Best universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees 2017

Find the best universities for physics, chemistry and maths using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings data
September 28 2016

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 100 universities.

American universities take 38 places in the ranking, and feature predominantly in the top 10.


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

Switzerland, home to CERN – the largest particle physics laboratory in the world – is well-represented in the ranking, with five institutions overall, just behind Germany with nine universities.

The ranking uses the same methodology as the World University Ranking, but with adjusted weightings; more weight is given to citations and less to teaching and research.

Scroll down for a full list of degrees covered by the ranking.


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Top five universities for physics, chemistry and maths

1. Harvard University

About 50 physics majors graduate from Harvard 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 mathematics, astronomy, history of science or chemistry.

Even at an undergraduate level students can undertake research projects independently, and work as teaching assistants for 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.

2. Stanford University

Approximately half of all undergraduate students at Stanford will 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 extremely popular, with a specific track for studies of chemical physics for student with a strong physics and maths background.

Students can major or minor in mathematics, and have the opportunity to participate in an annual math contest for college students, 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.

3. Princeton University

The physics department at Princeton aims not only to impart knowledge of the physical universe, but to train students in how 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, leading up to an independent senior thesis project. Students receive direct attention from faculty members throughout their course.

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

Graduate studies in mathematics focuses on independent research from the beginning of the programme, unlike many other doctoral programmes in America.

4. University of Cambridge

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

Undergraduates must apply for a specific degree course, unlike at American 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 onwards, in physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and other specific disciplines.

Mathematics is a separate degree course, often considered one of the most demanding courses. Mathematics students are nicknamed ‘mathmos’, and undertake the course in three parts, progressing from set theory to quantum mechanics.

The famous Cavendish Laboratory is a centre for physics research for most physical sciences graduate students, about 75 each year. Postgraduate programmes on offer include not only physics doctorates but also master’s degrees in scientific computing, nanoscience and computational methods.

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In the past few years, MIT 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 undergraduates and 300 graduate students.

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

Freshman physics courses are now taught using an educational initiative "technology enabled active learning".

All undergraduate students take mathematics classes as part of their degree, and many choose to major or minor in mathematics.

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

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


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Best universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees 2016-2017

Rank 2016-2017

University

Country

1

Harvard University

United States

2

Stanford University

United States

3

Princeton University

United States

4

University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

United States

6

University of Oxford

United Kingdom

7

California Institute of Technology

United States

8

ETH Zürich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Switzerland

9

University of California, Berkeley

United States

10

Yale University

United States

11

Imperial College London

United Kingdom

12

University of Chicago

United States

13

University of California, Los Angeles

United States

14

Cornell University

United States

15

Columbia University

United States

=16

University of Washington

United States

=16

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)

Switzerland

18

National University of Singapore

Singapore

19

Peking University

China

20

École Normale Supérieure

France

21

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

United States

22

LMU Munich

Germany

=23

University of Michigan

United States

=23

University College London

United Kingdom

25

University of Toronto

Canada

26

École Polytechnique

France

27

Northwestern University

United States

28

University of California, Santa Barbara

United States

29

The University of Texas at Austin

United States

30

Universität Heidelberg

Germany

31

University of Wisconsin-Madison

United States

32

Technische Universität München (TUM)

Germany

33

University of Edinburgh

United Kingdom

34

Tsinghua University

China

35

The University of Tokyo

Japan

=36

Georgia Institute of Technology

United States

=36

University of Colorado Boulder

United States

38

Australian National University

Australia

=39

University of Manchester

United Kingdom

=39

University of California, San Diego

United States

41

University of Maryland, College Park

United States

42

Pierre and Marie Curie University

France

43

University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

44

Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore)

Singapore

45

University of British Columbia

Canada

46

Humboldt University of Berlin

Germany

=47

University of Bristol

United Kingdom

=47

University of Bonn

Germany

49

RWTH Aachen University

Germany

50

Rice University

United States

51

Carnegie Mellon University

United States

52

Kyoto University

Japan

53

Utrecht University

Netherlands

=54

Pennsylvania State University

United States

=54

Brown University

United States

=54

Technische Universität Berlin  (TU Berlin)

Germany

57

University of Minnesota

United States

58

Delft University of Technology

Netherlands

59

Boston University

United States

60

Durham University

United Kingdom

61

University of Zurich

Switzerland

62

University of California, Davis

United States

63

University of Arizona

United States

64

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Hong Kong

=65

University of Göttingen

Germany

=65

Lund University

Sweden

67

Scuola Normale Superiore

Italy

68

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Germany

69

McGill University

Canada

70

Fudan University

China

=71

Purdue University

United States

=71

University of Bern

Switzerland

73

Chinese University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong

=74

University of Warwick

United Kingdom

=74

University of Melbourne

Australia

76

Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU)

South Korea

77

University of Southampton

United Kingdom

=78

Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT)

Russian Federation

=78

University of Massachusetts

United States

80

University of Hawai’i at Manoa

United States

81

Colorado School of Mines

United States

82

University of California, Santa Cruz

United States

83

University of New South Wales

Australia

84

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Belgium

85

Leiden University

Netherlands

86

Paris-Sud University

France

=87

University of Science and Technology of China

China

=87

Uppsala University

Sweden

=89

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

South Korea

=89

University of California, Irvine

United States

91

University Paris Diderot – Paris 7

France

=92

Stockholm University

Sweden

=92

Stony Brook University

United States

=94

Ohio State University

United States

=94

University of Geneva

Switzerland

96

University of Waterloo

Canada

97

Monash University

Australia

98

University of Queensland

Australia

99

University of St Andrews

United Kingdom

100

University of Copenhagen

Denmark

Physical sciences degrees:

  • Astronomy and astrophysics
  • Chemistry
  • Crystallography
  • Earth sciences
  • Mathematics and statistics
  • Meteorology and atmospheric sciences
  • Nanotechnology
  • Physics
  • Polymer science
  • Physical sciences – other topics

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