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About Engineering Physics

What is Eng Phys?

Engineering Physics is an interdisciplinary field of study where new and advanced materials, devices and systems are engineered based on our fundamental understanding of physics. Our faculty and students are involved in pushing the envelope of new technologies. Engineering Physics combines Physics and Engineering to solve the most challenging problems in society today. Some call it “Applied Physics” or “Engineering Sciences”. It is more applied than Physics, and is one of the broadest disciplines in Engineering. Engineering Physics students will have knowledge of mechanics (Civil and Mechanical Engineering), electricity and magnetism and its application in electronic devices and circuits (Electrical Engineering), computation and simulation (Software and Computer Engineering), Thermodynamics (Chemical Engineering), properties of materials (Materials Science and Engineering), and quantum mechanics (Physics). As you can see, the program provides a breadth of knowledge that cannot be obtained in any other program. This is the knowledge required to drive technology forward and make a real impact on society today.

An in-depth Look at our Specializations

Photonics is the branch of science and engineering that involves the generation, control, and detection of light to provide useful applications for society. In the past two decades, Photonics Engineering has emerged as an important new discipline, partly due to an explosive growth in fibre optic communications. The application of light also extends to many other industries such as medicine, biophotonics, sensors, displays, nanotechnology, manufacturing, and traditional optical engineering.

Laser light is one of the greatest inventions of the past century, with significant impact on modern life. From manufacturing to medicine, the application of light is everywhere.

In the Engineering Physics Photonics stream, an understanding of the science behind the application of light is gained through courses that explore concepts from a theoretical and an applied industrial perspective.

Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) are small integrated devices or systems that combine electrical and mechanical components. They range in size from the sub micrometer (or sub micron) level to the millimeter level, and there can be any number, from a few to millions, in a particular system. MEMS extend the fabrication techniques developed for the integrated circuit industry to add mechanical elements such as beams, gears, diaphragms, and springs to devices.

Examples of MEMS device applications include inkjet-printer cartridges, accelerometers, miniature robots, microengines, locks, inertial sensors, microtransmissions, micromirrors, micro actuators, optical scanners, fluid pumps, transducers, and chemical, pressure and flow sensors. New applications are emerging as the existing technology is applied to the miniaturization and integration of conventional devices.

Mechatronics Engineering is a modern discipline that transcends the boundaries between Embedded Systems, Mechanical, Electrical, and Computer Engineering. Mechatronics Engineering is commonly defined as “The discipline that focuses on the design and control of electro-mechanical devices” or “the integration of electronics, control engineering and mechanical engineering.”

Devices that are constructed on the nanometre or micrometre scale are the technological backbone of the modern age of computers and high-tech communication. Since the introduction of the integrated circuit in the 1960’s, device components have decreased in size and cost at an exponential rate, while increasing in speed and capabilities. The rapid advances in computer capabilities has transformed the worldwide economy and has led to a more prosperous society.

The invention of the transistor in 1947 is an example of an engineering feat that has changed the world, leading to a $500 billion a year industry in integrated circuit fabrication.

In the Nano & Micro Devices stream, students gain an understanding of device science and engineering through a series of courses and hands-on device fabrication. In Level 4, students will fabricate and test a working integrated circuit using industrially relevant processes.


Nuclear engineering involves the application of scientific principles, engineering design and analysis, computer modeling and simulation, and government regulation for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

In the Nuclear Engineering & Energy Systems stream an understanding of the fundamentals of energy technology are explored in depth. Courses cover a broad range of skills which are transferable among all the energy sectors. Principles of alternative energy sources such as photovoltaics (solar cells), fuel cells, and wind power are explored in depth.

The nuclear engineering component of the McMaster program was one of the first of its kind created in Canada, and is one of the most prestigious in the country. Students also have the opportunity to complete labs in McMaster’s very own nuclear reactor.

Sustainable energy systems is the assessment of current and future energy systems, covering resources, extraction, conversion with emphasis on meeting regional and global energy needs in a sustainable manner.  Different renewable and conventional energy technologies and their attributes.  Evaluation and analysis of energy technology systems in the context of political, social, economic and environmental goals.

Optoelectronics is the study and application of electronic devices that source, detect and control light, usually considered a sub-field of photonics. In this context,light often includes invisible forms of radiation such as gamma rays, X-rays, ultraviolet and infrared, in addition to visible light. Optoelectronic devices are electrical-to-optical or optical-to-electrical transducers, or instruments that use such devices in their operation. Electro-optics is often erroneously used as a synonym, but is in fact a wider branch of physics that deals with all interactions between light and electric fields, whether or not they form part of an electronic device.

Optoelectronics is based on the quantum mechanical effects of light on electronic materials, especially semiconductors, sometimes in the presence of electric fields.

Semiconductor devices are electronic components that exploit the electronic properties of semiconductor materials, principally silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide, as well as organic semiconductors. Semiconductor devices have replaced thermionic devices (vacuum tubes) in most applications. They use electronic conduction in the solid state as opposed to the gaseous state or thermionic emission in a high vacuum.

