Physics, Atmospheric (ATPH)

Department of Physics

J. VANDERLEI MARTINS, Graduate Program Director

FRANSON, JAMES D., Ph.D., California Institute of Technology; Quantum optics, quantum information, fundamentals of quantum theory
HAYDEN, L. MICHAEL, Ph.D., University of California, Davis; Photo-refractive and electro-optic properties of polymers, non-linear optics, terahertz science and imaging
JOHNSON, ANTHONY, Ph.D., City College of the City University of New York; Non-linear optics, photonics, fast optical phenomena
ROUS, PHILIP J., Ph.D., Imperial College of Science and Technology and Medicine, U.K.; Theoretical physics, surfaces, interfaces and nano-structures
SHIH, YANHUA, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park; Non-linear and quantum optics, laser physics

Associate Professors
GEORGANOPOULOS, MARKOS, Ph.D., Boston University, high energy astrophysics, active galactic nuclei, relativistic jets, extragalactic background light.
GEORGE, M. IAN, Ph.D., University of Leicester, U.K.; X-ray astronomy, active galactic nuclei, quasars, photo-ionized gas
GOUGOUSI, THEODOSIA, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh; Dielectric properties of thin films, surface and interface physics, nano-physics
HENRIKSEN, MARK J., Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park; X-ray astronomy, astrophysics
KRAMER, IVAN, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley; Theoretical physics, mathematical-modeling techniques
MARTINS, J. VANDERLEI, Ph.D., University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; Atmospheric physics, optics, aerosols, clouds, instrument development, aircraft, in situ and satellite measurements
PITTMAN, TODD B., Ph.D., University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Quantum optics, quantum information, non-linear optics
SPARLING, LYNN, Ph.D., University of Texas, Austin; Atmospheric physics
TAKACS, LASZLO, Ph.D., Lorand Eotvos University, Budapest; Mechanical alloying, X-ray diffraction
TURNER, T. JANE, Ph.D., University of Leicester, U.K.; X-ray astronomy, active galactic nuclei
WORCHESKY, TERRANCE L., Ph.D., Georgetown University; Electro-optic effects in III-V semi-conductors

Assistant Professors
KESTNER, JASON, Ph.D., University of Michigan; Theoretical physics, semiconductor quantum dots, cold atoms, quantum information
ZHANG, ZHIBO, Ph.D., Texas A&M University; Remote Sensing, Cloud Physics, Aerosol-Cloud-Precipitation Interactions.

Research Faculty; Professor
STROW, L. LARRABEE, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park; Infrared molecular spectroscopy, atmospheric physics

Research Faculty; Associate Professors
KOCHUNOV, PETER, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio; MRI, quantitative imaging, imaging genetics.

Affiliated Faculty: Professors
REMER, LORRAINE, Ph.D. University of California, Davis; Aerosols, remote sensing and climate change.

Affiliated Faculty: Associate Professors
DAVIS, DAVID S., Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park; Multi-wavelength studies of galaxies
HOBAN, SUSAN, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park; Planetary Science, Comets, Dust in the Solar System, STEM Education
KUNDU, PRASUN, Ph.D., University of Rochester; Precipitation processes, stochastics
MCCANN, KEVIN, Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology; Atmospheric physics, atomic and molecular scattering
OLSON, WILLIAM, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin; Modeling of cloud processes
POTTSCHMIDT, KATJA, Ph.D., University of Tuebingen, Germany; High energy astrophysics, accreting X-ray binary stars
VARNAI, TAMAS, Ph.D. McGill University, Canada; Cloud heterogeneities

Affiliated Faculty: Assistant Professors
ENGEL, DON, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; Computational physics, molecular biophysics, statistical artificial intelligence.
DE-SOUZA-MACHADO, SERGIO, Ph.D., University of Maryland, College Park; Atmospheric spectroscopy, plasma physics

Degrees Offered

M.S., Ph.D.

