Financial institutions already employ physicists because they are uniquely familiar with the mathematical and conceptual thinking needed to understand financial risk in, for example, currencies and property.

Previously these physicists have had to learn about finance on the job. Andrew Hirsch, head of the physics department at Purdue, hopes that the new course will change this. "I believe that our course is unique, " he says. "We've looked at other computational finance and financial engineering programmes, and none has an active engagement with a physics department."

Purdue has already been contacted by several Wall Street firms about the availability of students from the course.