The Department of Physics and Astronomy has over 30 faculty who are currently taking graduate students in their research programs. The areas of research span both pure and applied areas with research opportunities both within the Department in Physics and Astronomy as well as the groups of our joint faculty. Those areas include experimental science, computation, and pure theory. Individual laboratories have a wide range of specialized equipment including lasers and optical measurement systems, low temperature facilities, cluster and atomic beam equipment, materials growth and characterization, high performance computation, bio-materials handling, etc. In addition to the individual laboratories of faculty, graduate students get access excellent research facilities at USC, which include: The Center for Electron Microscopy and MicroAnalysis (CEMMA); Molecular Imaging Center; Keck Photonics Center; Chemistry Instrumentation Facility; the D-Wave experimental quantum computer, and the High Performance Computing Center.


The integration of our Department with related programs in both the Dornsife College and the Viterbi School of Engineering allows our graduate students participate in interdisciplinary research with faculty and students in biological sciences, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science, and computer science. 

The department has established two unique dual-degree programs with the computer science department at USC. These programs allow our students to obtain a PhD in physics along with a MS in computer science with specializations in either high performance computing and simulation or data science.

Research groups of note currently taking PhD students:

High Energy Physics

Biological Physics

Condensed Matter and Nanophysics

Computational Physics

Quantum Information

Astronomy and Cosmology


It takes about 5 years to get a PhD in physics at USC. The PhD degree requirements are:

  • Completion of a minimum of 60 units of credit, including 5 required plus four elective graduate courses, and four units each of a graduate colloquium course and a dissertation course.
  • Students must pass thewritten screening exam no later than the second semester in the department. New advanced students who have passed an equivalent comprehensive exam at a well-recognized research university with superior grades may apply to the departmental exam committee for an oral interview in order to be exempted from the written screening exam. A faculty member who supervises the research of such a student in the department must support this application.
  • The qualifying examination must be attempted before the fifth semester (or, in the case of advanced students, the third semester excluding summer) in the department. The Ph.D. qualifying exam contains a written part and an oral part. The written part consists of a critical review by the student of a published work selected by the guidance committee and of a research proposal prepared by the student on the area in which the student intends to do a doctoral dissertation. The oral part expands on the written part.


Betty Byers
Graduate Coordinator

Rajiv Kalia
Graduate Advisor



Jason Thalken worked on multi-parameter computational optimization of quantum engineering nano devices. After graduating, he used these skills acquired during his PhD to optimize processes in the mortgage industry. He is currently a senior vice president at the Bank of America.

Omid Nohadani developed a sophisticated Quantum Monte Carlo algorithm to study the phase diagram of quantum magnets and quantum liquids.During his postdoc years at the Harvard-MIT medical school he applied annealing techniques to radiation therapy. He moved on to became an industrial engineering faculty member at Purdue, and recently moved to another faculty position at Northwestern.

Nick Chancellor graduated this year. In his thesis work, he has been working on the dynamics of quantum systems. This has been motivated by the need to better understand the first generation quantum computing chip by DWave. He is moving to do a postdoc at the London Centre for Nanotechnology associated with UCL and Imperial College, who recently acquired a DWave chip on their own.

  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • University of Southern California
  • 825 Bloom Walk
  • ACB 439
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0484