BSc in Physics

Our University

On 1 January 2005, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) was born from the merger of UPE (incorporating the PE Vista campus) and PE Technikon and will herald the dawn of an exciting new era in higher education.

It will bring together the best traditions of university and technikon education and will be able to offer students a wider variety of courses, greater flexibility in moving between courses, and a wider range of quality student services and facilities.

We are now known as Nelson Mandela University (Since 2017).

We are very proud of the name for our new university because it links us to the Metropole where we are situated and because Mr Mandela is a statesman and humanitarian of world stature. Graduates will go out into the world with a degree certificate bearing a name that is instantly recognizable and associated with academic quality and the highest moral standards.

The Summerstrand Campus

Our campus, just a stone’s throw from the sea, is relatively small, which means that you will NOT simply be another face in the crowd. The campus was planned with convenience in mind – the lecture halls, library, cafeteria and residences are within easy walking distance from one another. Moreover, the campus is part of a nature reserve, offering an abundance of springbok and other animals as well as a hiking trail for relaxation and exercise! The university offers clubs for all major (and some less well-known) sports and our facilities rank with the best in the country. Overall, the Nelson Mandela University offers a truly unique learning experience.

What is Physics?

Many people do not realize that Physics is an integral part of our lives. Whether you are listening to your CD player, driving a car, using your cell phone or visiting the dentist, you will be benefiting from technology based on principles that were discovered by Physicists. Physics is THE fundamental science – the whole universe is the playing field of the Physicist. We study the structure and behaviour of atoms, the different forces in nature, the properties of matter, and phenomena like electricity and magnetism, to name but a few. If you are crazy about science and technology, have an enquiring mind and want to understand how things work, Physics is your field of study.

The Physics department at Nelson Mandela University prides itself on being one of the flagship departments of the university. We offer our students individual attention, access to state of the art computerized practical training, enthusiastic and student-oriented staff. We are amongst the top three departments at the university in terms of our research activities and our work is internationally recognized. We have active collaborations with and funding from several industrial partners in the country, including Telkom, Aberdare Cables and Corning (optical fiber and solar energy related research), and De Beers and Mintek (research on hard materials and alloys for jet engines, etc.) as well as collaborations with several reputable overseas universities.

The BSc in Physics

Education in science and technology is a major priority in our country. The BSc (bachelor of science) is a general science degree, aimed to equip you with a basic understanding of science. Students may choose to major in many subjects, which can be broadly categorized as physical sciences (Physics, Chemistry), biological sciences (Biochemistry, Microbiology, Botany, Zoology), earth sciences (Geography, Geology) and mathematical sciences (Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Mathematical Statistics, Computer Science). The degree can be completed in three years. In the first year, you will take four subjects, three of which will be retained in the second year of study. Of these three, you will chose two in the third year (your so-called majors). If you decide to major in Physics, it will be a good idea to take either Chemistry, Mathematics, Applied Mathematics or Computer Science and Information Systems as your other major subject. Your choice would naturally depend on your chosen career path.

What can you do with your degree?

This is the million-dollar question. Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions of your life. Quite often, when students enroll for a BSc, they have not quite made up their minds on this one. The BSc degree should be seen as a stepping-stone which provides a foundation for a career in science. However, should you decide not to pursue a scientific career, you may want to become a science teacher and enroll for a one year diploma in higher education (HDE). Our country is in desperate need of properly qualified and enthusiastic science teachers

Should you opt for a career in science, it is recommended that you continue your studies by enrolling for an honours degree in Physics. Remember that the BSc degree is a general science degree. Only at honours level is there some degree of specialization, which often depends on the research activities in a particular Physics department. This of course varies from university to university. For example, the Physics department at Nelson Mandela University specializes in Solid State Physics, electron microscopy, solar energy and optical fiber communication, while other universities specialize in Nuclear Physics and Theoretical Physics, or Astrophysics. If some of these branches of Physics are unfamiliar at this stage, rest assured that by the time you have completed the BSc, you will be in a position to make an informed decision. Also remember that our standards are accepted nationally, which means you will be able to enroll for an honours degree at any university of your choice in South Africa.

After completion of the honours degree, you will be equipped to pursue a career in industry. Our graduates are in demand, by virtue of the fact that we have close collaborations with reputed companies and research institutions. Apart from our industrial partners mentioned above, our past students have found employment at Sasol, the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), Corning, Delta, Eskom, NECSA (National Energy Corporation of SA) and iThemba LABS (a national facility for nuclear research near Somerset West) to name but a few.

Should you decide to pursue an academic career, which involves lecturing and research in Physics at a tertiary institution (i.e. technikon/university), an MSc (master of science) and preferably a PhD (doctor of science) will be a minimum requirement. Quite often a prospective employer from industry might also insist that you complete an MSc degree. These advanced degrees are offered in our department in the fields mentioned previously.

If, after completion of the BSc degree, a career in “pure” Physics does not take your fancy, you can enroll for an honours degree in medical physics (at the University of the Free State, for example). Medical physicists are mainly involved in the application of radiation (X-rays, gamma rays, electrons, neutrons, etc.) in medical treatment. Alternatively, you can enroll for a BSc honours degree in Materials Science (at UCT, for example), which will ultimately allow you into the masters and doctoral programs in materials engineering. The materials engineer is concerned with the physical, chemical, electrical and mechanical properties of ceramics, polymers, metals and metal composites, which have important technological applications.

You see, with a background in Physics, the world is your oyster ….. you just have to open it!


The Nelson Mandela University offers accommodation in four residences (two for men and two for ladies) that are conveniently situated on campus. For further information, visit the Nelson Mandela University website at or phone (041) 504 2402.

For your convenience, the Physics department is also keeping a database of Summerstrand residents who are letting rooms/flatlets/houses to students. These were “hand-picked” by us to ensure value for money.

Financial assistance

The university administers several attractive bursary and merit award schemes. For details, contact the financial aid office at (041) 504 2550.

General information

Admissions: (041) 504 2593

The BSc (Physics):

The Head,
Department of Physics,
Nelson Mandela University,
PO Box 77000,
Port Elizabeth,