Program Description

The Department of Physics at UMBC offers a graduate program leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics. This program provides students with a broad background in the atmospheric sciences, with further concentration on issues of atmospheric radiation and satellite remote sensing as they apply to the study of atmospheric physics, dynamics and global climate change. Collectively, courses will prepare students to understand the intricacy of Earth's atmosphere, make contributions to advanced atmospheric observational techniques and improve their understanding of the global environment based on a firm understanding of fundamental atmospheric physics.

Student research concentrations may include atmospheric radiative transfer, atmospheric dynamics, remote sensing, inverse problems, observational techniques (lidar, Fourier transform spectroscopy, satellite radiometry), and general problems in global climate change and atmospheric pollution. Students will acquire a solid core of basic physics by taking some of the courses offered in UMBC's Applied Physics Ph.D. program (see program entry for Applied Physics in this catalog). Students have the opportunity to interact with graduate students and faculty in several other departments at UMBC and will have the world-class resources at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center available to them via UMBC's Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET), a cooperative research venture between UMBC and NASA/Goddard.

UMBC is located close to several national laboratories in the Baltimore-Washington area. The atmospheric physics program has close working relationships with many of them, including NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in both Camp Springs and Silver Spring, MD; the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, MD; and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C. Faculty in the department have strong collaborations with the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA/Langley Space Flight Center, the NOAA/University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center and other universities.

Program Specialties

Faculty members in this program have expertise in a wide range of research fields, including atmospheric radiative transfer (both clear and cloudy atmospheres), ground- and satellite-based remote sensing (of temperature, humidity, ozone, rainfall, aerosols, clouds, trace gases, ocean ice, sea-surface temperature), data analysis, observational techniques (satellite instruments, including passive spectrometers/radiometers, imaging polarimeters, FTIR and lidar), aerosol/cloud physics, dynamics and data assimilation.

Degree Requirements

Master of Science (M.S.)

The M.S. degree is designed to prepare the graduate for immediate entry into the workforce as a practicing professional or as an entry into a doctoral program. This degree program is designed to offer students maximum flexibility, with many of the course requirements being electives. The minimum requirement for the master's degree is a total of 30 credit hours, of which 18 credit hours must be taken at the 600 level or higher. Students are encouraged to choose the thesis option, although a non-thesis option is available. All students must complete the core curriculum, which consists of PHYS 605: Mathematical Physics, and either PHYS 601: Quantum Mechanics I or PHYS 424: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, taken for graduate credit and three specialty courses in atmospheric physics, including PHYS 621 and PHYS 622. All of these required courses must be passed with a minimum grade of "B." All students also are required to take PHYS 698: Physics Seminar, for two semesters and PHYS 690: Professional Techniques in Physics.

In addition to the master's core curriculum, students selecting the thesis option must complete a further six credit hours of course work approved by a faculty advisor and six credit hours of PHYS 799: Master's Thesis Research. Approval of the graduate program director is required if the thesis research is not performed under the direction of a faculty member within the UMBC physics department.

Students selecting the non-thesis option must complete a further 12 credit hours of lecture course work approved by a faculty advisor, write a scholarly paper as part of an elective course and pass a written comprehensive examination. At least six of these additional 12 credits will be courses offered by the physics department, unless approved by the graduate program advisor in advance.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The minimum requirement for the Ph.D. is 46 credit hours, with a minimum of 28 credit hours of lecture courses at the 600-level or higher and 12 credit hours of doctoral research (PHYS 899). The graduate advisor must approve all coursework. All students must pass, with a minimum grade of "B," the six Ph.D. core curriculum courses: PHYS 601: Quantum Mechanics I; PHYS 602: Statistical Mechanics; PHYS 605: Mathematical Physics; PHYS 607: Electromagnetic Theory; PHYS 621: Atmospheric Physics I; and PHYS 622: Atmospheric Physics II. In addition to the Ph.D. core curriculum, students also must pass PHYS 690: Professional Techniques in Physics and PHYS 640: Computational Physics; take at least two specialized courses in atmospheric physics; and a minimum of 12 credit hours of PHYS 899: Doctoral Thesis Research. All students also are required to take PHYS 698: Physics Seminar for three semesters. The specialized courses in atmospheric physics include PHYS 721: Atmospheric Radiative Transfer; PHYS 722: Remote Sensing of the Earth's Atmosphere; PHYS 731: Atmospheric Dynamics; PHYS 732: Computational Fluid Dynamics; and PHYS 741: Inverse Methods and Data Analysis.

