Applied physical sciences will offer BS degree

Offered in fall 2024, the first major in the decade-old department connects engineering to the liberal arts.

Two female students working on a project next to an open laptop.
The new APS undergraduate major will initially offer two tracks in materials engineering and environmental engineering. (Photo courtesy of College of Arts and Sciences)

Beginning this fall, the College of Arts and Sciences’ department of applied physical sciences will offer a Bachelor of Science in applied sciences that connects engineering to the liberal arts. The undergraduate degree is a first for the decade-old department, which offered a doctorate when it launched in 2013 and introduced a popular minor in applied sciences and engineering in 2020.

“As a general engineering program, the goal of the APS major is to prepare students to address the major challenges in our society,” said professor Theo Dingemans, department chair. “In addition to acquiring technical engineering skills, we recognize the importance of training students to be problem-solvers with the skills and mindset to address complex, interdisciplinary problems.”

The new major will initially offer tracks in materials engineering and environmental engineering. Both tracks combine foundations in chemistry, biology and physics with engineering principles, modeling and computational analysis so that students develop a strong background in traditional engineering fields.

In the materials engineering track, students will work with materials and technologies that are the building blocks of industry to design new products and improve existing ones. Subjects include next-generation energy storage, polymer membranes for clean water, green plastics and medical devices. These upper-level courses will be taught by faculty in applied physical sciences.

In the environmental engineering track, students will learn how to use scientific and engineering methods to protect people from pollution and other negative effects of environmental degradation. They will also design solutions for sustainable resources, human health and environmental restoration. This track is a unique collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s environmental sciences and engineering department. Gillings faculty will teach the upper-level environmental engineering courses.

“We are excited to partner with APS in the launch of the environmental engineering track. This track leverages 103 years of a foundation in engineering based in the department of environmental sciences and engineering,” said Rebecca Fry, interim department chair at GIllings.

The applied sciences bachelor’s degree program was developed by looking at the latest research and innovative practices in engineering education.

“The curriculum will rest on four pillars that provide students with a hands-on application of technical concepts and tools, while integrating an engineering and entrepreneurial mindset throughout their education,” said Richard Goldberg, director of undergraduate studies and a member of the APS faculty. “Students will also wrestle with ethical considerations surrounding technology’s impact on society and culture.”

The development of these pillars was strengthened through a series of grants from the Kern Family Foundation. APS is leading an effort to incorporate entrepreneurially minded learning into its offerings and other STEM classes at UNC.

“Students will be encouraged to demonstrate curiosity about the world around them, make connections to integrate knowledge, and identify unexpected opportunities to create value,” said Goldberg. “While these characteristics are important for starting a new company, they are also important for addressing real-world problems within existing companies.”

The new major built on the minor, which currently enrolls more than 60 students. The major is open to students who plan to graduate in spring 2028 or later. Students can apply to the program by completing a standard application that requests biographical information and an essay. More information about the admissions process can be found on the website.

“APS has been working with an industry advisory board, as well as UNC students and faculty, to develop an exciting new program that will prepare students for a successful engineering career,” said Dingemans. “Students who graduate with the new major will be well-prepared for opportunities in industry and graduate programs.”