Best universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees 2019

Find the best universities for physics, chemistry and maths using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data

November 7 2018
chemist, chemistry, science, research

The study of physical science covers a number of science degrees, including mathematics, chemistry and earth science, in addition to the obvious – physics and astronomy.

The best universities for studying physics, maths, chemistry and related subjects feature in a Times Higher Education ranking of 963 universities.

US universities take 156 places in the ranking, and they dominate the top 10.


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Only three institutions in the top 10 are not in the US: the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the UK, and ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

Switzerland, home to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern), the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, is well represented in the ranking, with nine institutions overall. Other countries that make a strong showing include China (63 universities), the UK (59), Japan (53), Germany (41) and Canada (26).

The ranking uses the same methodology as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019 but with adjusted weightings; more weight is given to citations and less to teaching and research. The full methodology can be found here.

Scroll down for a full list of degrees covered by the ranking and what you can do with them.


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Top five universities for physics, chemistry and maths

1. Princeton University

The physics department at Princeton University aims to impart knowledge of the physical universe and to train students to think like a physicist – encompassing intuition, the scientific method, approximation and problem-solving skills.

Programmes on offer include engineering, physics, biophysics, computational biology and other more traditional physics courses.

In the department of chemistry, undergraduates are taught in small classes and progress to an independent senior thesis project. Students receive direct attention from faculty members throughout their course.

About 1,400 undergraduates enrol in a mathematics class every year at Princeton, learning the basics of mathematical proof, calculus and number theory before progressing to more complex subjects.

Graduate studies in mathematics focus on independent research from the beginning of the programme, unlike many other doctoral courses in the US.

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In the past few years, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has produced the largest number of physics graduates of any university in the US.

The physics department is accordingly fairly large, with about 75 faculty members and almost 300 undergraduate students and 300 postgraduate students.

Since 1998, four alumni of MIT physics programmes have won Nobel prizes for their work.

Freshman physics courses are taught using an educational initiative known as “technology-enabled active learning”.

All undergraduates take maths classes as part of their degree, and many choose to major or minor in the subject.

Doctoral studies at MIT lead to a doctor of philosophy or a doctor of science degree, although these are equivalent in terms of degree status.

Mathematics graduate students are admitted to applied or pure maths degrees, and applied maths students are encouraged to take classes in other departments, such as engineering.

3. Stanford University

About half of all undergraduates at Stanford University take at least one physics course as part of their studies.

These courses serve as essential training for science and engineering majors. The department offers introductory courses aimed at non-technical majors in addition to highly specialised classes.

Studying chemistry at Stanford is also popular, with a specific track for chemical physics for those students with a strong physics and maths background.

Students can major or minor in maths, and they have the opportunity to participate in an annual maths contest with cash prizes for excellent scores and for outstanding performances by women.

There are many streams for graduates studying physical sciences, from applied physics to biophysical chemistry. PhD programmes take about six years to complete.


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4. Harvard University

About 50 physics majors graduate from Harvard University every year, not counting related degrees such as chemistry and mathematics.

Undergraduates can take advantage of a flexible course structure. Compared with other science majors, the physics course has few compulsory classes. Many students, therefore, choose to combine a physics major with maths, astronomy, history of science or chemistry.

Even at undergraduate level, students can carry out research projects independently and work as teaching assistants in some classes.

There is an active social and support community that organises buddies for new students, recreational events and extracurricular lectures in which students have the chance to interact informally with faculty.

For graduate students, the primary areas of research at Harvard are high-energy particle physics, atomic and molecular physics, physics of solids and fluids, astrophysics, nuclear physics, statistical mechanics, quantum optics, mathematical physics, quantum field theory, string theory and relativity.

5. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has a long and distinguished history of training and research in physical sciences. Famous names including Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and, more recently, Stephen Hawking, have all been associated with the university.

Undergraduates must apply for a specific degree course, unlike at US universities, where majors are declared after the first year of study.

The natural sciences course covers most biological and physical science subjects, allowing specialisation from the second year in physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and other specific disciplines.

Maths is a separate degree course, often considered one of the most demanding programmes. Maths students are nicknamed “mathmos” and undertake the course in three parts, progressing from set theory to quantum mechanics.

For most physical sciences graduate students, the famous Cavendish Laboratory is a centre for physics research and takes in about 75 students each year. Postgraduate programmes include physics doctorates and master’s degrees in scientific computing, nanoscience and computational methods.


