United States Air Force Academy

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Conquering the Great Unknowns

Physics

Our modern military owes its technological superiority to great physicists. The U.S. Air Force Academy’s physics program produces scientifically literate leaders of character, capable of navigating our armed forces through the increasingly complex obstacles our nation faces. In the study of physics, cadets develop the knowledge, skills, and persistence necessary to solve unforeseen, abstract, complex, and ill-defined problems. Our graduates enter active duty confident in their ability to adapt and overcome the many “unknowns” for which they’ll be responsible during their service – from STEM research to piloting aircraft.

A physics degree is the only path to becoming an Air Force physicist (Air Force Specialty Code 61D). Most 61Ds are assigned to work cutting edge research & development projects and next-generation weapons system acquisition programs under Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Space Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, and other major commands. These assignments may include experimental design and data analysis, launching new satellites, briefing members of Congress, and fielding state-of-the-art technologies. The Air Force depends critically on 61Ds for their scientific expertise, critical thinking skills, fresh perspectives, and new ideas applied to the nation’s toughest (and often highly classified) technical challenges in the pursuit of maintaining the United States’ air, space and cyberspace dominance for decades to come.

Physics students have opportunities to participate in world-class scientific research and participate in summer research at the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NASA or other laboratories around the country. Graduates also have a wide variety of graduate school scholarships and sponsorship available to them.

Potential Assignments
Within the Air Force
  • Rated – Pilot, navigator, etc.
  • 61D – Physicist/Nuclear Engineer
  • 63A – Acquisition Manager
  • 13S – Space Operations
  • 15W – Weather
  • 14N – Intelligence
  • 13A – Astronaut
Outside the Air Force
  • Astronaut
  • Research physicist
  • Applied physicist
  • Nuclear physicist
  • Data or computational scientist
  • Meteorologist
  • Astronomer
  • Materials scientist
  • College professor
SAMPLE COURSES
  • Combat Aviation Physics
  • Electromagnetic Theory
  • Laboratory Techniques
  • Nuclear Weapons Engineering
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Lasers and Optics
  • Astrophysics
SUGGESTED COURSE SEQUENCE
4th CLASS YEAR (FRESHMAN) 3RD CLASS YEAR (SOPHOMORE) 2ND CLASS YEAR (JUNIOR) 1ST CLASS YEAR (SENIOR)
Beh Sci 110
Chem 100
Com Sci 110
English 111
For Lang 1
For Lang 2
History 100
Math 141
Math 142
Physics 110
Chem 200
ECE 231
Econ 201
English 211
EngrMech 220
Law 220
Math 243
Math 245
Physics 215
Physics 264
Pol Sci 211
Aero Engr 315
Biology 315
History 300
Math 346
Math 356
Philos 310
Physics 341
Physics 355
Physics 356
Physics 361
Physics 362
Academy Opt
AstroEngr310
English 411
Mgt 400
Physics 405
Physics 421
Physics 465
Physics 490
Physics Conc
Physics Conc
Physics Conc
Sys Opt

For full program requirements and course descriptions, download the current Curriculum Handbook.

VALIDATION AND TRANSFER CREDITS

Cadets can validate Physics I through the department placement test or by receiving a 4 or 5 on the AP Physics C: Mechanics exam. Cadets can validate Physics II through the department placement test or by receiving a 4 or 5 on the AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism exam.

Cadets can receive transfer credits for Physics I/Physics II if they complete a comparable calculus-based and lab-based physics course at an accredited college or university with a grade of A or B. Other requests for transfer credit will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the department.

STEM Outreach

Our department is actively engaged in STEM outreach. The following cadet-run clubs provide a unique opportunity for USAFA to engage the local community. Cadets and faculty motivate K-12 students to partake in STEM by assisting in local science fairs and running demonstrations at nearby schools and museums.

Physics is Phun
Contact Capt Zachary Condon at (719) 333-3615

Girls in the Middle
Contact Dr. Kimberly de La Harpe at (719) 333-3411

Physics and Astronomy
Contact Dr. Devin Della-Rose at (719) 333-3266

Interested community members from schools and other non-profit organizations should visit the STEM Outreach webpage. For cadets interested in starting the Meteorology club, contact the Department of Physics.

CONTACT US

Major Robert Vincent
Assistant Professor
(719) 333-3596

Want to Study Physics?