The first students to enroll at the new UC San Diego in 1960 were graduate students in physics. Today, our graduate program in physics ranks among the top 25 in the country. Housed within the School of Physical Sciences and located in historic Revelle College, the department is at the heart of science education and research at UC San Diego. Teaching over 22,000 enrolled undergraduate and graduate students each year and publishing hundreds of scientific papers in prestigious journals, the UC San Diego Department of Physics is home to some of the best and brightest scientists from around the world. 

Only four women in history have won the Nobel Prize in Physics—one of them was UC San Diego Professor Maria Goeppert Mayer, who earned the award in 1963 for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. The 2023-24 academic year marks the 60th anniversary of Dr. Mayer's achievement and will feature celebrations throughout the year to honor her legacy. Learn more about these planned events here. 

The Department of Physics is highly collaborative, featuring a breadth of faculty research in many areas:

The department supports the research efforts of our faculty and students who have access to various facilities, including:


More than 55 faculty members, plus adjunct professors and lecturers, mentor the next generation of scientific leaders. Over the years, our physicists have earned numerous awards and honors, including:

  • The Nobel Prize
  • Howard Hughes Medical Investigator
  • Simons Investigator
  • National Academy of Sciences membership
  • American Physical Society fellowship
  • AAAS fellowship
  • NSF CAREER awards
  • Sloan Foundation fellowships
  • Blavatnik Young Scientist awards
  • Beckman Young Investigator awards
  • Searle Scholar awards
  • Pew Scholar awards
  • Keck Scholar awards
  • Ellison Medical Foundation awards
  • NIH Innovator awards


The Department of Physics supports educational excellence and training for current students through our annual Chair’s Challenge. Gifts of any size, when combined with matching funds and other gifts, make an impact on our students and their future. 

Undergraduate Students

Our primary goal for our undergraduates is to strengthen the outstanding research opportunities that we offer to them. We do this through student fellowships and awards—both during the academic year and during the summer. By doing this, we increase their opportunities to gain hands-on experience in a research laboratory setting.

Graduate Students

For our graduate students, we provide outstanding travel, presenting and networking research opportunities. These help our students attend important symposia and conferences, which are crucially important to a well-rounded education experience, as well as to career success.

Diversity & Outreach Initiatives

The UC San Diego Department of Physics is committed to improving access to and inclusion in the physical sciences for students, scientists and the public at large. Physics faculty, staff and students coordinate various outreach activities with these goals:

  • to inspire middle and high school students to pursue education and careers in STEM fields
  • to increase the scientific literacy of the public
  • to broadly disseminate our research

We also participate in diversity initiatives aimed at increasing the numbers and success of women and underrepresented minorities in the physical sciences through programs like Graduate Women in Physics. We are committed to improving the climate for all our students and researchers.