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Best universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees 2019

Click each institution to view its THE World University Rankings 2019 profile

Physical Sciences Rank 2019  Physical Sciences Rank 2018 University Country/Region
 1  1 Princeton University United States
 2  4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
 3  3 Stanford University United States
 4  2 Harvard University United States
 5  5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
 6  7 California Institute of Technology United States
 7  6 University of Oxford United Kingdom
 8  8 ETH Zurich Switzerland
 9  12 University of California, Berkeley United States
 10  NR Yale University United States
 11  9 Imperial College London United Kingdom
 12  10 University of Chicago United States
 13  14 Columbia University United States
 14  11 University of California, Los Angeles United States
 15  13 Cornell University United States
 16  28 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
 17  15 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
 18  16 National University of Singapore Singapore
 19  17 Peking University China
 20  24 Tsinghua University China
 21  20 University of California, Santa Barbara United States
 22  19 University of Michigan United States
 23  =26 LMU Munich Germany
 24  18 University of Washington United States
 25  35 University of California, San Diego United States
 26  29 University of Toronto Canada
 27  =26 Northwestern University United States
 28  21 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
 29  34 University of Texas at Austin United States
 30  23 UCL United Kingdom
 31  25 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States
 32  30 Technical University of Munich Germany
 33  32 Heidelberg University Germany
 =34  31 Australian National University Australia
 =34  NR Duke University United States
 36  =36 The University of Tokyo Japan
 37  NR University of Pennsylvania United States
 38  33 University of Colorado Boulder United States
 39  NR Johns Hopkins University United States
 40  22 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
 =41  =36 École Polytechnique France
 =41  NR New York University United States
 43  42 Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Singapore
 44  38 Georgia Institute of Technology United States
 45  55 Pennsylvania State University United States
 46  39 University of Maryland, College Park United States
 47  NR Sorbonne University France
 48  41 University of Manchester United Kingdom
 49  43 Rice University United States
 50  =48 Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Russian Federation
 51  47 Delft University of Technology Netherlands
 =52  =52 University of British Columbia Canada
 =52  =66 University of Science and Technology of China China
 54  46 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 55  =44 University of Bristol United Kingdom
 =56  =44 Carnegie Mellon University United States
 =56  57 Chinese University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 58  =48 University of California, Davis United States
 59  58 McGill University Canada
 =60  =48 Brown University United States
 =60  =48 Utrecht University Netherlands
 =62  =52 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany
 =62  =62 Kyoto University Japan
 64  =52 University of Melbourne Australia
 65  =79 University of California, Irvine United States
 66  =66 Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Hong Kong
 67  =62 University of Arizona United States
 68  77 University of California, Santa Cruz United States
 69  61 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Germany
 70  =70 Leiden University Netherlands
 71  64 Fudan University China
 72  59 RWTH Aachen University Germany
 73  82 Nanjing University China
 74  60 Lund University Sweden
 =75  =79 University of Southampton United Kingdom
 =75  =66 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands
 77  =73 University of Zurich Switzerland
 78  =89 National Research Nuclear University MEPhI Russian Federation
 =79  81 Stockholm University Sweden
 =79  72 Uppsala University Sweden
 81  96 University of Warwick United Kingdom
 82  =84 KU Leuven Belgium
 83  87 École Normale Supérieure de Lyon France
 84  101–125 Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) South Korea
 =85  75 Colorado School of Mines United States
 =85  =70 University of Göttingen Germany
 =87  94 University of Copenhagen Denmark
 =87  101–125 University of Groningen Netherlands
 =87  76 Michigan State University United States
 =90  =73 Durham University United Kingdom
 =90  NR King’s College London United Kingdom
 =92  =89 Paris Diderot University – Paris 7 France
 =92  101–125 Seoul National University South Korea
 94  92 Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) South Korea
 95  78 Boston University United States
 =96  99 University of Freiburg Germany
 =96  101–125 Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
 =98  101–125 City University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
 =98  101–125 Université Catholique de Louvain Belgium
 100  101–125 University of Hamburg Germany
 101–125  101–125 University of Adelaide Australia
 101–125  101–125 University of Amsterdam Netherlands
 101–125  86 University of Bern Switzerland
 101–125  151–175 University of California, Riverside United States
 101–125  101–125 University of East Anglia United Kingdom
 101–125  101–125 University of Exeter United Kingdom
 101–125  98 University of Geneva Switzerland
