How can a degree in Physics lead to computer programming?

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What is Physics?

Physics is a natural science, whose etymology comes from Ancient Greek: φυσική – later Romanized to physikḗ, which means knowledge of nature. It rivals philosophy and mathematics as one of the oldest academic disciplines that focuses on studying matter and energy.

Mathematics, a precursor to physics, dates back to pre-dynastic Egyptians and Sumerians who created geometric designs around the 6th millennium BCE. Agriculture may have generated the need to measure land, tax property owners, and chart the course of the night sky. From 2600 BCE, the Sumerians established multiplication tables and the abacus –a crude counting device. Their numeral system was sexagesimal, meaning the number 60 acted as its base.

The transition from mathematics to physics would not be possible without the former. Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, Kepler’s laws of planetary orbits, Galileo’s proposal of a heliocentric universe, and Einstein’s theory of relativity would not exist without the mathematics application. Newton used calculus to develop his theory of gravity. Consequently, calculus, algebra, geometry, and math remain crucial in physics’ programs.

What is Computer Programming?

Obviously, computer programming doesn’t have a history going back millennia. Scholars have credited Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-52), an English mathematician, as one of the first computer programmers. She worked on Charles Babbage’s mechanical computer, known as the Difference Engine, and she developed an algorithm for the machine. Labeled as the Father of the Computer, Babbage had a philosophy, mechanical engineering, and mathematics background.

Programming involves algorithms originating as arithmetic calculations, such as division algorithms used by ancient Babylonian mathematicians (c. 2500 BCE). Currently, binary math makes a computer function, which is why most computer science programs include algebra, calculus, and statistics. Some programs have math courses within the General Education Requirements. A Bachelor of Science in Computer Science – Programming concentration at Baker College in Owosso, Michigan, has pre-calculus, Algebra, and Discrete Mathematics classes in its curriculum.

The above information supports the premise that mathematics is mutually beneficial to computer programming and physics. What about the relationship between physics and programming?

Temple University in Philadelphia affirms the connection by offering a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Physics at its College of Science and Technology. The three primary academic areas are mathematics, physics, and computer science. Graduates will be knowledgeable in:

  • Data structures
  • Algorithms
  • Mathematical physics
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Programming

Examples of physics courses’ choices are classical mechanics, mathematical physics, electricity, magnetism, and thermal physics.

Temple lists the following as possible career opportunities for physics and computer science majors:

  • Computer Network Architect or Specialist
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Security Management Specialist
  • Software Developer
  • Database Administrator

Computational physics borrows on numerical analysis and computational science to solve physics problems of a quantitative nature. A major in this discipline could lead to programming as it combines computer science and physics. Regis University offers an undergraduate degree that includes courses in calculus, discrete mathematics, and data structures.

The University at Buffalo, founded in 1846, has a B.S. in Computational Physics whose curriculum is weighted with calculus and physics classes. There are only four credit hours of Programming Languages. Because of the limited computer science hours, this may not lead to a career in programming.

Individuals interested in programming jobs should choose a computer science program that includes the standard programming languages, such a Python, Java, Ruby, and JavaScript. Southern New Hampshire University offers an online B.S. in Computer Science that teaches software development, information security, data analysis, and software engineering.

From a job perspective, some professionals advise taking programming courses while majoring in physics. Generally, there are more job openings in computer science than physics, unless you have a master’s or Ph.D. However, your workload of mathematics in a physics program prepares graduates for numerous employment opportunities. The math foundation rewards students with analytical and critical thinking skills that any employer finds advantageous.

Some graduate physicists opine that the job market, except for research and teaching, is very narrow. Both typically require a doctorate. Therefore, students would be better off taking computer-related classes during undergraduate and graduate physics programs to enhance their job prospects. A comment on Quora confirms this statement as an individual with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics worked for 15 years in research, then switched to the computer software industry.

In summary, yes, a physics degree could lead to programming – depending on how many courses you complete in programming languages. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers are projected to decline by 9% job growth from 2019-2029. Surprisingly, Physicists and Astronomers’ occupation may grow at 7% over the same ten years for those with a doctorate.

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