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A physics major provides a rigorous grounding in the scientific process and a firm scientific understanding of the world. It fosters critical thinking and provides broad practical training in science and technology.

Formally, the physics major requires 15 courses:

  • Math 111, 112, 212
  • Physics 111, 112, 201 and 202
  • Physics 220 or 230 (1 semester of applied physics)
  • Physics 301, 302 and 304
  • One additional 300-level course
  • Physics 401 (Junior Independent Study)
  • Physics 451 and 452 (Senior Independent Study thesis)

The Calculus Physics sequence (Physics 111-112) is a prerequisite for the selection of physics as a major and is best taken the first year. (One can still complete the major if the sequence is taken the second year.) The Calculus sequence (Mathematics 111-112) must be taken at least concurrently with the Foundations sequence. Mathematics 107 and 108 can substitute for Mathematics 111. Those students considering graduate study in physics should also take Physics 350 (Quantum Mechanics), Mathematics 211 (Linear Algebra), Chemistry 111 and 112 (Intro Chemistry and Principles of Chemistry), and as many advanced physics courses as can be scheduled.

Physics Course Catalogue entry

For students interested in engineering, physics is a natural major to combine with the 3-2 engineering program. However, such students must complete enough physics in three years to complete the major in the fourth year, if necessary.

Why study Physics?

Physics is fundamental

Physics is essential to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. As the most basic science, it is the foundation of many other sciences, including chemistry, astronomy, oceanography, and seismology. Physics challenges our imaginations with concepts like relativity and quantum mechanics, and it leads to great discoveries, like computers and lasers, which transform our world.

Physics is practical

Physics undergirds many new technologies, such as the World Wide Web, cell phones, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which have revolutionized our lives. Many physicists work as engineers, and many engineers have physics degrees. In fact, the problem-solving abilities and analytical skills provided by a physics education equip us to work in diverse places-on school and college campuses, in industrial and government labs, in the astronaut corps, or even on Wall Street.

Physics is beautiful

Physicists love the elegance, simplicity, and universality they find in nature. They constantly strive to find simple solutions to complex problems. For example, physicists have discovered that all electromagnetic phenomena, from the deflection of a compass needle to the iridescence of peacock feathers, are concisely summarized by Maxwell's equations, which fit comfortably on the T-shirts many of them often wear.

Physics is enriching

Physics enhances our appreciation of the world. Without any physics, we enjoy the beautiful colors of a rainbow. With physics, we also marvel at how raindrops disperse, refract, and maximally reflect sunlight at a 42 degree angle; we look for the faint secondary bow of reversed colors from double reflections inside the raindrops and the compensating dark band of unlit sky between the bows; we know that high above the ground pilots are treated to full, circular rainbows!

Physics is fun

Physicists play with cool toys. They use scanning probe microscopes to arrange individual atoms on substrates to spell out their school or company logos, a dozen atoms high. They modulate optical shutters in space and time to project laser beams that bend in air. They take x-ray photographs of their fingers by unpeeling Scotch tape in a vacuum. They build the world's largest machine, the Large Hadron Collider, to recreate conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.