2023-2024 Catalog


The Physics department provides an education in the fundamental processes of the physical world with thorough study in both the classroom and laboratory. After completion of the program, a physics student will have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills in addition to ample hands-on laboratory experience. The Physics major is excellent preparation for professional or graduate work in physics, engineering, and related fields. In addition, a physics major finds that he or she is an attractive applicant for medical, business, or law school, as well as having an excellent foundation for science teaching.

In addition to the full spectrum of undergraduate coursework, the department offers many opportunities to participate in research projects both on and off campus. Qualified students may begin research projects as early as their first year. Current research activities in the department include experimental efforts in Particle Astrophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Plasma Physics, and theoretical efforts in Cosmology, Particle Physics, and Complex Systems. Departmental resources include well-equipped research and instructional laboratories, as well as laboratory space for qualified students to carry out independent investigations of their own. Many students have also participated in projects at nearby institutions such as the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Students who wish to do advanced work in physics or engineering should complete the introductory physics sequence (PHYS 110, PHYS 117, PHYS 230, and PHYS 240) as early as possible. These courses provide a foundation in both classical and modern physics. Fundamental understanding and procedures in analytical physics are stressed throughout. This sequence is recommended to all students who have an aptitude for scientific work and who are acquiring a strong background in mathematics, including an introduction to differential and integral calculus.

Physics majors typically begin taking courses at the intermediate level by the end of the sophomore year, and are encouraged to complete required 300-level courses by the end of junior year. This schedule prepares a student for the widest array of 260- and 360-series courses.

Of special interest are the three series of physics courses numbered PHYS 160- PHYS 169, PHYS 260- PHYS 269, and PHYS 360- PHYS 369. These courses cover special topics as well as subjects of active research interest within the Physics department. The 160 series is designed for non-science students interested in varying aspects of physical science. These courses have few prerequisites beyond algebra and trigonometry and many are open only to students who have not taken PHYS 110/ PHYS 115, PHYS 117, PHYS 230/ PHYS 125, or their equivalent. The 260 series is open to anyone who has completed PHYS 230 or PHYS 125. The prerequisites for 360-series courses vary, but generally require physics beyond PHYS 230 or PHYS 125.