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UNC to launch new Bachelor of Science in applied physical sciences

Photo Courtesy of UNC Photo Shelter.

This fall, UNC will be rolling out a new Bachelor of Science degree in applied physical sciences for students graduating in 2028 and after.

Richard Goldberg, teaching associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the applied physical sciences department, said the major focuses on four pillars: engineering design and thinking, computational data science skills, ethics and entrepreneurial mindset. 

“The overall idea is that students get engineering skills in a liberal arts context,” he said.

He said since the university has strengths both in and outside of the sciences, it has a unique position to help students understand different ways to tackle large challenges.

Juniors and seniors in the program will have the option to concentrate in one of two tracks, he said. One track is materials engineering, taught by faculty in the applied physical sciences department. The other is environmental engineering, a collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the department of environment sciences and engineering in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. 

Both concentrations combine foundations in chemistry, biology and physics with engineering principles. Goldberg said he hopes to see the major expand to four or five tracks in the future.

Because UNC does not have an engineering school, it can partner with other science departments to bring engineering skillsets to students.

“I am excited for the APS undergraduate students to have the opportunity to work closely with the APS and ESE faculty at Gillings to engineer a better environment,” Rebecca Fry, interim chair of the department of environmental sciences and engineering, said in an email statement.

Theo Dingemans, chair of the department of applied physical sciences, said designing the major was a very fun process. He went on several trips to visit similar programs across the country, where he said other universities were helpful in showing their labs, facilities and curriculums to him, which he was able to translate back to UNC.

Though the department’s applied physical sciences and engineering minor launched in 2020, Goldberg said the department has worked on this program since 2018. The major was going to be made official in 2022, but was pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Goldberg said most of the courses for the major, excluding a still-developing senior year capstone design project, are already being taught at UNC through the APS minor.

“We've been tweaking them and improving them, so that way we can start with a really high quality major from day one,” he said.

UNC first-year Nina Dhillon said she would have joined the new program if it were an option when she was applying to UNC. Dhillon is currently majoring in biomedical engineering with a minor in applied sciences and engineering.

“My high school was very engineering-focused,” she said. “So honestly, when I came to UNC, I was set on UNC, but I did want whatever the most engineering major they had here.”

Dhillon said she chose the university for its reputation as a school, not for a specific major. She said she hopes to earn a master’s degree in engineering and pursue a career involving engineering or 3D-printing work similar to an internship she held in high school.

The application process for the major will be similar to the minor. Applicants must complete four prerequisites in english, chemistry, calculus and physics, and they must submit a 300-word essay expressing their interest in the program. Transfer students can apply as long as they meet the requirements. 

The two windows for students to apply take place from November to December of 2024 and March to May of 2025. Goldberg said while he anticipates high demand, only 40 students will be accepted per year.

“We think that by bringing in the students with their ideas, with their creativity, that it can really make this program flourish,” Dingemans said.

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