Physics and Astronomy
Professors: Edwin F. Ladd, Thomas H. Solomon, Katharina Vollmayr-Lee
Associate Professors: Jeffrey M. Bowen, Jack F. Gallimore, Sally Koutsoliotas, Martin K. Ligare (Chair), David C. Schoepf, Michele D. Thornley, Benjamin P. Vollmayr-Lee
Assistant Professors: Katelyn N. Allers, A. Matthew Amthor, Jiajia Dong, James M. Higbie
Physics is the fundamental science of the natural world. The study of physics and astronomy leads to a deeper appreciation and awareness of the world around us. From the quantum mechanical behavior at the smallest scale to the workings of the cosmos at the largest scale, physics consists of a few general principles that explain a vast range of phenomena. Coursework in physics leads to an understanding of these phenomena and gives students experience in abstract mathematical modeling as well as experimental and computational techniques. As a means to enhance the physics curriculum, research opportunities in astronomy and physics also are available and strongly encouraged.
A physics major is an appropriate first step on the path to a career as a research scientist. Since physics is such a fundamental science, it can be the basis for the understanding of principles that are relevant to a wide variety of fields. It provides preparation for graduate study in physics or in related fields such as astrophysics, biophysics, medical physics, chemical physics, geophysics, or engineering. A fundamental understanding of nature has been a goal throughout history, and a study of physics can be the focus of a liberal education because of its connections with intellectual history and philosophy. A major in physics can be the platform for pursuing a wide variety of careers including medicine, law, business, and teaching.
A major in physics may be pursued under the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree programs, either of which can provide adequate preparation for graduate study. Students in the Bachelor of Arts program who plan to attend graduate school in physics should consult with their advisers to select an appropriate set of electives. The standard entry point for either degree program is the year-long introductory sequence PHYS 211-212.
Modern astrophysics involves the application of physics toward understanding the workings of the universe. Students interested in an introductory survey are encouraged to enroll in ASTR 101 Our Solar System or ASTR 102 Stars, Galaxies, and Beyond. The department also offers an astrophysics concentration as an option in the Bachelor of Science degree program, so that interested students may obtain a strong grounding in fundamental physics along with specialized coursework in astrophysics. This concentration is primarily designed for students considering advanced study in astrophysics or careers in astronomy and related fields.
A Bachelor of Arts major in physics consists of PHYS 211 (or PHYS 211E), PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E), PHYS 221, PHYS 222 (with prerequisite MATH 211), PHYS 310, and a minimum of three other 200- or 300-level physics courses, two of which must be at the 300 level. One of the 300-level courses must be chosen from PHYS 317, PHYS 331, PHYS 332, or PHYS 333. (The other courses may include ASTR 201 and/or ASTR 301.)
A Bachelor of Science major in physics consists of PHYS 211 (or PHYS 211E), PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E), PHYS 221, PHYS 222 (with prerequisite MATH 211), PHYS 235, PHYS 310, PHYS 317, PHYS 331, PHYS 332, PHYS 333, and a minimum of two other 300-level physics credits. (These courses may include ASTR 301.) In addition, Bachelor of Science candidates must take MATH 212, MATH 245, and a 200- or 300-level biology, chemistry, or geology course.
A Bachelor of Science major in physics with a concentration in astrophysics consists of PHYS 211 (or PHYS 211E), PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E), PHYS 221, PHYS 222 (with prerequisite MATH 211), ASTR 201, PHYS 310, PHYS 317, PHYS 331, PHYS 332, PHYS 333, ASTR 301, and a minimum of one other 300-level physics credit. In addition, Bachelor of Science candidates must take MATH 212, MATH 245, and a 200- or 300-level biology, chemistry, or geology course. In addition to the required coursework, students pursuing a concentration in astrophysics will be advised to participate in one or more on- or off-campus research experiences in astronomy or astrophysics; such opportunities are frequently offered by department faculty as well as through a number of research programs for undergraduates which are hosted at observatories, research institutes, and other universities across the country.
The recommended course sequence for students pursuing the Bachelor of Science physics major might look like the following:
First Semester: PHYS 211; MATH 201
Second Semester: PHYS 212; MATH 202
First Semester: PHYS 221; MATH 211
Second Semester: PHYS 222; PHYS 235; MATH 212
First Semester: PHYS 332; PHYS 333; MATH 245
Second Semester: PHYS 310; Elective(s) in physics
First Semester: PHYS 331; PHYS 317; Elective in science
Second Semester: Elective(s) in physics
A physics major leading to the Bachelor of Arts degree also is available in combination with a Bachelor of Science in engineering in a five-year program.
