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Curriculum – Physics Entrepreneurship

PHYS 491 & 492 Modern Physics for Innovation (6 credit hours; 1st & 2nd semesters)

LAWS 5341 Commercialization and Intellectual Property Management (3 credit hours; 1st semester)

LAWS 5366 Venture Finance & Transactions (2 credit hours; 2nd semester)

400-Level PHYS Course (3 credit hours, any semester)

Approved 400-Level Restricted Elective) (4-7 credit hours, any semester)

PHYS 651 Thesis (6-9 credit hours, beginning in 2nd or 3rd semesters)


Note: International students are highly recommended to complete Writing Workshop for Researchers (ENGL 186, 2 cr. hours) or equivalent training.



PHYS 491 & 492: Modern Physics for Innovation I & II

The objective of the course is to provide an understanding of science–with emphasis on physics–as a basis for successful innovation, launching new high-tech ventures, and real-world problem solving. The course examines physical limitations to select technologies, and the use of science to identify potential opportunities for innovation and new venture creation.Prerequisites include an undergraduate degree in physics, physical chemistry, math, or engineering with a substantial background in math and physics. Must have working knowledge of PowerPoint and Excel software, English communication skills, knowledge of standards in memo writing and source citation, basic presentation skills, and general research skills.In order to provide maximum flexibility for students, the course is taught at night and meets once per week. Class time will consist of problem solving practice, formal lecture, group discussion, and student presentations. Weekly deliverables will include problem sets, essays, and milestones toward a comprehensive value proposition of a new technology chosen by each student. Guest speakers will be used as appropriate. The course is based on an integrated presentation of four running themes:

1. Practice in complex, creative problem solving, including the application of physical principles for the improvement of existing technologies, determination of significant variables, and alternative solutions.

2. Review of physics/math principles and techniques relevant to problems of high tech innovation. In conjunction with PHYS 492, these principles and techniques will be developed throughout the year, and will include (but not be limited to): Energy, Heat, Power, and Explosions; Gravity, Force, and Space; Radioactivity, Nuclear Reactors, and Atomic Bombs; Electromagnetism; Waves and Acoustics; Light and Optics; Climate Change; Quantum Physics; Relativity; Probability and Statistics; Condensed Matter Physics; Physics of Materials; Computational Physics; and Non-linear Physics.

3. Case studies of physics, math, and chemistry-based technological innovation. These will include (but not be limited to) discoveries that have led to patents and major technology platforms such as the development of the transistor and its descendants, the laser, magnetic resonance imaging, Doppler radar, acoustic beam-forming, and the world-wide web (invented at the European Center for Particle Physics for particle physics applications). In addition, longer-term opportunities for innovation in emerging areas are reviewed. These may include (but not be limited to): Nanoscale physics and nanotechnology, biophysics and applications to biotechnology, and physics-based opportunities in the context of information technology.

4. Analysis of the role of the background business and entrepreneurial environment in defining the success or failure of a proposed physics-based new high-tech venture.


Restricted Elective

A course in science, engineering or technology innovation/entrepreneurship appropriate to an individual student’s program of study, as approved by the Physics Entrepreneurship Program Committee.


Internship and Thesis (Entrepreneurship Track “Plan A”)

Students are required to write a thesis in order to graduate with a Master of Science in Physics, Entrepreneurship Track. The thesis must be based on a project of significant time investment on the part of the student and must be grounded in the real world (e.g., not an hypothetical exercise). Thus, each PEP student is required to work as an intern, employee, or entrepreneur, typically with a start-up, existing company, early-stage investment firm, or an affiliate of a research organization. The duration of this work must be at least one year, with one semester typically reserved for work entirely outside of the classroom (usually the fourth and final semester). Because of time constraints and market uncertainties, STEP students are encouraged to begin their internship or job search as early as possible. Students typically start internships in the spring semester.

The PEP thesis must contain robust science/technology and commercialization sections. Otherwise there are no specific requirements for content, however all theses must be written under supervision of a thesis adviser.

An oral examination (defense) of the master’s thesis is required. This examination is conducted by a committee of at least three members of the university faculty, and includes a general oral examination of topics that have been agreed-upon by the committee in discussions with the student. The candidate’s Thesis Advisor customarily serves as the chair of the examining committee. The other members of the committee are appointed by the Faculty Director of the PEP program. The examining committee must agree unanimously that the candidate has passed the thesis examination. Because theses are made public immediately upon acceptance, they should not contain proprietary or classified material. When the research relates to proprietary material, the student and Advisor are responsible for making preliminary disclosures to the sponsor sufficiently in advance to permit timely release of the thesis, and these plans should be disclosed when the thesis is submitted to the School of Graduate Studies.

Internship Duration

Because of the nature of start-ups and technology commercialization, a student’s internship may consist of several projects with different organizations, some lasting as little as a few weeks. However, long-term (i.e., one year) internships are most desirable in order to develop meaningful relationships with mentors and industry players.

Internship Pay

STEP students, by United States labor law, must be paid for all work that is done unless it can be shown that “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded” (reference:TRAINING AND EMPLOYMENT GUIDANCE LETTER NO. 12-09). Students are paid for their work through various methods, such as direct pay from the sponsor, research grant, or economic development grant (i.e., Third Frontier Internship Program). Other arrangement such as equity and intellectual property may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis, within applicable laws.


Page last modified: February 23, 2017