To be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree, students first must complete the Ph.D. core curriculum with a minimum grade of "B" in each course and then pass a written qualifying examination. The written qualifying examination covers all of undergraduate physics, and it is divided into three segments. Each segment is separately passed or failed. The entire examination usually is offered in August and January. The examination must be taken no later than one year after admission into the doctoral program. Students who fail a segment of the qualifying examination must retake that segment at the next opportunity. Students who do not pass the entire qualifying examination by the beginning of their third year of being in the doctoral program will not be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

After passing the qualifying examination, a prospective doctoral student must select a faculty advisor to supervise the dissertation research. Usually dissertation research is performed under the direction of a tenure-track faculty member of the UMBC department of physics. After selecting an advisor, students should begin acquiring the necessary background knowledge and skills to conduct research and develop a research plan. Within 12 months after passing the qualifying examination, students, in consultation with their advisor, will form a preliminary committee consisting of the advisor and two other faculty members from the UMBC Department of Physics. At least two of the members of this committee must be tenure-track faculty. The preliminary committee is charged with determining whether the student should be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree. A recommendation to this effect must be made to the full physics faculty no later than 18 months after the student has passed the written qualifying examination. The full faculty then will vote whether to recommend to the Graduate School that the student be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Immediately after it has been formed, the preliminary committee will meet with the student to discuss the proposed research project and progress to date. The committee will inform the student of any actions he or she must perform satisfactorily for the committee to make a positive recommendation to the faculty. In formulating its recommendation, the committee may gather and consider any relevant information concerning the student's potential for performing research at the doctoral level. This information should include, but is not limited to, the student's overall graduate record, a written research proposal and an oral presentation of the proposed research project.

After admission to candidacy and completion of the research, the student will be required to write and defend a dissertation before a committee constituted in accordance with Graduate School regulations. This research should be of a quality suitable for publication in a refereed physics journal. The chair of this committee must be a regular member of the graduate faculty and a tenure-track faculty member in the Department of Physics.

Program Admission Requirements

Students wishing to enter the Ph.D. or the M.S. programs in Atmospheric Physics should have an undergraduate degree in physics or atmospheric physics. If the student has taken significant course work in physics, an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science, chemistry, engineering, mathematics or meteorology may be acceptable. Ideally, their undergraduate curriculum should have included courses in modern physics, wave mechanics, statistical thermodynamics and classical electromagnetism. All students must meet the minimum standards for admission to the University of Maryland Graduate School, Baltimore. Decisions on admission are made by the UMBC physics department's graduate admissions committee and are based on the applicant's undergraduate grades, letters of recommendation and Graduate Record Examination scores (Aptitude Test and Advanced Test in Physics). In some instances, the GRE Advanced Test requirement may be waived. All original application documents must be sent directly to the Graduate School, not the graduate program.

Research Facilities

The department resides in the Physics Building, built in the summer of 1999. The Physics Building houses more than $7 million of new equipment. All 24 research laboratories are equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. Research facilities for atmospheric physics include numerous high-power Fourier transform infrared spectrometers/radiometers, several atmospheric lidar systems, multiple aerosol in situ instruments, a radiometric and polarimetric calibration facility, multiple systems for aerosol generation and characterization, instrument prototyping labs, a scanning electron microscope, etc. Two large labs have roof hatches that can be opened for direct access to the atmosphere for remote sensing. A 0.8m telescope located in a dome on the roof houses an atmospheric lidar system; this telescope is also used for astronomical observations and instruction. A suite of standard meteorological and aerosol in situ and remote sensing instruments is deployed on the roof of the Physics Building. The Physics Building houses a student/faculty machine shop and a class-100 clean room for producing photonic and other devices. There is also a resource room, informal meeting rooms, special seminar rooms and a reading room containing technical books, journals and magazines. The new building was designed specifically so faculty and graduate student offices are located close to the research laboratories for experimentalists or computational facilities for theorists. Several faculty members take part in NASA and NOAA field experiments, thus field studies can be an important part of a student's dissertation research. Several students and faculty member have access to laboratories and facilities in NASA Goddard through our Joint Research Centers.