Courses in both of our degree programs are designed to provide students with many opportunities to practice and develop their writing, speaking, and information literacy skills, consistent with the learning objectives of the College Core Curriculum.
Students in our department also satisfy the Culminating Experience component of the College Core Curriculum by taking PHYS 310 Experimental Physics, a required course for both B.S. and B.A. majors. In this course students perform substantial multi-week experiments that explore concepts that they have learned throughout the major, including classical mechanics, wave phenomena, electricity and magnetism, quantum physics, thermodynamics, and astronomy. This course also stresses other learning objectives through writing of research papers and weekly oral presentations.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy encourages students to participate in research projects; research serves as an important complement to the classroom study of physics and astronomy. The department offers research opportunities in atomic and molecular physics, chaos and nonlinear dynamics, astronomy and astrophysics, general relativity, theoretical quantum optics, laser spectroscopy, nuclear physics, positron physics, biological physics, theoretical condensed matter physics, and statistical physics.
Honors in physics is given to those students who are accepted by the University Honors Council and successfully complete and defend an honors thesis in physics.
Study abroad is possible for students completing either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. Such study should be discussed well in advance with the academic adviser and the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Students wishing to become certified as secondary school physics teachers should consult with the Department of Education and the chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy to arrange a plan of study that ensures that all of the requirements for certification will be met.
Secrets of the Universe (I; 3, 3)
The great ideas of 20th-century physics (symmetry principles, relativity, and quantum mechanics) and their application to cosmology and the evolution of the universe. Also, historical development and philosophical implications of these ideas. Designed for nonscience majors. No prerequisite. Not open to students who have passed a 200-level physics course.
Light and Vision (AII; 3, 3)
Particle and wave theories of light, cameras and optical instruments, the visual process, lasers, and optical communications. Designed for non-science majors. No prerequisite. Not open to students who have passed a 200-level physics course.
How Things Work (II; 3, 3)
This course introduces the ideas of physics in the context of everyday phenomena, including common inventions and topics in medicine, sports, and music. Designed for non-science majors. No prerequisite. Not open to students who have passed a 200-level physics course.
Contemporary Issues in Energy (AII; 3, 3)
This course will examine the physics of energy use, energy generation, and energy transformations. Each offering of the course will have a unifying theme such as the environment, weaponry, or alternative energy sources. Designed for non-science majors. No prerequisite. Not open to students who have successfully completed a 200-level physics course.
Energy and Sustainability (AI; 3, 3)
Examination of energy, its transformations, its effects on resource depletion, and environmental degradation. Models of sustainability for transportation, architecture, waste management, and personal lifestyle choices. Designed for non-science majors. No prerequisite. Not open to students who have successfully completed a 200-level physics course.
212. Classical and Modern Physics (I and II; 4, 3)
Newtonian mechanics, relativity, waves, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and special topics in modern physics. PHYS 211 or permission of the instructor is prerequisite to PHYS 212. Corequisites: MATH 201 for PHYS 211; MATH 202 or another mathematics course numbered above 202 for PHYS 212.
212. (E) Classical and Modern Physics (I and II; 4, 3)
Same topics as PHYS 211-212 with more emphasis on mathematical modeling, computer applications, and extensions of the theory. Fourth hour to be used for guest speakers, computer lab time, testing, and other problem solving. This course is intended for students with a strong background in mathematics and physics. Prequisite for PHYS 211E is permission of the instructor. Prequisites for PHYS 212E are PHYS 211 or 211E and permission of the instructor. Corequisite: MATH 201 for PHYS 211E; MATH 202 for PHYS 212E.
Classical Mechanics (I; 3, 3)
Newtonian mechanics including conservation laws, rotational dynamics, forced damped harmonic motion, and coupled oscillations. Prerequisites: PHYS 211 (or PHYS 211E) and MATH 202.
Wave Mechanics and Quantum Physics (II; 4, 0)
Physics of coupled oscillations and waves, including classical wave equation. Wave-particle duality; origin and elementary applications of quantum mechanics; the Schrödinger wave equation; atomic and nuclear physics. Prerequisites: PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E) and MATH 211.
Applied Electronics (II; 2, 4)
Circuit fundamentals, linear and digital integrated circuits, transducers, analog to digital conversion, filtering, Fourier methods, microcomputers, and computer interfacing. Designed for science and computer science majors. Prerequisite: PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E). Open to electrical engineering students by permission only.
