PMA at a Glance

The Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA) is one of the six academic divisions at Caltech.

By the Numbers

  • Professorial Faculty: 70
  • Emeritus Faculty: 22                      
  • Graduate Students: 190
  • Postdocs: 118    

Academic Programs  

Undergraduate Degrees

  • BS in Astrophysics
  • BS in Physics
  • BS in Mathematics

Graduate Degrees

  • MS, PhD in Astrophysics
  • MS, PhD in Physics
  • MS, PhD in Mathematics

The MS is awarded under special circumstances only.

Faculty and Alumni Honors & Awards

  • 14 Nobel Prizes in physics
  • 3 Crafoord Laureates
  • 2 Fundamental Physics Prize Recipients
  • 1 Fields Medal Recipient
  • 1 Kavli Prize Recipient
  • 15 National Medal of Science Members

PMA Rankings

  • No. 1 university for physical science, Times Higher Education Ranking, 2013-14, 2012-13, 2011-12
  • No. 1 physics graduate program in the nation, U.S. News and World Report, 2013-14

Discoveries

  • Four Nobel laureates, physics professor emeritus Carl Anderson (BS '27, PhD '30), theoretical physics professor emeritus Murray Gell-Mann, theoretical physics professor David Politzer, and theoretical physics professor Richard Feynman, each discovered particles or laws that are critical to our understanding of the standard model, which describes fundamental particles and how they interact.
  • In the 1970s, theoretical physics professor John Schwarz cofounded string theory, a possible path to a so-called theory of everything.
  • PMA has been behind the development and creation of the world's most sophisticated telescopes. Caltech cofounder George Ellery Hale helped found a number of astronomical observatories, including the Mount Wilson Observatory and Palomar Mountain Observatory; Jerry Nelson (BS '65) conceptualized segmented primary mirrors, now the standard for next-generation large telescopes; Caltech also helped launched astronomy in infrared and other wavelengths with advanced detection technology, space telescopes, and the Mauna Kea Observatory.
  • In 1992, theoretical physics professor emeritus Kip Thorne cofounded LIGO, the first observatory designed to detect gravitational waves.
  • Physics professor emeritus William Fowler (PhD '36) received the 1983 Nobel Prize for his 1950s work in which he came up with a theory showing how the universe's chemical elements form in stars.
  • In his research from the 1960s through the 1980s, astrophysics and planetary science professor emeritus Peter Goldreich helped explain the structure and mechanics of our solar system.
  • In 1963, astronomy professor emeritus Maarten Schmidt measured the distance to what was then the farthest-away object ever observed, which he dubbed a "quasi-stellar radio source," or quasar.
  • In the 1930s, astrophysics professor Fritz Zwicky and a Mount Wilson Observatory astronomer were the first to identify supernovas, neutron stars, and the origin of cosmic rays. Zwicky also provided the first evidence for the existence of dark matter. 
  • Theoretical physics professor Richard Feynman (pictured above) launched the study of quantum information with his vision of a quantum computer in the 1980s; today, theoretical physics professor John Preskill, mathematician Peter Shor (BS '81), theoretical physics and mathematics professor Alexei Kitaev, physics professor Jeff Kimble, physics assistant professor David Hsieh, and others are taking the field to the next level and leading research into related areas such quantum optics and matter.
  • Physics professors Maria Spiropulu and Harvey Newman lead a Caltech team at the Large Hadron Collider, where they have developed multiple generations of the experiments that, in 2011, were among those credited with discovering the Higgs boson.