Discover the earliest supernova, use nanomaterials to image cancer, measure the mass of the neutrino, or determine the structure of the web of our universe…

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Physics and Astronomy, we have outstanding facilities and world-renowned faculty studying frontier areas of physics and astronomy from quantum information to the physics of life to the very stuff of the universe. You will join a group of talented graduate student colleagues in classrooms and in laboratories, all in a beautiful place to live. Click here for a handy brochure detailing our program.

Astronomy and Astrophysics

How does cosmic structure form?
We study planets, stellar evolution, stellar seismology, compact stellar remnants, gravity waves, neutron star emission, supernovae, gamma-ray bursters, galaxy dynamics and evolution, active galaxies and quasars, large-scale structure, cosmology, and stellar and Big Bang nucleosynthesis. Want to build instruments? We are partners in the SOAR, SALT, and PROMPT/Skynet telescopes, and we develop novel instrumentation for more telescopes worldwide in three laboratories.

Biological and Medical Physics

Can physics help us understand life?
We investigate the physics of life from single molecule to bulk tissue. Our imaging research develops lasers for optical coherence tomography, carbon nanotube systems for breast cancer detection and therapy, unique magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and spectroscopy methodologies and instrumentation, and human/computer interfaces and methods of computer visualization. Our bio/medical physics faculty are also affiliated and have part of their laboratory space within the Biomedical Research Imaging Center. The center brings together physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers in a collaborative effort to advance basic and clinical biomedical imaging research.

Computational Quantum Matter

What are the properties of matter in extreme conditions?
Research in quantum matter cuts across a vast range of length scales: from neutron star crusts to atomic nuclei to ultracold atomic clouds. We explore the fundamental collective properties of systems of many quantum particles, focusing on extreme environments and situations where interactions are strong. Such extreme, strongly coupled systems appear in nature as quarks and gluons in high-energy physics, neutrons and protons inside atomic nuclei, and atoms in ultracold atom experiments. Predicting the behavior of matter in those systems represents one of the most challenging problems in physics.

Condensed Matter and Materials

Can a sheet of atoms compute?
Our condensed matter research pursues questions in the fundamental quantum mechanics of information and correlated electron transport in nanostructures. Technological advances are being pursued in devices using spins in atomic layered materials, energy storage in nano-particles, light control for displays, and solar energy solutions based on molecules and nanostructures.

Gravity, Cosmology, High-Energy Physics, String Theory

studentblackboardIs spacetime really foam?
Let your imagination go! Theoretical research in the department spans a diverse set of intertwined subjects – string theory, quantum foam, neutrinos, fundamental symmetries, general relativity, black holes, dark matter, dark energy, relativistic astrophysics, and cosmology.

Nuclear Physics

What is the stuff of the universe?nuc21
What are the properties of neutrinos? What is the nature of dark matter? What are the nuclear reactions that power stars? Local and international efforts are underway to understand these questions. The results will impact our understanding of fundamental symmetries and the role dark matter and neutrinos play in the cosmos.

Physics and Astronomy Education

The Physics and Astronomy Education Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducts research into the teaching and learning of physics and astronomy. We translate this research into active engagement curricula and alternative learning environments that are designed to improve students’ conceptual understandings, reasoning abilities, and problem-solving skills. In order to improve instructors’ abilities to implement such curricula, we are involved in multiple professional development workshops nationwide. Our work focuses on physics and astronomy courses for non-STEM majors, physical science majors, and life science majors.


soarlogoThe Astronomy group has outstanding access to major telescopes in the southern hemisphere including the 4-meter SOAR Telescope in Chile, the PROMPT and Skynet telescope arrays, and the 11- meter SALT telescope in South Africa.

Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) is the largest university-based nuclear physics lab in the nation. Our collaborations extend around the globe focusing on solar neutrinos, neutrino properties, the nuclear physics of stars, and searches for dark matter.

The Keck Atomic Imaging and Manipulation Laboratory features an atomic resolution transmission electron microscope. The Chapel Hill Analytical and Nanolithography Laboratory (CHANL) provides Class 1000/100 facilities for advanced device fabrication. Individual laboratories feature high field NMR, UHV scanning probe microscopy, molecular nanomanipulation, femtosecond lasers for microscopy, and novel nanotube X-Ray sources for imaging.

We also develop novel computational methods on massively parallel computers such as UNC’s premier computing facility, to address challenges in theoretical astrophysics, quantum thermodynamics, and many-body theory.

Courses and Professional Development

Graduate courses in the Department are designed to give a broad foundation and to introduce the student to areas of active research. The first year consists of foundational courses in electromagnetism, classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics. The second year features courses in advanced topics to launch students’ research careers. For astronomy graduate candidates, a parallel track incorporates courses in stellar, high energy, and galactic astrophysics as well as cosmology. For biophysics students, an optional certificate program provides additional advanced courses (see biophysics/training). Graduate students are also trained in teaching in a one-semester seminar, both to support their integral role in the teaching mission of the department and for personal career development.

Financial Support

Are all students who are offered admission also provided financial support?
Generally, yes. In recent years, most students admitted have received financial support in the form of nine-month teaching assistantships. In some cases, research assistantships have instead been provided to first-year students. Such stipends ($2,062.92 monthly for the 2018-2019 academic year) require a total of 15 to 20 hours a week of teaching or research service. In addition, funds are made available to cover tuition ($4,971.50 per semester in 2018-2019 for in-State residents; $13,577.00 per semester for out-of-State residents) and student health insurance ($3,082.56 per year), provided both academic eligibility and steady academic progress toward degree are maintained. Additional summer support, at the same monthly rate, is usually available to all graduate students through our research and/or teaching programs.

However, TA support is withdrawn after the first semester for students who prove unable because of insufficient English communication skills to fulfill their TA duties.

Will the opportunity for financial support depend on the field of research I chose?
Most entering graduate students are supported during the first academic year with teaching assistantship (TA) funds, which require them to assist for 15 to 20 hours per week as an instructor or grader in one of our lower level undergraduate courses or laboratories. Many students continue to receive similar TA support in their second academic year, while others begin to receive some research assistantship (RA) support. By the end of the second year, most of our graduate students receive some RA support, which allows them time to concentrate on their thesis research.

Almost all departmental research programs enjoy substantial external research funding, so most graduate students can expect significant RA support during their careers. Students whose research programs cannot provide RA funding, and who continue to make steady progress toward a degree, continue to receive TA support during their later years. This can continue after their graduate coursework is complete while they are concentrating on thesis research. So, the actual level of financial support usually does not depend significantly on the research field chosen; sometimes the type of financial support does. Students deemed slow in finishing their doctoral work risk a reduction or loss of such support in later years.

Will your financial support offer cover all my expenses?
It is our experience that students receiving our financial support packages described above live reasonably comfortably in Chapel Hill.

Life in Chapel Hill

We have an active Graduate Student Association, a full calendar of seminars, and year-round activities. Service opportunities abound with outreach programs to local schools and clubs. Chapel Hill and neighboring Carrboro form an ideal combination of a college-town atmosphere with urban Raleigh nearby and easy access to beautiful beaches and mountains just a short drive away. Three national research universities and the Research Triangle Park have created a community with one of the highest densities of Ph.D.s in the country. With the lively arts, music and dance community, there is more to do than you can fit into your schedule!


Application: The deadline for applications is Tuesday, December 11th 2018 for full consideration for fellowships, but we will accept late applications until the class is full. For admission, you will need a Bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0. We also do not require the GRE General Exam. The TOEFL exam is required for non-native English speakers.

Phone: 919-962-7173
Mail: Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of North Carolina
Phillips Hall, CB #3255
120 E. Cameron Ave.
Chapel Hill, NC 27599