HMC Introduces Joint Major in CS and Physics

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The Harvey Mudd College faculty recently approved a new joint major in computer science and physics. The new major will serve students whose interests lie at the intersection of physics and computer science, particularly those excited about new discoveries in complex physical systems enabled by high-performance computing and/or machine learning and quantum computing and quantum information science.

“Student interest in exploring the intersection of physics and computing has grown recently, says Jim Boerkoel, computer science professor and department chair. “This new major will allow students to explore the latest advances in both fields as a coherent, compelling program of study.”

Computer science professor Zach Dodds and physics professor Vatche Sahakian were instrumental in creating the major. Dodds says, “My experiences of physics and CS are that both fields share a single goal and a single practice: the purposeful bending, stretching and invention of language—languages of all sorts, in fact—to describe and control phenomena we care about. The fields have always been siblings, and this major celebrates the closeness of their relationship.”

Sahakian agrees with Dodds and adds, “The subject of physics is an exploration of the patterns and rules that govern the physical world; in doing so, physics guides itself with the grammar of logic—mathematics—and uses tools founded in the scientific method. In this spirit, computer science provides physics (and other sciences) with powerful new tools for understanding the physical world and the big picture. Nowadays, most physicists need savviness and solid command of computer science concepts. I see the CS/physics joint major as a natural progression for our program, providing new opportunities to the students.”

“We are excited about the increased teaching and research collaboration between CS and physics that sharing a joint major will provide,” says Theresa Lynn, physics professor and department chair.

Several students have already declared the major, including Tanvi Krishnan ’24 and Arianna Meinking ’24, who each had created a CS/physics individual program of studies before the major was an option. Avani Anne ’25 responded to an email announcing the new major within four minutes of receiving it. “I decided to declare CS/physics because I really like both subjects,” Anne says. “I like the idea of having an interdisciplinary skillset, especially since I feel like computer science and physics are super applicable to each other.”

Anne hasn’t decided what specific area of research she intends to pursue but is interested in climate science and clean energy. “I am looking forward to seeing how both subjects intersect,” she says. “There are also so many interesting classes to take and things to learn from people in both departments.”

New courses will be offered in fall 2023.