What is this program?
The Chemical and Materials Physics Program is a concentration in the Physical Sciences graduate degree program at UCI. It was created by the faculty of the UCI Departments of Physics and Chemistry. Through the program students can earn a Masters (M.S.) degree or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. The Masters degree is designed to provide an excellent training for beginning a career in high technology industries, or for efficiently pursuing specialized research and studies leading to the Ph.D.
Why do we have it?
The Concentration in Chemical and Materials Physics is essentially a reorganization and merger of the graduate curricula in Physical Chemistry and Condensed Matter Physics. The intellectual underpinnings and research goals of these two disciplines largely overlap, and their separation into two different departments (Chemistry, and Physics and Astronomy) is an historical artifact of an era in which chemical understanding was more qualitative and physicists concentrated their attention on chemically simple model systems. The current research emphasis in both fields is to provide a microscopic, first principles understanding of matter in all of its forms, and to use this understanding in the design and applications of a wide variety of novel materials.
Another important recent development which has motivated a nationwide reexamination of the graduate curricula in Physical Chemistry and Condensed Matter Physics is the changing nature of careers in the physical sciences. The traditional curriculum in both departments is implicitly based on the assumption that students are preparing for an academic career. However, preparing students "in our own image" based on the assumption that they will have similar positions at a research university does not reflect the reality of the job market. Although there is essentially zero unemployment among physical science graduates, only a small fraction of PhDs become academic investigators. A full 95 percent of PhDs take positions in non- academic sectors, primarily in industry. Moreover, industrial employment opportunities for physical scientists have undergone profound changes in recent years. The central research laboratories at large corporations have been downsized, and have been replaced by research and development operations of an increasing number of smaller high technology companies. Increasingly the demand in the new job market is for scientists with breadth and versatility, since in the new setting a single scientist is expected to carry out a wide variety of tasks. Physical scientists working in the semiconductor, biotechnology, or environmental sensing industries require the skills at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and materials that the ChaMP Concentration will provide.
Is it demanding?
Of course, but the program provides students with the academic training to meet these challenges. The program offers more flexibility than some traditional programs: a student can elect to pursue a two-year Masters or more traditional five-year doctorate program, and need not decide which option to pick until completion of the Masters program. Flexibility also exists in the classroom instruction, which contains a considerable number of elective graduate courses that can be chosen to fit a student's specific field of interest. The possibilities for research opportunities are numerous, of course, as one might expect in a program that spans two Departments and 23 faculty members.
The program begins with a unique Summer Session that integrates incoming graduate students from both physics and chemistry. Cross-training in either physics or chemistry and a rigorous Laboratory Skills course will allow students to develop an academic foundation for their next two years at UCI.
What is the role of industry?
We have a circle of advisors from high-tech industry located (for the most part) in Orange County. By keeping in close contact with these representatives of the industries that employ our graduates, we keep our educational program tuned to current and developing industrial needs. The program also puts a premium in the early stages of a student's career on mastering an array of practical technology skills (e.g. laser spectroscopy, optics and instrumentation design, electronics, chemical safety and handling, CAD, computer simulation and molecular modeling). In the later stages of the program the emphasis is naturally on developing the ability to conduct independent research.
What exactly does one get a degree in?
The M.S. or Ph.D. is in Physics or Chemistry, as usual, and at the student's choice. However, the posting of the degree includes a concentration in Chemical and Materials Physics.
What are a graduate's career opportunities?
A host of modern technologies in the high-tech industry lie at the interface between chemistry and physics. Students training for 21st century careers in, e.g., microelectronics, biotech, advanced materials, aerospace, or medical physics need training that encompasses the powerful techniques in both fields, and which takes full advantage of research experience possible in both Departments along with valuable opportunities in private industry.