 101–125  83 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa United States
 101–125  88 University of Helsinki Finland
 101–125  126–150 King Abdulaziz University Saudi Arabia
 101–125  101–125 University of Leeds United Kingdom
 101–125  69 University of Minnesota Twin Cities United States
 101–125  101–125 Monash University Australia
 101–125  126–150 Nagoya University Japan
 101–125  100 University of New South Wales Australia
 101–125  =84 Ohio State University United States
 101–125  91 Paris-Sud University France
 101–125  93 University of Queensland Australia
 101–125  101–125 Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands
 101–125  95 University of Reading United Kingdom
 101–125  126–150 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey United States
 101–125  101–125 Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa Italy
 101–125  126–150 Stony Brook University United States
 101–125  97 University of Sydney Australia
 101–125  65 Technical University of Berlin Germany
 101–125  101–125 University of Western Australia Australia
 126–150  101–125 Aarhus University Denmark
 126–150  101–125 University of Alberta Canada
 126–150  151–175 Arizona State University United States
 126–150  126–150 University of Basel Switzerland
 126–150  126–150 University of Bergen Norway
 126–150  151–175 University of Birmingham United Kingdom
 126–150  101–125 Eindhoven University of Technology Netherlands
 126–150  101–125 Free University of Berlin Germany
 126–150  101–125 University of Glasgow United Kingdom
 126–150  126–150 University of Innsbruck Austria
 126–150  126–150 Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz Germany
 126–150  151–175 KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sweden
 126–150  126–150 University of Münster Germany
 126–150  NR University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
 126–150  151–175 University of Oslo Norway
 126–150  126–150 Pohang University of Science and Technology South Korea
 126–150  NR University of Rochester United States
 126–150  126–150 Sapienza University of Rome Italy
 126–150  126–150 University of Sheffield United Kingdom
 126–150  NR University of Southern California United States
 126–150  101–125 University of St Andrews United Kingdom
 126–150  126–150 Technical University of Denmark Denmark
 126–150  101–125 Texas A&M University United States
 126–150  126–150 Tohoku University Japan
 126–150  151–175 Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology South Korea
 126–150  126–150 University of Waterloo Canada
 126–150  126–150 Zhejiang University China
 151–175  151–175 University of Delaware United States
 151–175  NR Emory University United States
 151–175  201–250 University of Erlangen-Nuremberg Germany
 151–175  126–150 University of Florida United States
 151–175  151–175 Ghent University Belgium
 151–175  176–200 Lancaster University United Kingdom
 151–175  101–125 University of Massachusetts United States
 151–175  151–175 University of Nottingham United Kingdom
 151–175  126–150 Novosibirsk State University Russian Federation
 151–175  151–175 Oregon State University United States
 151–175  126–150 Royal Holloway, University of London United Kingdom
 151–175  151–175 University of Sussex United Kingdom
 151–175  151–175 Tel Aviv University Israel
 151–175  176–200 University of Tennessee, Knoxville United States
 151–175  101–125 Trinity College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 151–175  176–200 TU Dresden Germany
 151–175  NR Vanderbilt University United States
 151–175  151–175 University of Victoria Canada
 151–175  126–150 University of Vienna Austria
 151–175  151–175 University of Virginia United States
 151–175  151–175 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands
 151–175  201–250 University of Wollongong Australia
 176–200  126–150 University of Alaska Fairbanks United States
 176–200  126–150 Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain
 176–200  151–175 Cardiff University United Kingdom
 176–200  176–200 Case Western Reserve University United States
 176–200  176–200 Florida State University United States
 176–200  251–300 University of Fribourg Switzerland
 176–200  201–250 Grenoble Alpes University France
 176–200  176–200 Hebrew University of Jerusalem Israel
 176–200  201–250 Hong Kong Polytechnic University Hong Kong
 176–200  176–200 University of Iceland Iceland
 176–200  176–200 University of Liverpool United Kingdom
 176–200  151–175 University of Luxembourg Luxembourg
 176–200  126–150 University of Miami United States
 176–200  NR Nankai University China
 176–200  NR New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology United States
 176–200  151–175 University of Potsdam Germany
 176–200  201–250 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute United States
 176–200  176–200 Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
 176–200  151–175 Syracuse University United States
 176–200  151–175 Tokyo Institute of Technology Japan
 176–200  126–150 University of Tübingen Germany
 176–200  176–200 University College Dublin Republic of Ireland
 176–200  201–250 Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines France
 176–200  176–200 Washington University in St Louis United States
 176–200  151–175 William & Mary United States
 176–200  201–250 Wuhan University China

Click here to view all top 963 universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees

Read more: the most detailed subject guide you will ever see to help you pick your degree

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