Applied Physical Sciences Announces New Undergraduate Major

UNC’s applied physical sciences department will begin this fall offering a bachelor’s degree in applied physical sciences that’s intended to connect engineering to liberal arts.

The undergraduate degree is the first for the department, which offered a PhD in applied physical sciences when the department was formed in 2013 and introduced a minor in applied sciences and engineering in 2020. The degree will teach students engineering skills, problem solving and critical-thinking skills.

“Our program is unique because it’s engineering in a liberal arts environment,” Richard Goldberg, director of undergraduate studies in the department of applied physical sciences, told the Review. “We will leverage this to prepare our students for the complex, interdisciplinary challenges that they will encounter throughout their careers.”

The major will offer tracks in materials engineering and environmental engineering, which will “combine foundations in chemistry, biology and physics with engineering principles, modeling and computational analysis so that students develop a strong background in traditional engineering fields,” according to an article by the College of Arts and Sciences.

In the materials engineering track, students will engage with materials and technologies pivotal to the industry, such as next-generation energy storage and polymer membranes for clean water. In the environmental engineering track, students will employ scientific and engineering methods to mitigate pollution and address environmental issues.

Upper-level environmental engineering courses will be taught by faculty in the department of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, according to Goldberg.

The major curriculum has expanded on the minor, which currently enrolls more than 60 students. Goldberg said it has fewer required courses than a typical engineering program, allowing students to explore more liberal arts courses.

“In our classes, students will gain a strong technical background while also considering many other factors such as regulatory, sustainability, ethical and economic issues,” Goldberg said. “We have four pillars that are implemented in every APS class, including design and making skills, computational skills, entrepreneurial mindset and ethics.”

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