UMBC and the Physics department have state-of-the-art computational facilities for research and graduate education. Numerous workstations and parallel multi-processor computers are available for student research. UMBC is a member of Internet2 with high-speed Internet connectivity. The Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery houses a large collection of chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics journals and monographs. The library also provides access to a complete collection of science journals and books through excellent inter-library loan and online services.

Outplacement Success

Recent M.S. graduates have obtained jobs in industry, education and government laboratories, including Northrop Grumman Corp., Essex Corp., the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Essroc Materials, EOIR Measurement Inc., BTi (San Diego), QSS and SAIC. Recent Ph.D. graduates have obtained faculty and research positions at Grove City College, Frostburg State University and California Polytechnic University. Ph.D. graduates have obtained research positions at the Naval Research Laboratory, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Harvard University, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin, Boston University, Penn State University, Louisiana State University, Bonn University (Germany), Bari University (Italy), Lockheed-Martin Corporation, SFA Inc., NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Langley, JPL, Lockheed Martin and Applied Signal Technology.

Financial Assistance

Nearly all full-time graduate students are offered a 12-month teaching or research assistantship upon admission. In 2013, full-time teaching assistants in the physics department received a stipend of $23,000, health benefits and up to 10 credits of tuition remission. Supplemental merit awards to well-qualified students can augment the regular stipend. In addition, up to two Special Merit Fellowships for the first year and GAANN Fellowships for subsequent years of $30,000 have been awarded to exceptionally well-qualified applicants. Research assistantships usually are offered to doctoral students in their second and subsequent years in the program.


The courses listed below are Department of Physics courses that are either required for the Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics and/or are specialized courses offered by the department in atmospheric physics. Students also may take other courses offered by the physics department (see the Applied Physics Ph.D. program entry in this catalog). In addition, relevant courses offered by the departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Statistics and Mechanical Engineering may also be available.

PHYS 601
Quantum Mechanics I [3]

Postulates, one-dimensional problems, angular momentum, three-dimensional problems, perturbation theory, interaction of quantum systems with the electro-magnetic field, fine structure, hyper-fine structure and the Zeeman effect, the ground state of helium, Kronig-Penny model, applications to solid-state physics and to laser physics. (Fall)

PHYS 602
Statistical Mechanics [3]

Review of statistical mechanics of ideal systems, non-ideal gases, phase transitions, Monte Carlo methods, non-equilibrium systems. (Spring)

PHYS 605
Mathematical Physics [3]

Group theory, non-linear differential equations, integral transforms, integral equations, numerical methods. (Fall)

PHYS 607
Electromagnetic Theory [3]

Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves in dielectrics, metals and crystals, wave guides, radiation, potentials and multi-poles. (Spring)

PHYS 621
Atmospheric Physics I [3]

Composition and structure of the Earth's atmosphere, application of thermodynamics to atmospheric problems, development of the fundamental equations of fluid motion, applications to synoptic scale atmospheric circulations, boundary layer effects, global circulation and other selected topics. (Fall)

PHYS 622
Atmospheric Physics II [3]

Physical meteorology, including atmospheric aerosols and cloud physics; introduction to atmospheric radiative transfer, including blackbody theory, Kirchoff's law; description of molecular absorption; Rayleigh and Mie scattering; simple solutions to the radiative transfer equation and other selected topics, time permitting (e.g., atmospheric electricity, climatology, atmospheric chemistry). (Spring) Prerequisite: PHYS 621.

