The Major

The Department of Physics has the faculty and facilities to provide unusually strong programs for students wishing to major in physics. The department offers a variety of courses and tracks; many options are available at the introductory level, in the core upper-division courses, and in the advanced electives.

The Physics department offers three different tracks, which enable students to tailor the major to suit their goals. Whether the student plans to continue physics in graduate school, seek employment immediately after the degree, study other fields, or pursue other alternatives, an appropriate set of courses is available.Two tracks lead to a B.S. degree, which is appropriate for those who want a more techincal training: the 'Professional' and the interdisciplinary 'Applied' tracks. The former gives students depth of training in the fundemantal areas of physics, whereas the latter allows the student to replace some upper-level physics classes with courses in other departments, according to a chosen concentration. A third track leads to a BA degree. This track allows students to choose a concentration in an area outside technical science, such as teaching, journalism, or finance. The details of the concentration must be worked out with an adviser from the department.

  • Students intending to go on to graduate school in physics or closely related fields or desiring a complete set of courses in physics should follow the B.S./Professional Track.
  • Those having a particular interest in a topic of science or engineering that is not within the standard physics curriculum can choose the interdisciplinary Applied track (B.S.). 
  • Pre-medical or pre-dental students may fall into this second category. Students who have strong interests in areas other than research, or who are interested in teaching at the K-12 level can choose the General Track (B.A.).

Courses for majors are taught by faculty, sometimes in combination with teaching assistants (e.g. as graders or helpers in class). Each student has a faculty advisor who remains the advisor until graduation. All students are encouraged to engage in discussions with faculty outside of class and to become involved in projects such as research or teaching. Most students do this (approx. 2/3 in recent surveys), and it is a very valuable experience.  Independent (but faculty-guided) projects provide a skill-set that is quite different from classes, that is valuable to employers and graduate schools, and that often strengthens students' enthusiams for their major.

Most faculty members are engaged in basic experimental or theoretical research in one of the following areas: atomic physics, bio-physics, solid state or quantum-matter physics, and soft-matter physics, elementary-particle physics, low-temperature physics, medical physics, nano-science, nuclear physics, and polymer physics. Excellent facilities have been supplied by the university and are supported by several million dollars annually in federal research funds. This activity makes it possible to bring the frontiers of physics to the classroom and enables undergraduates to participate in original research activities. These opportunities can be found through independent study, the departmental honors program, or student employment during the summer or academic year.

The department has an active chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), which allows the student to interact socially with student colleagues and faculty as well as to carry out interesting extracurricular physics activities. For example, there is a Five College Undergraduate Physics Colloquium that brings several nationally known speakers to the area each year.

PHYSICS 181-182, 287-289 and 284-286 are the recommended introductory courses and labs for students considering a major in physics. (Under certain circumstances, and with approval of an adviser, PHYSICS 151-152 may be substituted for PHYSICS 181-182.) In the second year, there are two additional 200-level courses that are intended to develop basic skills (PHYSICS 281, 282). PHYSICS 185-186 are 1-credit seminar courses that provide an introduction to science, to research, and to professional development; they are strongly recommended.


Core Courses (required for all tracks)

  • 181 Physics I—Mechanics, with Lab
  • 182 Physics II—Electricity and Magnetism, with Lab
  • 281 Computational Physics
  • 284 Modern Physics I
  • 286 Sophomore Lab
  • 287/289 Physics III—Thermodynamics, Waves, Optics, with Lab
  • 381 Writing in Physics
  • 440 Intermediate Lab
  • MATH 131 Calculus I
  • MATH 132 Calculus II
  • MATH 233 Multivariate Calculus

Professional Track (B.S.)

  • 282 Techniques of Theoretical Physics
  • 421 Mechanics
  • 422 Electricity and Magnetism
  • 423 Statistical Physics
  • 424 Quantum Mechanics
  • 440 Intermediate Lab
  • 500-level Physics course or lab or ASTRON 337, 338, 451 or 452
  • MATH 331 Differential Equations

Applied Track (B.S.)

  • 282 is very strongly recommended, as it prepares students for the upper-level classes.
  • Two of 421, 422, 423 and 424
  • 500-level Physics course or lab
  • Concentration in scientific/technical field(s), minimum 18 credits, developed in consultation with and approved by the Physics adviser.

General Track (B.A.)

  • Physics 282 is very strongly recommended, as it prepares students for the upper-level classes.
  • One of 421, 422, 423, 424, 531, 553 or 590M
  • Concentration in non-departmental field(s), minimum 18 credits, developed in consultation with Physics adviser.

Recommended courses for all degree tracks

  • 185 Freshman seminar (fall)
  • 186 Freshman seminar (spring)
  • 192M - Introduction to Measurement using the Arduino
  • MATH 235 Linear algebra

A more detailed description of the programs and courses for majors in physics is contained in the Handbook for Current and Prospective Physics Majors available online at and from the Undergraduate Program Director.