For IIT aspirants wanting to pursue Physics

The Physics Department, IIT Madras is offering an Dual Degree MS programme in Physics!

The Course:

The course is a 5 year Dual Degree MS programme. The first two semesters of the course will be common with the rest of the engineering branches, excepting some variations where engineering-oriented courses will be replaced by more fundamental courses. This is designed so that branch-change after the end of the first semester is possible. At the end of the 5 years, (as is the case with any other dual degree programme), the student will be given both a Bachelor’s degree and a Masters’ degree in Physics. Entrance will be through the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).

The intake per year stands at 10 students.

Worthy of mention is an innovative course on ‘Contemporary Physics’ – named so (as Prof. V Balakrishnan put it) because ‘Modern Physics’ still refers typically to de Broglie’s hypothesis! This course will focus on the latest advances in various branches in Physics and will be taught by several faculty from the department.

The Department:

The Department of Physics at IIT Madras is, in my opinion, probably one of the best Physics departments that you’d get across the country in the IITs.

The department has a strong low temperature and condensed matter group, a strong atomic and molecular physics group, a strong optics group, and a strong theory group working in fields like Quantum Information, String Theory, Dynamical Systems and Statistical Physics. Worthy of mention is the nanosciences group, out of which several patent-winning innovations have sprung up. An astrophysics group is expected to form very soon.

At the undergraduate level, in addition to the 5-year Dual Degree MS programme, the department offers a 4 year B.Tech. programme in Engineering Physics.

Physics has grown far from what we studied at JEE. Here are some of the stuff that’s done at the department:

Personal Opinions

I’m a student in the Engineering Physics [EP] BTech programme in this department and have an inclination towards Theoretical Physics. I find the courses in the department very enjoyable and find most of the faculty outstanding. Most faculty are very helpful and warm, and try to do their best to ensure you a successful career.

I also find the subject matter of theoretical physics very enjoyable. We’ve been doing a lot of “fun” stuff (far more fun than JEE physics) like studying the chaotic dyanmics of population growth, solving for the curvature of spacetime around a blackhole, describing interactions of LASER light with an atom quantum, studying functions with very weird singularities, or working dynamics in some “twisted” spaces in our courses so far! As Feynamn points out, there’s something called ‘Intellectual Enjoyment’ and classes in the last 2 years have been an experience of the same.

That apart, we also have a theory discussion group called ‘Boltzmann’ out here which meets on Saturdays in the department. We discuss theory just for fun. We discuss rather advanced topics in various branches of Physics. We discussed the ‘Ising model’ last semester, and one of my batchmates took that forth into a model for economic markets that he’s currently working on. This semester, we discussed a wide variety of topics including Quantum Information Theory, Quantum Computing, Group Theory and some quantizations of fields.

I guess the MS programme will be just as much fun (or maybe even more – hey, you don’t do some boring old courses on Fourier transforms!) as the EP programme. If you have a strong liking for Physics, then the Dual Degree MS is probably for you. If you’re still ‘undecided’, the Engineering Physics programme may be a good idea as it gives you the required credentials to continue as an Electrical Engineer.


If you need some help deciding, you could contact me < akarshsimha AT gmail DOT com >; my friend from EP, Naveen < naveensharma30 AT gmail DOT com >; or Dr. Suresh Govindarajan < suresh AT physics DOT iitm DOT ac DOT in >. All of us will be happy to help you make a decision or tell you what Physics is like!

For those of you curious, I’m now at the University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA, and am pursuing a PhD in physics. My work is currently a mix of experimental physics and theory.