In Quest for the Theory of Everything
Physics at CUHK is well-known for its high-quality undergraduate and postgraduate programmes as well as its strengths in research. The training provides the knowledge, skills, and attitude for our graduates to pursue future studies and to launch a successful career in the 21st century workplaces. Many graduates were admitted into top graduate schools around the world for their studies toward a master’s or PhD degree in physics or related subjects.
The Enrichment Stream in Theoretical Physics (ESTP) is an undergraduate curriculum that offers a rigorous training, numerous research and student-centered learning opportunities, and experiential learning opportunities. ‘ESTP has been very well-received by students since its launching in 2015. Students enjoy the many learning opportunities that prepare them to move on in the 21st century’, says the Chairman of the Department Prof. Pak Ming Hui.
The ESTP curriculum provides a solid and thorough foundation on the key subjects and essential skills for learning physics at a level comparable to any major research universities in the world. It helps students explore their research potential and bridge the gap from undergraduate physics to postgraduate studies at the master's or doctoral level.
The programme admits only 20 students each year. Adrian Chan was one of the 20 in the second cohort. His reason for applying? ‘Studying the laws of the universe is always exciting and enjoyable to me. From particle physics to cosmology, every theory has its own beauty. ESTP is the only one in Hong Kong specializing in theoretical physics. As a student who wants to understand the beauty of the universe and attain greater knowledge beyond the undergraduate, ESTP is absolutely a great choice.’
Did the programme change the way he looks at physics? Adrian’s answer is in the affirmative: ‘I used to believe physics is an island and physicists just do experiments or try out their theories in the lab. But physics is really a cross-disciplinary subject. Because of the importance of physics, many fields of science or engineering need its theories and applications. Our professors have degrees in mathematics, engineering or even biology. This has changed my narrow view of physics and made me see that physics can be applied everywhere.’
On top of the standard syllabus common to all physics programmes around the world, ESTP students will experience an exceptionally high standard of learning characteristic of CUHK’s Department of Physics. Beginning students must go through a series of introductory courses to lay down a good foundation for the upper years. Studying in a caring environment, students are often stimulated and challenged by demanding works, including course assignments, small-group discussions, lab courses, seminars, projects, and undergraduate research opportunities during term time or in the summer. CUHK’s participation in international collaborations in particle physics, cosmology and astrophysics further provides ample opportunities for the students to acquire research experience. Well-motivated students with the goal of pursuing further studies will find the programme a perfect place to enrich their physics knowledge and skills.
Adrian believed that the most valuable thing about ESTP is the different opportunities provided by the Department: ‘The teachers, 35 of them, are great. The curriculum is challenging but rewarding, and there are many opportunities for me to explore each of the fields in physics. ESTP students are given many opportunities. Some may want to do research under the guidance of their professors in their junior year. Some may join tours to visit the frontier facilities of physics around the world. All these experiences are bonuses to the undergraduate years and beyond.
‘The students are good friends and study partners among themselves. We always discuss problems together in the library or computer lab, sharing our knowledge and opinions on problems encountered in class or arising from homework or revision. With each other’s help, it is much more fun to take on the challenges.’
The many opportunities mentioned by Adrian include:
- Summer Undergraduate Research Exchange
- Overseas Programme for Undergraduate Students
- Summer Internship Programme for Physics Undergraduate Students
- Study Tours
- Hong Kong Observatory Placement Programme
- Summer Teacher AppRenticeship
‘I have travelled to Japan and Swiss on study tours in the past year,’ said Adrian. ‘The experience of exploring the frontiers of physics is most impressive. We visited some famous facilities such as PSI and CERN which are top-tier research facilities. Talking with the researchers and exchange students from Hong Kong there, I knew my dream of becoming a physicist is within reach. This is the greatest motivation for me to study physics.’
The programme offers a balanced mix of lectures, tutorials, problem-solving sessions, seminars, group discussions, lab works, projects and undergraduate research opportunities. New students are assigned an academic advisor who can help them explore the many options and opportunities available to them. The foundation courses are designed to help students adapt to the university mode of learning physics. Learning is further supported by many non-formal experiential opportunities.
Adrian said, ‘ESTP is a programme that focuses a lot on theory. I believe most students in ESTP want to be theorists at the beginning. Up till now, I still want to continue to study physics after graduation and become a theorist. With training in mathematics, programming and physics knowledge, I am preparing to study more. The experience of experimental internship and daily learning are important for further studies. But of course, pure physics is not the only way to go. The training in ESTP also facilitates joining other fields at the postgraduate level.’
Having spent three years in ESTP, Adrian’s zeal for the subject has only deepened: ‘Physics is interesting, but studying physics is not easy. Complex systems, counter-intuitive phenomena, abstract and difficult mathematics may wear you down. But with good friends and teachers around, the hard work is worth it. If you like physics and love studying with other physics lovers, ESTP is the choice for you.’
Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018