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What is Physics?

This is a difficult question to answer. Physicists study everything from quarks to the universe. Physics is characterized not so much by what people study as how they think. Physicists believe, for example, that

  • We can understand how things work by applying a relatively small number of basic laws.
  • The laws are universal, for example, we don't have one law for how apples fall on earth another for how the moon orbits the Earth.
  • Causes precede effects.
  • Reality can be modeled using mathematics.
  • A system carries on as it is unless something is done to it.
  • Changing one thing can cause other things to change

Physicists apply ideas like these to all sorts of systems: black holes, modeling the brain, weather, climate, renewable energy, medical devices, medical imaging, nanotechnology, atoms …

What do physics majors study?

Typically the first two years of university study cover core material such as mechanics, properties of matter, thermodynamics, waves, optics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics along with mathematics. As you progress through your university study these topics are covered at a deeper level generating greater insight into different phenomena. In addition you can choose further options in which the core ideas are applied in different contexts, for example, environmental physics.

For details of physics courses at the University of Otago visit our Study Physics information page.

What about doing physics as part of Health Sciences?

The Health Science First Year programme at Otago includes the compulsory paper PHSI 191: Biological Physics. You can find out more about the paper and the Health Sciences options it leads to here.

What jobs do graduates in physics do?

Some graduates in physics gain research degrees in physics and continue in physics research in universities, government laboratories or in industry. Most will apply the skills they have developed in critical thinking, quantitative thinking and modeling in other careers, for example, in finance.

Take a look at our careers page.

The American Physical Society has information about careers in physics.

The Institute of Physics, which is based in the UK, also has profiles of people working in physics and people who studied physics at university but now work in a different field.

I need help with NCEA Physics has links to resources that can help with NCEA Physics.

Khan Academy has blackboard explanations of physics concepts.

Fascinated by Physics and want to know more? The Resources page has links to sites which will help you find out more about a variety of topics.

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