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Applications of Physics: Geophysics

Geophysicists measure, examine, and explore the physical properties of the Earth, from the deep interior to the near regions of space called the magnetosphere. Geophysics is a data driven field using large sensor arrays, remote sensing, and satellite observations to understand the Earth system. As a result office work in geophysics often focuses on data processing using modern computing technology. Geophysics is an academic field that crosses over into the practical arena in a number of areas. For example, seismology is both an academic discipline to understand earthquake physics, but also has an important applied side in the oil and gas industry. The fuel you use to drive your car is affordable because of technology developed by geophysicists over the past century. The fundamental physics of both fields, however, is the same. Specialization is significant early on—when applying for jobs—in geophysics because specialized course work for an academic versus industrial career path are somewhat different. A unique element of geophysics relative to other areas of applied physics is field work. Geophysical data often involves installation of sensor networks in remote areas making the field attractive to students with an interest in working in an outdoor laboratory setting.

Successful geophysicists are generally able to encompass the complexities of their profession. Many geophysicists come from a wide range of initial specialization. The most important academic background in geophysics is a sound foundation in fundamental mathematics and physics because most of the field builds on these foundations. Initial specialization is important, however, because it can reduce the time to completion of the degree program. Professionals tend to enjoy learning how complexities in the Earth system interrelate. Learning about new specialties often happens gradually and unconsciously during off hours.

For more information:

Recommended electives in Geophysics

A 201/202 Computer Programming
G 221/222 Introductory Mineralogy*
G 225 Earth Materials*
G 304 Physical Meteorology and Climatology
P 310 Environmental Physics
A 314 Biological and Environmental Chemical Analysis
G 323 Structural Geology*
P 331/332 Electricity and Magnetism
P 340 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
K 310 Statistical Techniques
M 365 Introduction to Probability and Statistics
P 400 Electronics
P 410 Computing Applications in Physics
G 417 Optical Mineralogy*
G 423 Methods in Applied Geophysics*
G 427 X-ray Mineralogy*
G 444 Methods in Analytical Geochemistry*
P 453 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics

*Satisfies an optional minor in Geological Sciences
(16 credits required including either G221/222 or G225 with 9 credits at the 300-400 level)

Career opportunities

With a BS in Physics with a concentration in geophysics you may find employment at

  • NASA
  • Government agencies
  • Universities
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Mining Industry
  • Environmental Consulting Firms

For more information:

For useful career information, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook