Best universities for physics, chemistry and maths degrees 2024

Find the best universities for physics, chemistry and maths using Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings 2024 data

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Top 5 universities for physics, chemistry and maths

5. University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has a long and distinguished history of training and research in physical sciences. Famous names including Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and, more recently, Stephen Hawking, have all been associated with the university.

The natural sciences course covers most biological and physical science subjects, allowing specialisation from the second year in physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences and other specific disciplines.

Maths is a separate degree course, often considered one of the most demanding programmes. Maths students are nicknamed “mathmos” and undertake the course in three parts, progressing from set theory to quantum mechanics.

For most physical sciences graduate students, the famous Cavendish Laboratory is a centre for physics research and takes in about 75 students each year. Postgraduate programmes include physics doctorates and master’s degrees in scientific computing, nanoscience and computational methods.

4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department is fairly large, with about 75 faculty members, almost 300 undergraduate students and 300 postgraduate students.

Since 1998, four alumni of MIT physics programmes have won Nobel prizes for their work.

Freshman physics courses are taught using an educational initiative known as “technology-enabled active learning”.

All undergraduates take maths classes as part of their degrees, and many choose to major or minor in the subject.

Doctoral studies at MIT lead to doctor of philosophy or doctor of science degrees, although these are equivalent in terms of degree status.

Mathematics graduates are admitted to applied or pure maths degrees, and applied maths students are encouraged to take classes in other departments, such as engineering.

3. Stanford University

About half of all undergraduates at Stanford University take at least one physics course as part of their studies. These courses serve as essential training for science and engineering majors.

The department offers introductory courses aimed at non-technical majors, in addition to highly specialised classes.

Studying chemistry at Stanford is also popular, with a specific chemical physics track for those students with strong physics and maths backgrounds.

Students can major or minor in maths, and they have the opportunity to participate in an annual maths contest with cash prizes for excellent scores and for outstanding performances by women.

There are many streams for graduates studying physical sciences, from applied physics to biophysical chemistry. PhD programmes take about six years to complete.

2. Harvard University

Undergraduates at Harvard University can take advantage of a flexible course structure. Compared with other science majors, the physics course has few compulsory classes. Many students, therefore, choose to combine a physics major with maths, astronomy, history of science or chemistry.

Even at undergraduate level, students can carry out research projects independently and work as teaching assistants in some classes.

There is an active social and support community that organises buddies for new students, recreational events and extracurricular lectures in which students have the chance to interact informally with faculty.

For graduate students, the primary areas of research at Harvard are high-energy particle physics, atomic and molecular physics, physics of solids and fluids, astrophysics, nuclear physics, statistical mechanics, quantum optics, mathematical physics, quantum field theory, string theory and relativity.

1. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology places strong emphasis on science teaching and research.

The faculty members at the university share 74 Nobel prizes and 71 United States National Medals of Science or Technology between them, and include four chief scientists of the US air force.

Numerous staff members are also associated with Nasa. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which was founded in the 1930s and is owned by Nasa, is operated as a division of Caltech. To date, it has spent billions on research and development.

Physics is one of the most popular undergraduate and postgraduate degrees on offer at the university.


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