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Atmospheric Physics—MS and PhD

Atmosphericarrow_link Atmospheric Physics MS Requirements
arrow_link Atmospheric Physics PhD Requirements

UMBC’s Atmospheric Physics MS and PhD programs provide students with a fundamental background in graduate applied physics combined with an in-depth grounding in the fundamentals of atmospheric physics. The MS is a terminal degree designed to prepare the graduate for immediate entry into the workforce as a practicing professional. Courses cover a wide range of topics in atmospheric physics, global climate change, observational techniques and satellite data analysis. An extremely wide range of thesis topics will be available to the student via both the tenure-track faculty and the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET)faculty.

The programs are structured to provide concentrations in atmospheric radiative transfer, remote sensing, inverse problems, observational techniques (LIDAR, Fourier Transform Spectroscopy, Satellite Radiometry) and in the general problems of global climate change and atmospheric pollution. Students will acquire a solid core of basic physics by taking some of the courses offered in UMBC’s Applied Physics PhD program. They also will have the opportunity to interact with graduate students and faculty in several other departments at UMBC and will have many resources at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) available to them via UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), a cooperative venture between UMBC and NASA/GSFC.

There are close working relationships between the Applied and Atmospheric Physics programs and other research institutions in the Baltimore-Washington area. These include the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, the Army Research Laboratories (ARL) in Adelphi, Maryland and Aberdeen, Maryland and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland. Formal cooperative agreements are in place between UMBC and GSFC in the form of theJoint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) and the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology (CRESST) programs.

MS in Atmospheric Physics Degree Requirements

The MS is a terminal degree designed to prepare the graduate for immediate entry into the workforce as a practicing professional. The degree program is designed to offer students maximum flexibility, with most of the course requirements being electives. The minimum requirement for the MS degree is a total of 30 credit hours of which 18 credit hours must be taken at the 600 level or higher. Students are encouraged to choose the thesis option, although a non-thesis option is available.

All students must complete the core curriculum which consists of PHYS 605: Mathematical Physics and either PHYS 601: Quantum Mechanics I or PHYS 424: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics taken for graduate credit, and three specialty courses in atmospheric physics including PHYS 621 and PHYS 622. All of these required courses must be passed with a minimum grade of “B.” All students are also required to take PHYS 698: Physics Seminar for each of the first three semesters.

Students selecting the thesis option must complete a further six credit hours of course work approved by a faculty advisor and six credit hours of PHYS 799: Master’s Thesis Research, in addition to the MS core curriculum. Students doing a MS thesis are not required to take a written comprehensive examination. Before the student begins their research they must successfully defend their thesis proposal before their thesis committee.

Students selecting the non-thesis option must complete a further 12 credit hours of lecture course work approved by a faculty advisor, write a scholarly paper as part of an elective course, and pass a written comprehensive examination, in addition to the MS core curriculum. Normally, at least six of these additional 12 credits would be from courses offered by the Physics department.

PhD in Atmospheric Physics Degree Requirements

The minimum requirement for the PhD in atmospheric physics is a total of 46 credit hours, with a minimum of 28 credit hours of lecture courses at the 600 level or higher and 18 credit hours of doctoral research (PHYS 899). All course work must be approved by the faculty advisor. During their first year the students take the 6 PhD core curriculum courses listed below.

First Year Courses (all required)

Fall

  • PHYS 621: Atmospheric Physics I
  • PHYS 601: Quantum Mechanics I
  • PHYS 605: Mathematical Physics I

Spring

  • PHYS 622: Atmospheric Physics II
  • PHYS 607: Electromagnetic Theory
  • PHYS 602: Statistical Mechanics

In addition to the PhD core curriculum, PhD students must also pass PHYS 690: Professional Techniques in Physics, and take PHYS 640: Computational Physics, at least two specialized courses in atmospheric physics, and a minimum of 18 credit hours of PHYS 899: Doctoral Thesis Research.

All students are also required to take PHYS 698: Physics Seminar for each of the first three semesters. The specialized courses in atmospheric physics include

  • PHYS 721: Atmospheric Radiative Transfer
  • PHYS 722: Atmospheric Remote Sensing
  • PHYS 731: Atmospheric Dynamics
  • PHYS 741: Inverse Methods and Data Analysis
  • PHYS 732: Computational Fluid Dynamics

In order to be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree, students must first complete the PhD core curriculum and then pass a written qualifying examination. The written qualifying examination covers all of undergraduate physics and the graduate-level material covered by the PhD core curriculum. It is usually offered in both August and January. The examination should be taken no later than the January following the end of the students first academic year in the program. Students holding a MS from another institution must take the examination in their first year. Students failing the qualifying examination must retake it at the next opportunity. Students who fail the qualifying examination at the second attempt will not be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.

After passing the qualifying examination, a prospective PhD student must select a faculty advisor to supervise the dissertation research. After selecting an advisor, a student should begin acquiring the necessary background knowledge to conduct research and develop a research plan. As soon as possible, but no later than twelve months after passing the qualifying examination, a student must deliver an oral presentation of the proposed research project to a preliminary committee consisting of at least three members of the Physics Department faculty. At least one member of the committee must be a tenure track member of the Physics Department faculty. Based upon this presentation, and the overall graduate record of the student, the full faculty will vote whether or not to recommend to the Graduate School that the student be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.

After admission to candidacy and completion of the research, the student will be required to write and defend a dissertation before a committee constituted in accordance with the Graduate School regulations. The chair of this committee must be a regular member of the graduate faculty. For dissertation advisors with affiliate status (JCET members), a tenure-track faculty member in Physics will co-chair the dissertation committee. This research should be of a quality suitable for publication in a refereed professional journal.