning to pursue a Plan in Biology, Biochemistry or Life Sciences in upper-years should take this course, or PHYS 106/6.0. Students intending to study other science disciplines should not take this course, and instead take PHYS 104/6.0 or PHYS 106/6.0.

High School Requirements for Admission

Arts Concentrations: 4U Advanced Functions and 4U Calculus and Vectors and 4U Physics or recognized equivalents required

Science Concentrations:
4U Advanced Functions and 4U Calculus and Vectors and 4U Physics or recognized equivalents required; 4U Chemistry or recognized equivalent is recommended (and is required for Specialization plans in Astrophysics and Physics).

Graduate Studies in Physics

The Physics and Astronomy department provides exciting opportunities for graduate students to study in many stimulating research environments. In addition to a large number of high-profile professors, they have recently recruited many new world-class physicists who are setting up exceptional research programs in cutting-edge areas of theoretical, applied and experimental physics.

The Department of Physics at Queen's University is one of the leading Physics research institutes in Canada. The research carried out by undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff occurs both on campus, as well as at external facilities such as the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, the Cancer Centre of Southeast Ontario, the HPCVL supercomputer and astronomical observatories around the world. Research is broadly categorized into 4 groups:

Before applying, you are encouraged to visit the websites of the Research Faculty (see under ‘Research Groups) and consider the research areas that interest you.

Applications to the graduate program are handled by the School of Graduate Studies. Application procedures and online forms can be found by visiting their website.

When your application is complete it will be forwarded to the Department and reviewed by all faculty members in the research fields you have indicated. If at least one faculty member wishes to have you join his or her group, then the Department will recommend to the Graduate School that you be admitted into graduate studies.

If accepted into our Graduate program, students are guaranteed the following minimum stipends:

  •  M.Sc. or M.A.Sc.: $24,250 p.a. for a two year period
  •  Ph.D. : $25,450 p.a. for a four year period

The stipend is made up of funding you receive as a TA (teaching assistant), as well as internal fellowships and bursaries and support from your supervisor. The amounts represent the minimum; stipends can range up to ~$30,000 if students are awarded external scholarships (NSERC, OGS, etc). Incoming students holding an NSERC, PGSM and PGSD receive an additional $5000 for their first year, on top of their regular stipend. Graduate tuition fees for domestic (Canadian and landed immigrant) students are typically ~$6000. International student fees are ~$11,400. The department will provide a tuition bursary of $5,000 to international students to bring their fees to approximately the same level as domestic students.

Research in Physics

Students in the Astrophysics and Astronomy program can carry out observational research programs at leading astronomical facilities around the world. There are a broad array of research topics. The fields of interest within the group include:

  •   cosmology
  •   dark matter
  •   general relativity
  •   galaxy structure and formation
  •   globular cluster systems
  •   the interstellar medium
  •   stellar atmospheres and evolution
  •   stellar populations
  •   solar system dynamics

Queen's Condensed Matter Physics and Optics is the largest group in the department, combining strengths in condensed matter physics and light-matter interactions. In condensed matter physics, the objectives are to provide understanding of the enormously rich behaviour of condensed matter systems under a wide variety of conditions. Systems consist of combinations of the hundred or so elements in the form of solids, quantum dots, small clusters, liquids, and dense gases, and in which the multitude of constituent parts are all interacting with one another. They exist under conditions of temperature ranging from the very lowest imaginable, at which superconductivity and superfluidity occurs, to the boiling point. The application of external fields to the systems allows us to probe the system, studying the electrical and thermal transport, magnetic properties and optical interactions. A growing strength within the group is in optics research and light-matter interactions in optical materials and nanostructures, covering a range of research topics including quantum optics, nanophotonics, spintronics, organic LEDs, scanning probes, and ultrafast nonlinear optics.

Queen's has a rich and varied history in engineering and applied physics. Research in the group covers a wide range of topics, with the common theme of using basic science and physics to improve the quality of life and to solve current or future problems facing people both in Canada and worldwide. This research spans areas of photonics, quantum information technology, medical physics, non-destructive evaluation, materials physics, electronic device physics, and plasma physics. Most of our faculty are registered engineers and many have worked in industry and start-up companies. Theoretical & Computational Research areas include: Nanophotonics, light-matter interactions, nano-devices, semiconductor optoelectronics, computational electrodynamics, quantum information technologies. Experimental Research areas include: Glancing angle deposition, optics of anisotropic thin films and materials, nanoscale electronics and mechanics, organic and polymer light-emitting devices, small-angle x-ray scattering, ultrasonic imaging, clinical cancer care, radiation physics, non-destructive stress evaluation.

The Queen's Particle Astrophysics group is a world leader in the field, and pursues questions that are found at the intersection of astrophysics and particle physics. Questions such as: 

  • What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?
  • How have the properties of particles, like the neutrino, shaped the evolution of the universe? 
  • What are cosmic rays and what accelerates them?
  • Are protons stable?
  • Are there additional space-time dimensions?

Department Student Council

The Department of Physics has a student-run Physics Club, a Department Student Council and a student lounge and study areas.

Queen's Observatory

The first Queen's Observatory was established in the mid-19th century, the beginning of a long and distinguished history of astronomical observing at Queen's University. The current Observatory houses a 14-inch reflecting telescope in a dome on the roof of Ellis Hall, used primarily for student training and public demonstrations. 

There are public tours and school tours. For more detailed information on tours and programs, please visit the website for more information at www.observatory.phy.queensu.ca.

Alumni Profile

Dr. Ted Hsu graduated from Queen’s in 1984 (B.Sc., Honours Physics). He proceeded to complete his Ph.D. in Physics at Princeton University in 1989. Ted changed career directions to work as an equities trader and financial manager in Paris and Philadelphia for Banque Nationale de Paris, and served as executive director in the Tokyo office of Morgan Stanley. He returned to Canada and Kingston, becoming the executive director of SWITCH, a not-for-profit that promotes job creation and investment in sustainable energy before entering politics and being elected as a Member of Parliament in 2011. MP for Kingston and the Islands, Dr. Ted Hsu (ArtSci ’84) parliamentarians from all parties as the MP who “Best Represents Constituents”. MP for Kingston and the Islands, Dr. Ted Hsu (ArtSci ’84)


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