10 of the Most Improved Universities for Physics & Astronomy in 2018 | Top Universities

10 of the Most Improved Universities for Physics & Astronomy in 2018

By Sabrina Collier

Updated March 31, 2021 Updated March 31, 2021

If you’re looking to study physics & astronomy at a highly ranked university, the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018 is a good place to start your search. Along with 47 other subjects, this year’s ranking features a physics & astronomy ranking which includes 500 institutions around the world, based on a methodology which assesses academic and employer reputations, research impact and more.

In this article, we’ll focus on the universities in the top 50 which have most improved their positions from last year’s physics ranking. You can view the full physics ranking table here.

Cornell University

Cornell University

Cornell University is up four places this year to rank joint 19th with Tsinghua University, having improved its score for employer reputation since last year. Cornell’s physics department is known for its versatile programs and Nobel Prize-winning research, with the presence of a particle accelerator contributing to its notoriety in particle and accelerator physics.

Also, the university’s Department of Astrology offers a flexible bachelor’s degree which can be customized to each student’s needs. Undergraduates can also get involved with research opportunities.

Columbia University

Columbia University

Up from joint 19th to place 14th among the world’s top universities for physics and astronomy, Columbia University has improved its scores for both academic and employer reputation since last year.

Astronomy has been taught at Columbia since 1757 and has formed an important part of its curriculum, with research highlights such as the first applications of photography to stellar astrometry and spectroscopy in 1863. Since 1901, 27 people associated with Columbia have won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University has entered the top 20 in this year’s physics ranking, climbing from 24th to joint 19th with Cornell. Tsinghua’s physics department was founded in 1926 and has since earned a reputation as one of the most prestigious physics departments in China. At undergraduate level, you can choose between physics and applied physics, with both programs aiming to provide you with a strong understanding of the fundamental theories and research methods in physics and prepare you for a wide range of careers.

Sapienza - Università di Roma

Sapienza - University of Rome

Italy’s Sapienza University of Rome, often called Sapienza, is up from joint 44th to 39th in this year’s physics ranking, with a much-improved score for employer reputation. Although its bachelor’s in physics degree is only available in Italian, the university offers English-taught master’s degrees such as an MSc in atmospheric science and technology, which focuses on atmospheric science from a physical and engineering perspective. Other master’s degrees available include particle and astroparticle physics, and space and astronautical engineering.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University

In the US, Carnegie Mellon University is ranked joint 45th in the world for physics and astronomy this year, climbing at least six places from its 51-100 position in last year’s ranking. Carnegie Mellon’s physics department fosters a culture which recognizes that graduate students are the key to the department’s success and strives to provide them with a supportive community.

University of Edinburgh

University of Edinburgh

Ranked joint 45th for physics this year alongside Carnegie Mellon, the University of Edinburgh also climbed from 51-100, improving in three of the four subject ranking indicators. Institutes and research groups based within the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy include the Institute for Astronomy (IfA), one of the UK’s major centers of astronomical research, with strengths in survey astronomy, cosmology, active galaxies and the formation of stars and planets.

Australian National University (ANU)


Also climbing from the 51-100 range in this year’s physics ranking, Australian National University (ANU) is up at least seven spots to now rank 44th in the world for physics and astronomy, with improved scores for academic and employer reputation.  

ANU’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Australia (RSAA) is home to the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO), the largest optical observatory in Australia, and students also benefit from the problem-solving focus of the university’s physics degrees, taught by world-leading academics.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)


Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is next in our look at the most improved top universities for physics in 2018, having climbed nine places to rank 38th. NTU offers BSc degrees in physics and applied physics, aiming to provide a firm foundation in the key theories of physics along with experimental training. You can also choose to specialize in your degree in either nanotechnology, optical technology, semiconductor technology or biophysics.

The University of Manchester

University of Manchester

The University of Manchester is up 10 places this year, meaning it’s now placed 30th in the world for physics and astronomy. The university’s School of Physics and Astronomy is one of the largest in the UK, with students benefiting from facilities such as the Jodrell Bank Observatory.

The school has origins dating back to 1874 and has hosted many award-winning scientists over the years, including Professor Brian Cox OBE and Ernest Rutherford, who earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for splitting the atom.  

UCL (University College London)

One institution among the world’s top universities for physics in 2018 deserves particular credit for its improvement this year, and that’s UCL (University College London), which has climbed impressive 11 places to now rank 33rd.

Located in the historic Bloomsbury area in London, UCL’s Physics and Astronomy Department has an internationally renowned reputation for ground-breaking research and high-quality teaching – for example, it was one of the first universities in the world to investigate space research.

UCL’s excellent teaching facilities include the Astronomical Observatory in Mill Hill, one of the best-equipped astronomical facilities for student training and research in the country.

Other highly improved top physics schools

Looking outside the top 50, other universities which have greatly improved their ranking positions this year include the US’ Stony Brook University, State University of New York, up from 151-200 to 51-100, Sweden’s Lund University and Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo (USP), both up from 101-150 to 51-100, and Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin, up from 201-250 to 101-150.

This year’s 10 top universities for physics & astronomy

Top 10 Universities for Physics & Astronomy Worldwide

Based on the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2018


Name of Institution



Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

United States


Harvard University



Stanford University



University of Cambridge

United Kingdom


University of California, Berkeley (UCB)



University of Oxford



California Institute of Technology (Caltech)



Princeton University



University of Tokyo



ETH Zurich


See the full ranking of top physics schools >


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This article was originally published in February 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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