United States Air Force Academy

Go to home page
Conquering the Great Unknowns


cadets with laser

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.

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
  • Electromagnetic Theory
  • Laboratory Techniques
  • Nuclear Weapons Engineering
  • Quantum Mechanics
  • Lasers and Optics
  • Astrophysics
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
Econ 201
English 211
Mech Engr 220
Math 243
Math 245
MSS 251
Physics 215
Physics 264
Physics 291
Pol Sci 211
Adv Open Option
Aero Engr 315
ECE 315
History 300
Law 220
Math 346
Math 356
Physics 341
Physics 355
Physics 356
Physics 361
Physics 362
Adv Socio-Cultural Option
Astro Engr 310
English 411
Philos 310
Physics 405
Physics 421
Physics 465
Physics 490
Physics Concentration
Physics Concentration
Physics Concentration
Soc Sci 311

For full program requirements and course descriptions, download the current Course of Instruction Handbook.


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 Scott Alsid at (719) 333-3636

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

Physics and Astronomy
Contact Lt Col Benjamin Roth at (719) 333-6326

Society of Physics Students
Contact Dr. Alina Gearba-Sell at (719) 333-3272

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.


Dr. Alina Gearba-Sell
Professor of Physics
(719) 333-3272

Want to Study Physics?