The National Science Foundation has awarded approximately $1 million to the University of California-Irvine for research to discern the best ways to support low-income students who want to major in physics and for scholarships for these students.

The 5-year project will provide at least 60 scholarships to physics majors who have financial need and deemed to have academic merit.

UCI is positioning itself as a leader in serving students who come from low-income backgrounds and are the first in their families to attend college.

A separate campus initiative recently doubled the number of incoming physics majors.

UCI had been enrolling about 40 to 45 students in this major yearly. It has recently seen an average of 85 incoming students planning on majoring in physics. The university had its largest incoming class in 2015, with 105 freshmen planning to be physics majors.

But many of these students drop out, which is typical at other universities as well. UCI physics faculty don’t know exactly why physics students drop out at this university, according to Laura Tucker, assistant teaching professor in UCI’s department of physics and astronomy.

“Research done elsewhere suggests financial challenges (for low-income students), difficult coursework/lack of preparedness and lack of strong social and academic supports,” Tucker said via email. “What we will do as part of this grant is probe these questions at UCI with students who persist and students who drop out, and then measure the effects of our new programs.”

The NSF-funded project aims to double the graduation rate for all incoming physics majors, significantly increase the graduation rate of low-income students in physics, and improve academic success in introductory physics and mathematics courses.