Astrophysics (AII; 3, 0)
An introduction to general astrophysics covering mechanics of orbiting bodies, radiation laws, stellar spectra, stellar atmospheres, the internal constitution of stars, stellar energy, galaxies, and cosmology. Prerequisites: PHYS 222 and MATH 212. Crosslisted as ASTR 301.
Modern Optics (AII; 3, 0)
Geometrical optics, interference and diffraction, quantum optics, optical properties of matter, lasers and holography. Prerequisite: PHYS 222 or permission of the instructor.
Condensed Matter Physics (AII; 3, 0)
Crystal structure, phonons, free electron theory of metals, band theory, semi-conductors, magnetism, superconductivity and superfluidity, liquid crystals, and other special topics. Prerequisite: PHYS 222 or permission of the instructor.
Experimental Physics (II; 2, 4)
Methods and techniques used in experimental and computational physics, including data analysis and numerical methods, use of standard research equipment, and documentation of laboratory work emphasizing written and oral communication of scientific results. Experiments include topics in astrophysics, atomic and nuclear physics, nonlinear dynamics, optics, and phase transitions. Prerequisite: PHYS 222 or permission of the instructor.
Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (I; 3, 0)
The laws of thermodynamics, thermodynamic functions, kinetic theory of gases, statistical mechanics. Prerequisites: PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E) and either PHYS 221 or PHYS 222, or permission of the instructor.
Advanced Classical Mechanics (I; 3, 0)
Kinematics and dynamics of particles, systems, and rigid bodies. Hamilton's principles, Lagrange's equations, theory of small vibrations, orbital mechanics, accelerated frames, and nonlinear dynamics. Prerequisites: PHYS 221 and MATH 212, or permission of the instructor.
Quantum Mechanics (I; 3, 0)
Basic postulates and applications, perturbation theory, angular momentum, scattering theory, relativistic effects. Prerequisites: PHYS 221, PHYS 222 and MATH 211, or permission of the instructor.
Electromagnetic Theory I (I; 3, 0)
Classical electromagnetic theory, including scalar and vector potentials, electrostatics, magnetostatics, time dependent fields, and culminating with Maxwell's equations. Prerequisites: PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E) and MATH 211.
Electromagnetic Theory II (AII; 3, 0)
Continuation of PHYS 333. Electromagnetic waves, radiation theory, theory of relativity, and elements of plasma physics. Prerequisite: PHYS 333.
Mathematical Methods in Physics (AII; 3, 0)
Topics will include two or three of the following: complex variables, special functions, tensor analysis, group theory, partial differential equations. Prerequisites: PHYS 221 and PHYS 222, MATH 212 and MATH 245, or permission of the instructor.
Contemporary Problems in Physics (I and II; R) Half or full course.
Seminar or independent study in areas of current interest in the physics community. Prerequisite: permission of the department.
Advanced Quantum Mechanics and Particle Physics (AII; 3, 0)
Advanced topics in quantum mechanics including applications to elementary particle physics. Prerequisite: PHYS 332.
Undergraduate Research (I or II; R) Half or full course.
Prerequisite: permission of the department.
Our Solar System (I; 3, 3)
An introduction to astronomy concentrating on our evolving understanding of the solar system. Designed for non-science majors. No prerequisite.
Stars and Galaxies (II; 3, 3)
An introduction to astronomy concentrating on the structure of our universe beyond the solar system. Designed for non-science majors. ASTR 101 is not a prerequisite for ASTR 102.
Observational Astrophysics (AII; 2, 2)
This course covers spherical astronomy and observational techniques, and applications of physics to solar system objects, stars, stellar evolution, galaxies, and cosmology. Some night observing required. Laboratories focus on observational techniques and data reduction. Prerequisite: PHYS 212 (or PHYS 212E).
Astrophysics (AII; 3, 0)
An introduction to general astrophysics covering mechanics of orbiting bodies, radiation laws, stellar spectra, stellar atmospheres, the internal constitution of stars, stellar energy, galaxies, and cosmology. Prerequisites: PHYS 222 and MATH 212. Crosslisted as PHYS 301.
Contemporary Problems in Astronomy/Astrophysics (I and II; R) Half or full course
Seminar or independent study in areas of interest in the astronomy/astrophysics community. Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.
Undergraduate Research (I and II; R) Half or full course.
Prerequisite: permission of the instructor.