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Study Physics at Otago

Physics is a search for and an application of rules that can predict the evolution of the world around us.

This includes planetary motion, quantum jumps in atoms and the propagation of light.

Through central concepts such as energy, force, particles and waves, Physics attempts to answer fundamental question about Nature, while at the same time providing solutions to technological problems.

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Apply for the Diploma for Graduates (DipGrad) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Apply for the Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) through the Dunedin campus in 2021

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Why study Physics?

Learning how the physical world works is fascinating. It is also useful. Physics will hone your thinking ability, and help you to develop high level analytical and problem solving skills. In Otago’s Physics department you will get to study with some of the country’s top physicists. Our research informed teaching draws from a broad spectrum of expertise areas including geophysics, optics, energy science, atomic physics, electronics, and quantum theory.

Background required?

We recommend that students enrolling for a Physics degree have a background in NCEA level 3 Physics and/or Mathematics. We are always very happy to answer any questions you may have about what studying physics involves, where it might take you, and how to get off on the best possible start for your degree.

Career opportunities

An Otago degree in Physics will give you multiple future options. You could work in high-tech areas such as electronics, laser technology, smart materials, healthcare, analytics, or telecommunications.

You might find yourself working for a company developing new products or services, relying on your know-how to come to grips with the complex physical problems of the real world. By combining your study of Physics with another subject you could move into any number of specialist fields. For example, a Physics degree with particular emphasis in acoustics, combined with a music degree, might lead you to becoming an acoustics expert for a construction or architectural company.

You might move into medical physics, working on such techniques as radiotherapy and solar phototherapy. You could work at a hospital, becoming involved in important health initiatives, such as improving or evaluating a public health screening programme. If you choose to continue in Physics and physics research, you might move into areas such as atomic and laser research or energy management.

You may find yourself at sea off Antarctica, studying the effect of waves on the break up of sea ice. Such pursuits could see you working for a university, a research institute or a company specialising in a particular area of physics and its application. Once established in a particular field, you might find yourself suitably experienced to be a high-tech management consultant.

Large international organisations depend on consultants for much of their contracted work. Such positions offer great variety and, in many cases, fantastic opportunities for travel. Physics teachers are in hot demand, both here and overseas. There is an ongoing shortage of secondary school physics teachers, particularly at the higher levels. Being able to teach physics will make you a much sought after employee.

Teaching style

All courses involve a mixture of lectures and practical laboratories, so you will have plenty of opportunities to gain hands-on experience in problem solving. Several of our courses, in particular our first year courses PHSI 131 and 132, make use of “Classroom Response Systems”, where the lecturer poses a multiple-choice questions and each student submits an answer using a handheld transmitter. The submitted answers then forms the basis of engaging in-class discussions centered on pivotal concepts of Physics.


Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages.

Programme requirements

Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Physics

Level Papers Points

PHSI 131  Fundamentals of Physics I  or  PHSI 191 Biological Physics

PHSI 132  Fundamentals of Physics II

MATH 160  Mathematics 1

MATH 170  Mathematics 2






PHSI 221  Classical and Quantum Mechanics*

PHSI 222  Electromagnetism*

One of

One of

*Further information will be available for these papers in early September.









PHSI 381  Experimental Physics II

Three of

  • PHSI 331  Quantum, Atomic and Particle Physics
  • PHSI 332  Electromagnetism and Condensed Matter
  • PHSI 336  Mathematical Physics
  • PHSI 365  Computational Physics
  • OCEN 321  Ocean Physics and Modelling




144 further points, must include 18 points at 200-level or above. Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Science.

(i) PHSI 191 assumes an understanding of NCEA Level 2 Physics; PHSI 131 and 132 assume an understanding of NCEA Level 3 Physics and Mathematics.
(ii) Qualified candidates may substitute ELEC 253 or PHSI 243 for PHSI 131 with approval from the Head of Department.
(iii) It is recommended to take both of MATH 202, 203.
(iv) MATH 203 is a prerequisite for PHSI 336.

Total   360

Bachelor of Science with Honours (BSc(Hons)) in Physics


Two of MATH 202, MATH 203, COMO 204; PHSI 331, PHSI 341, PHSE 381
Two further 300-level PHSI or MATH papers (PHSI 365 recommended)

Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) in Physics


Only one of PHSI 480  Research Project or PHSI 490  Dissertation may be included.

*Further information will be available for this paper in early September.

Master of Science (MSc) in Physics

Papers and thesis

Only one of PHSI 480 or PHSI 490 may be included.

*Further information will be available for this paper in early September.

Minor subject requirements

Physics as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

Papers Points

Four PHSI papers, at least two of which must be above 100-level, including at least one at 300-level or above

One further PHSI paper above 100-level or EMAN 201

Note: MATH 160 and MATH 170 are prerequisites or corequisites for some PHSI papers



Total 90


Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
PHSI131 2020 Fundamentals of Physics I 18 points First Semester
PHSI132 2020 Fundamentals of Physics II 18 points Second Semester
PHSI170 2020 Sun, Earth and Universe 18 points Summer School
PHSI191 2020 Biological Physics 18 points First Semester, Summer School
PHSI231 2020 Quantum and Thermal Physics 18 points First Semester
PHSI232 2020 Electromagnetism and Optics 18 points Second Semester
PHSI243 2020 Environmental Physics 18 points First Semester
PHSI282 2020 Experimental Physics I 18 points Second Semester
PHSI307 2020 Special Topics 18 points Not offered in 2020
PHSI308 2020 Special Topics 18 points Not offered in 2020
PHSI331 2020 Quantum, Atomic and Particle Physics 18 points First Semester
PHSI332 2020 Electromagnetism and Condensed Matter 18 points Second Semester
PHSI336 2020 Mathematical Physics 18 points Second Semester
PHSI365 2020 Computational Physics 18 points First Semester
PHSI381 2020 Experimental Physics II 18 points First Semester
PHSI421 2020 Statistical Mechanics 10 points First Semester
PHSI422 2020 Upper Atmospheric and Space Physics 10 points Second Semester
PHSI423 2020 Advanced Quantum Mechanics I 10 points First Semester
PHSI424 2020 Advanced Quantum Mechanics II 10 points Second Semester
PHSI425 2020 Advanced Electromagnetism 10 points First Semester
PHSI426 2020 Fluids, Instability and Transport Phenomena 10 points Second Semester
PHSI437 2020 Topics in Advanced Physics 10 points Not offered in 2020
PHSI438 2020 Topics in Advanced Physics 10 points First Semester, Second Semester
PHSI480 2020 Research Project 40 points First Semester, Second Semester, Full Year, 1st Non standard period
PHSI490 2020 Dissertation 60 points Full Year

Key information for future students

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Department of Physics