PHYS 627 Atmospheric Physics Measurements [3]
Design, simulation, and execution of experiments in atmospheric physics and earth sciences using teaching and research instrumentation. The students will be exposed to the processes of development, construction, calibration, and application of instrumentation for the measurement of relevant parameters of the atmosphere in the field and in the laboratory. Students will also use state of the art instrumentation from the atmospheric research laboratories connected to the department. (Spring).

PHYS 640
Computational Physics [3]

Application of computers and numerical methods to physical models. Boundary value problems, Monte Carlo techniques and modeling. (Spring)

PHYS 650
Special Topics in Atmospheric Physics [1-3]

Courses will cover a specialized topic in some field of current interest in applied physics and will be taught by regular and visiting faculty.

PHYS 671
Introduction to High-Resolution Spectroscopy [3]

An introduction to molecular spectroscopy from the microwave to the ultraviolet. Molecular vibrations and rotations and the physics of spectral line shapes will be studied in some detail. Experimental techniques and applications of molecular spectroscopy to astronomy, remote sensing of the Earth's atmosphere and other fields will be studied. (Fall) Prerequisite: PHYS

PHYS 690
Professional Techniques in Physics [1]

Topics include preparing research presentations and posters, using research data bases, writing proposal and preparing budgets and developing resumes.

PHYS 698
Physics Seminar [1]

Each graduate student will attend and discuss a weekly research seminar.

PHYS 721
Atmospheric Radiative Transfer [3]

This course introduces the student to formal radiative transfer theory, which is simplified quickly for application to Earth's atmosphere. The physical processes, which contribute to absorption and scattering in Earth's atmosphere, are examined. Topics include molecular absorption via vibration-rotation transitions and spectral line formation in homogeneous atmospheres. Rayleigh and Mie scattering theory are covered, as well as their application to radiative transfer in clouds and aerosol-laden atmospheres. The importance of radiative transfer to the heat balance of Earth and implications for weather and climate will be examined. If time permits, various parameterizations and approximation schemes for atmospheric radiative transfer will be developed. (Fall) Prerequisite: PHYS 622.

PHYS 722
Remote Sensing of the Earth's Atmosphere [3]

Techniques for the passive and active remote sensing of the state and composition of the Earth's atmosphere. Fundamentals of radiative transfer as applied to remote sensing. Introduction to measuring radiation and designing passive and active instruments; theoretical background and algorithmic considerations for the passive and active sensing of aerosol and cloud properties; atmospheric profiles of temperature, humidity and trace gas concentration; and the state and composition of the Earth's surface. (Spring) Prerequisite: PHYS 721.

PHYS 731
Atmospheric Dynamics [3]

Overview of conservation laws, principles of rotating fluids, basic fluid flows and approximations to the primitive equations; description of the dynamics of mid-latitude synoptic systems, baroclinic waves and fronts using idealized models and basic approximations; dispersion, propagation, and energetics of atmospheric waves documented over different temporal and spatial scales of motion; survey of non-hydrostatic cloud and mesoscale convective systems. Prerequisites: PHYS 621 and PHYS 622.

PHYS 732
Computational Fluid Dynamics [3]

Basic concepts and theory of numerical solutions to partial differential equations will be taught, with an emphasis on those related to fluid dynamics. A major application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD), numerical weather prediction and climate simulation will be introduced. Prerequisite: PHYS 731.

PHYS 741
Inverse Methods and Data Analysis [3]

This course provides an overview of the mathematical methods used in inverse problems of remote sensing and in atmospheric data analysis. Methods based on estimation theory and variational principles will be presented. Topics include conditional mode and conditional mean estimation, linear and nonlinear least squares and applications to remote sensing and atmospheric data analysis. Prerequisites: PHYS 621 and PHYS 622.

PHYS 799
Masters Thesis Research [2-9]

Master's thesis research under the direction of a faculty member. Note: A total of six credits is required for the master's degree.

PHYS 898
Pre-Candidacy Doctoral Research [3-9]

PHYS 899
Doctoral Research [9]

Research on doctoral dissertation under direction of a faculty advisor. Note: A minimum of 18 credits is required for the doctoral degree.

* Other electives can be seen in the "Applied Physics"section of this catalog.