Course Requirements for Degree

Each student is required to demonstrate proficiency in a broad range of fields of physics by obtaining honor grades (B- or better) in at least eight half-courses: a minimum of four core courses and an additional four elective courses. 

Core courses

  • Advanced Quantum Mechanics I [Physics 251A]
  • and Advanced Quantum Mechanics II [Physics 251B]
  • and Advanced Electromagnetism [Physics 232] or Modern Optics and Quantum Electronics [Applied Physics 216] or Optics and Photonics [Engineering Sciences/Applied Physics 273]
  • and Statistical Physics [Physics 262] or Statistical Thermodynamics [Applied Physics 284].

Elective courses

Four additional half-courses drawn from the following list, with at most two half-courses in any one field. Note: not all courses listed are given every year, and course offerings, numbers, and contents sometimes change. Students therefore should occasionally confer with their advisors or with the chair of the Committee on Higher Degrees about their programs of study.

Particle Physics, Field Theory, String Theory, and Mathematical Physics:

  • Relativistic Quantum Mechanics with Applications [Physics 245]
  • Phenomena of Elementary Particle Physics [Physics 248]
  • Quantum Field Theory I [Physics 253A]
  • Quantum Field Theory II [Physics 253B]
  • Quantum Field Theory III [Physics 253C]
  • Group Theory with Application to Particle Physics [Physics 264]
  • Beyond the Standard Model [Physics 283B]
  • The Standard Model [Physics 283R]
  • Introduction to String Theory [Physics 287A]
  • Topics in String Theory [Physics 287BR]
  • Supersymmetry and Invariants [Physics 289R]

Condensed Matter Physics:

  • Introduction to Soft Matter [Applied Physics 225]
  • Topics in Bose-Einstein Condensation and Superfluidity [Physics 266]
  • Classical and Quantum Phase Transitions [Physics 268R]
  • Mesoscopic Physics and Quantum Information Processing [Physics 270]
  • Topics in Condensed Matter Physics [Physics 298R]
  • Solids: Structure and Defects [Applied Physics 282]
  • Kinetics of Condensed Phase Processes [Applied Physics 292]
  • Introduction to Quantum Theory of Solids [Applied Physics 295A]
  • Quantum Theory of Solids [Applied Physics 295B]
  • Superconductivity [Applied Physics 296R]
  • Materials Chemistry and Physics: Seminar [Applied Physics 298R]
  • Quantum Technology [Engineering Sciences 274]

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) Physics:

  • Photons and Atoms [Physics 265]
  • Topics in Experimental Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics [Physics 265R]
  • Topics in the Physics of Quantum Information [Physics 271; formerly Physics 287]
  • Modern Atomic and Optical Physics I [Physics 285A]
  • Modern Atomic and Optical Physics II [Physics 285B]
  • Modern Optics and Quantum Electronics [Applied Physics 216] (if Physics 232 or Engineering Sciences 273 is used as a core course)
  • Applications of Modern Optics [Applied Physics 217]
  • Optics and Photonics [Engineering Sciences 273] (if Physics 232 or Applied Physics 216 is used as a core course)

Relativity and Astrophysics:

  • General Theory of Relativity [Physics 210]
  • General Relativity, Cosmology, and Other Topics [Physics 211]
  • Any 200-level Astronomy course

Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Applied Mathematics:

  • Data Analysis for Physicists [Physics 201]
  • Modern Dynamical Systems [Physics 218]
  • Advanced Electromagnetism [Physics 232] (if Applied Physics 216 or Engineering Sciences 273 is used as a core course)
  • Physical Mathematics I [Applied Mathematics 201]
  • Physical Mathematics II [Applied Mathematics 202]
  • Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos [Applied Mathematics 203]
  • Introduction to Disordered Systems and Stochastic Processes [Applied Mathematics 203]
  • Practical Scientific Computing [Applied Mathematics 205]
  • Advanced Scientific Computing: Stochastic Optimization Methods [Applied Mathematics 207]
  • Elementary Functional Analysis [Applied Mathematics 210]
  • Numerical Solution of Differential Equations [Applied Mathematics 212]
  • Fundamentals of Biological Signal Processing [Applied Mathematics 215]
  • Inverse Problems in Science and Engineering [Applied Mathematics 216]
  • Stochastic Modeling [Applied Mathematics 222]
  • Fluid Dynamics [Engineering Sciences 220]
  • Topics in Biological Fluid Dynamics [Engineering Sciences 225]
  • Solid Mechanics [Engineering Sciences 240]
  • Fracture Mechanics [Engineering Sciences 247]
  • Deformation of Solids [Applied Physics 293]
  • Advanced Elasticity [Engineering Sciences 241]
  • Plasticity [Engineering Sciences 246]
  • Computing Foundations for Computational Science [Computer Science 205]
  • Data Science [Applied Computation 209]
  • Extreme Computing [Applied Computation 290]
  • Introduction to Distributed Computing [Computer Science 262]
  • Information Theory [Engineering Sciences 250]
  • Statistical Interference [Statistics 211]

Laboratory Electronics, Fabrication, and Device Physics

  • Electronics for Scientists [Physics 223]
  • Topics in Mixed-Signal Integrated Circuits [Engineering Sciences 271R]
  • RF and High-Speed Integrated Circuits [Engineering Sciences 272]
  • Electron Microscopy Laboratory [Applied Physics 291]
  • Microfabrication Laboratory [Engineering Sciences 277]

Biological and Medical Physics:

  • Advanced Neural Signal Processing [Engineering Sciences 218]
  • Physics-related courses at the 200-level from Biophysics and Biology offerings.

Earth and Planetary Physics:

  • Physics-related courses at the 200-level in Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Other Fields:

A student may use 200-level courses or fields not on this list with the approval of the Committee on Higher Degrees. In place of demonstrating proficiency by satisfactory course performance, a student may demonstrate proficiency by an oral examination, by submitting evidence of satisfactory work in appropriate courses taken at other institutions, or by other means deemed satisfactory by the Committee on Higher Degrees. Students wishing to utilize this option should submit a petition to the Committee on Higher Degrees before the end of their first year of Harvard graduate school. The general requirements outlined above are a minimum standard and students will usually take additional courses in their selected fields and in other fields. A student need not fulfill these requirements before beginning research. As a result of an exchange agreement between the universities, graduate students in physics at Harvard may also enroll in lecture courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The procedure is outlined under "Cross-Registration into Courses Offered by Other Faculties" in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.

Adequate laboratory experience is a required part of the PhD program for all students who do not submit a thesis that demonstrates experimental proficiency. Students may satisfy this requirement in any one of the following ways:

  • by taking the Laboratory Course in Contemporary Physics [Physics 247R],
  • or by submitting documentation of equivalent laboratory experience,
  • or by taking an oral examination on an experimental topic,
  • or, for students planning on completing a thesis in a topic in astrophysics, by taking the Astrophysics Laboratory [Astronomy 191].

Students who wish to fulfill this requirement by equivalent laboratory experience, or by taking an oral examination, or by taking the Astronomy Laboratory should obtain approval of the Committee on Higher Degrees no later than the end of the third year of residence.