Undergraduate Program

Program Description

Founded in 1926, the Department of Geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines is internationally recognized and respected for its programs in applied geophysical research and education. With 13 active tenure/tenure-track faculty and small class sizes, students receive individualized attention in a close-knit department. Given the interdisciplinary nature of geophysics, the undergraduate curriculum facilitates students’ understanding of geological, mathematical, and physical theories in addition to geophysics. Our mission is to educate undergraduates in the application of geophysics to help meet global needs for energy, water, food, minerals, and to mitigate natural hazards and their impact, by exploring and illuminating the dynamic processes of the earth, oceans, atmosphere and solar system.

Geophysics is the study and exploration of the earth’s interior through physical measurements collected at the earth’s surface, in boreholes, and from aircraft and satellites. Using a combination of mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, hydrology, and computer science, a geophysicist analyzes these measurements to infer properties and processes within the earth’s complex interior. Think of geophysics as analogous to medical imaging on the earth.

Geophysics students with equipmentThe earth supplies materials society needs, serves as the repository of used products, and provides a home to all its inhabitants. Geophysics and geophysical engineering have important roles to play in solving challenging problems facing Earth’s inhabitants, such as providing fresh water, food, and energy for the growing population, evaluating sites for underground construction and containment of hazardous waste, monitoring aging infrastructure, mitigating the threat of geohazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, avalanches) to populated areas, contributing to homeland security by detecting and removing unexploded ordnance, evaluating changes in climate and managing society’s response to them, and exploring other planets.

Energy companies and mining firms employ geophysicists to explore for hidden resources around the world. Engineering firms hire geophysical engineers to assess building sites for large construction projects and waste-management operations. Environmental organizations use geophysics to conduct groundwater surveys and track the flow of contaminants. Globally, geophysicists employed by universities and government agencies (such as the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) try to understand such earth and planetary processes as heat flow and  gravitational, magnetic, electric, thermal, and stress fields within the earth’s interior. For the past decade, nearly all geophysics graduates have found employment in their chosen field, many at the time they graduate, with some choosing to pursue graduate studies. The undergraduate program in the Department of Geophysics leads to a Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree in Geophysical Engineering, which is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), www.abet.org. Students who earn this degree and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam receive Engineer-in-Training status, the first step toward licensure as a Professional Engineer.

Geophysical Engineering Curriculum

Geophysics is an applied and interdisciplinary science, hence students must have a strong foundation in physics, mathematics, geology and computer sciences. Superimposed on this foundation is a comprehensive body of courses on the theory and practice of geophysical methods. As geophysics and geophysical engineering involve the study and exploration of the entire earth, our graduates have great opportunities to work anywhere on, and even off, the planet. Therefore, emphasis is placed on electives in the humanities, which give students an understanding of international issues and different cultures. To satisfy all these requirements, every student who obtains a Bachelor’s Degree in Geophysical Engineering at Mines must complete the courses in the Mines Core Course Sequence plus the requirements set out in the Mines Catalog.

Independent Study

Geophysics undergraduates may apply for up to six credits of an independent study experience, which takes their studies beyond the regularly offered Department curriculum. Students should consult the Mines Catalog, and their academic advisors, for details and requirements. Proposals for independent study course credit must be received in the Department office by the end of the first week of the semester in which they intend to enroll. The course proposal should fit this format: Independent Study Format.

Professional Engineering Registration

A professional career in geophysical engineering or geophysics will generally include many different employment opportunities. Graduates who work in environmental, geotechnical, groundwater, and other similar areas of application will have jobs with a strong engineering component, for which professional registration will be an important consideration.

Seniors should watch for an announcement early in their Fall semester regarding review sessions offered on campus to prepare them for the Engineer-in-Training / Fundamentals of Engineering (EIT/FE) exam. Upon earning a BS Degree in Geophysical Engineering and successfully completing the EIT/FE exam, a Mines graduate has a good start toward professional registration as an engineer.

Minor in Geophysical Engineering

Geophysics plays in important role in many aspects of civil engineering, petroleum engineering, mechanical engineering, and mining engineering, as well as mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, hydrology, and computer science. Given the natural connections between these various fields and geophysics, students in other majors may consider a minor in geophysics. The core of courses required for a geophysical engineering minor are:

  • GPGN229, Mathematical Geophysics (3.0 credits)
  • GPGN328, Physics of the Earth I (3.0 credits)
  • GPGN329, Physics of the Earth II (3.0 credits)
  • GPGN314, Applied Geophysics (4.0 credits)

Students may satisfy the remaining 5 hours with a combination of other geophysics courses, as well as courses in geology, mathematics, or computer science, depending on the student’s major.  Students must consult with the Department of Geophysics to establish an approved sequence of courses for the minor.  Previous or concurrent experience in programming is recommended, but not required.

Geophysics Combined Degree Program

The Department of Geophysics combined program allows undergraduates in any Mines option to work on a Master of Science degree in Geophysics or Geophysical Engineering while completing the requirements for the Bachelor of Science program. The combined program can take as little as one year beyond the Bachelor of Science degree.

Students are encouraged to apply for admission as early as the Spring semester of their Junior year. Upon admission to the graduate program, they are assigned graduate advisors to help select graduate courses and plan for internships, both of which then are reviewed and approved by the Master’s committees. Graduate courses can be taken during the senior year and beyond.

In addition to course work, combined-program students may carry out Master’s-level thesis research in fields related to their career goals. Students are strongly encouraged to plan projects during their Senior Design experience that can be expanded to a Master of Science thesis.

As with many graduate students in Geophysics, students in the combined program often continue their research projects while working as graduate interns for leading companies or government agencies in fields such as resources (oil, minerals, groundwater), pollution and hazardous waste, geologic hazards, civil engineering, archeology, etc. In some cases, financial support for the student is made available their graduate course work, either by an employer or by the Department. Upon completion of all course work and research, candidates will write, submit, and defend a Master of Science thesis. The Master of Science degree is awarded after each candidate has successfully completed all requirements for the graduate program.

Begin your Mines journey here

ABET Accreditation

The program leading to the degree of Bachelor of Science in Geophysical Engineering is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET, http://www.abet.org.

The enrollment and graduation data for the Geophysical Engineering program and other Mines programs can be found on the homepage of the Mines Office of Institutional Research.

ABET Program Educational Objectives

The Geophysical Engineering Program has three (3) program educational objectives that are intended to characterize our graduates when they are 3-5 years post graduation:

Program Objective 1:
Obtain positions in industry, government facilities, or academic institutions, or pursue graduate education in science, engineering, or other fields.

Program Objective 2:
Demonstrate advancement in their chosen careers.

Program Objective 3:
Engage in appropriate professional societies and continuing education activities.

ABET Student Outcomes

ABET student outcomes are attributes of Geophysical Engineering students that are developed and measured in the Geophysical Engineering curriculum. Achieving these outcomes places a student on a successful trajectory toward exhibiting the characteristics represented by the program objectives.

From ABET Criterion 3:

  1. An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering.
  2. An ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.
  3. An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health, safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
  4. An ability to function on multidisciplinary teams.
  5. An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems.
  6. An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  7. An ability to communicate effectively.
  8. The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.
  9. A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning.
  10. Knowledge of contemporary issues.
  11. An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.