The Applied Physics option was instituted in 1970 in order to provide an interdivisional program for undergraduate and graduate students at Caltech interested in the study of both pure and applied physics. The small size of Caltech, coupled with its strength in the basic sciences and engineering, has made it possible for faculty and students alike to pursue wide-ranging interests in the application of modern physics to the development of new technology. Research efforts in applied physics are driven by a fundamental understanding of the physical principles underlying applications and a strong motivation to use this knowledge to invent new experimental techniques, processes, devices and materials. Core and affiliate faculty spanning several divisions on campus participate in instruction and research leading to B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in applied physics.
This program is designed for undergraduate and graduate students who wish to expand their training beyond the study of fundamental physics to include research and development of real-world applications. The training helps develop a solid foundation in physics through introductory courses in classical physics, classical electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and mathematical physics. More advanced training is provided through coursework and research activities in solid state physics, electromagnetic wave propagation, optoelectronic materials and devices, transport phenomena in hydrodynamic and condensed matter systems, plasma physics, biological physics, semiconductor principles and devices, quantum electronics, and low-dimensional electronic systems.
Students are encouraged early on to develop strong experimental skills for advanced laboratory work, including familiarity with numerical computation for data and image analysis and software packages for instrument automation. There exist many learning opportunities along these lines, from courses in microfabrication and laboratory work to independent research opportunities with various research groups. Undergraduate students are encouraged to explore and will find numerous opportunities for developing their research interests into junior or senior thesis projects leading to publication.
Research in applied physics covers a broad spectrum of activities distributed across campus. Instructional and research activities of the core faculty are housed in the Thomas J. Watson, Sr. Laboratories of Applied Physics, a 40,000-square-foot building with state-of-the-art research laboratories, a central microfabrication facility, faculty and student offices, and a conference room and instructional classroom, all nestled around a beautiful courtyard with a fountain pool.
Additional research laboratories and faculty and student offices are located in the Harry G. Steele Laboratory of Electrical Sciences, built in 1965 with funds from the Harry G. Steele Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The building, which is connected by an overhead bridge to the Watson Laboratories, conveniently also houses the Kavli Nanoscience Institute.