Semiconductor devices are manufactured both as single discrete devices and asintegrated circuits (ICs), which consist of a number—from a few (as low as two) to billions—of devices manufactured and interconnected on a single semiconductor substrate, or wafer.

The term biophotonics denotes a combination of biology and photonics, with photonics being the science and technology of generation, manipulation, and detection of photons, quantum units of light. Photonics is related to electronics and photons. Photons play a central role in information technologies such as fiber optics the way electrons do in electronics.

Biophotonics can also be described as the “development and application of optical techniques, particularly imaging, to the study of biological molecules, cells and tissue”. One of the main benefits of using optical techniques which make up biophotonics is that they preserve the integrity of the biological cells being examined.

Biophotonics has therefore become the established general term for all techniques that deal with the interaction between biological items and photons. This refers to emission, detection, absorption, reflection, modification, and creation of radiation from biomolecular, cells, tissues, organisms and biomaterials. Areas of application are life science, medicine, agriculture, and environmental science. Similar to the differentiation between “electric” and “electronics” a difference can be made between applications, which use light mainly to transfer energy via light (like Therapy or surgery) and applications which excite matter via light and transfer information back to the operator (like diagnostics). In most cases the term biophotonics is only referred to the second case.

Smart systems integrate various sensors and actuators to analyze and control a process. Smart systems cover a wide range of technologies, ranging from nano- and micro-device engineering to nuclear power systems to health care devices. Nuclear power reactors, such as McMaster’s nuclear reactor, employ smart systems that measure and provide feedback for proper control of the reactor. In Engineering Physics, we are developing a “Smart Home” that seeks to integrate various home sensors to provide safer living for elderly persons. Engineering Physicists are seeking to integrate various electronic devices, making them faster and cheaper, but also giving them new functionalities.

            Nano- and micro-device engineering seeks to miniaturize and integrate electronic components to make unique digital devices.  This has enabled computer processor speeds to increase from a few MHz decades ago to several GHz today, and to shrink cell phones from the size of bricks to practical hand-held devices.  These are just two examples of how nano- and micro-device engineering has revolutionized the world and will continue to do so.  Engineering Physicists are involved in the design and fabrication of next generation devices in this exciting and fast-paced field. Smart systems seek to integrate diverse electronic and optoelectronic devices, such as electronic circuits, photodetectors, sensors, light modulators, and lasers into a single integrated system.

            Micro-electro-mechanical systems, known as MEMS, are tiny moving machines usually made from the element silicon. MEMS can include tiny vibrating structures that may be used to generate and detect electromagnetic waves, used to produce radio frequency identification tags for tracking packages or parts in a manufacturing line. Engineering Physicists are developing MEMS devices as sensitive detectors used in medicine and biology (e.g., to detect viruses). MEMS devices can be used to create tiny fluid pumps to mix small volumes of chemicals.  This could be used in the pharmaceutical industry in drug testing, or by a physician to test for diseases. MEMS are used to move tiny mirrors used in digital micro-mirror devices (DMD) such as projection displays.  Finally, MEMS are used in optical communications to produce tiny moving mirrors that control where light goes. Smart systems seek to integrate these diverse functions into a single chip for sensing and actuating.

            Mechatronics refers to the control and feedback mechanisms used in manufacturing processes.  For example, in the manufacture of a substance, you might want to measure the pressure in a reaction chamber and use that pressure to open or close a valve to keep the pressure constant.  Mechatronics involves instrumentation, data acquisition and processing, actuators, motors and motion controllers, electronics, robotics, etc. – basically, anything that can be used to measure and control a process.  Smart systems seek to cost effectively integrate these diverse functions into a single system. Companies hiring product or process engineers will be interested in Engineering Physicists with some knowledge in mechatronics.  If you’ve read this far, you’ll realize that Engineering Physicists design and fabricate components and systems used in mechatronics such as MEMS and electronic devices.  In Engineering Physics at McMaster, you will be involved in a number of hands-on mechatronics projects such as our 4A06 Project that will prepare you for this important field.

Is Eng Phys for Me?

If you like Physics and Math and do well in those subjects, then you’ll also do well in Engineering Physics. We have proven that students typically maintain the same or higher grade in Engineering Physics as they obtained in Level 1 Engineering.

Some FAQ's

No! Less than 20% of undergraduate students will stay for a Master’s degree. The majority find jobs in their field of study.

Yes! Our students find jobs in many areas of science, technology, engineering, and business. 

Discover more about our Co-op and Careers.

Engineering Physics students understand how electronic devices work, not just how to put them together to build electrical circuits. This means that students must also understand some materials properties, so they can design the next generation of devices and their applications.  We learn the essential Physics and materials properties of devices, so you can improve upon or invent new technology.


The Faculty of Engineering was approved by Senate in February 1958. In the Faculty’s first two years, the Department of Engineering Physics was one of the first five programs established.