Program of Study (CAS Bulletin)

Departmental Objectives


The programs for the major are designed to meet a number of goals. They provide good preparation for graduate school; indeed, many of our students go on to some of the world’s best graduate programs. They develop a range of technical skills, most of which relate to the challenging intellectual problems of building quantitative theoretical models and making precise measurements of physically interesting phenomena. The programs are also designed to satisfy curiosity about the fundamental laws that govern every aspect of the world, from the interactions of subatomic particles to the origin and behavior of the entire universe.

The programs are simultaneously very deep and very broad. Course work includes both theoretical subjects and experimental activity in laboratories. The programs are designed to give students flexibility in years three and four to pursue interdisciplinary activities, spend time abroad, or delve into greater depth in a subject or into original research.

The department is a collegial place where faculty and students get to know one another well. There are regular formal and informal seminars, as well as a thriving Society of Physics Students, and students and faculty often collaborate on original research problems. Many of the students participate in original research and coauthor scientific publications. For all of these reasons, and in addition to the rigor of the courses, students are extremely well prepared for a wide range of activities—not just in scientific research, but also in professional and engineering pursuits, or any area where abstract thinking and quantitative modeling of real systems are necessary and rewarded.

For nonscience majors, there are nontechnical courses that introduce some of the concepts and events that are most important to understanding physics and its impact. For science majors outside of physics, there are technical courses that provide a breadth of ideas about the fundamental laws that underpin the other sciences. The department provides courses designed to meet the preprofessional goals of prehealth students and students in engineering disciplines


Students who are interested in obtaining significant exposure to the ideas of physics without committing to the major or without obtaining a comprehensive mathematical background can minor in physics or astronomy.

Programs for Majors in Physics

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Program
The major in physics consists of the following courses:

Year 1:
  • Calculus I (MATH-UA 121)
  • Calculus II (MATH-UA 122)
  • Physics I (PHYS-UA 91) and Introductory Experimental Physics I (PHYS-UA 71)
  • Physics II (PHYS-UA 93) and Introductory Experimental Physics II (PHYS-UA 72)
Year 2:
  • Calculus III (MATH-UA 123)
  • Physics III (PHYS-UA 95) and Intermediate Experimental Physics I (PHYS-UA 73)
  • Classical and Quantum Waves (PHYS-UA 105) and Intermediate Experimental Physics II (PHYS-UA 74)
  • Mathematical Physics (PHYS-UA 106)
Years 3 and 4:
  • Advanced Experimental Physics (PHYS-UA 112)
  • Quantum Mechanics I (PHYS-UA 123)
  • Electricity and Magnetism I (PHYS-UA 131)
  • Thermal and Statistical Physics (PHYS-UA 140)
  • Two advanced physics electives
Mathematics: The calculus requirement is satisfied by taking either the Calculus I, II, III sequence (MATH-UA 121-123) or the sequence Honors Calculus I, II: Accelerated Calculus with Linear Algebra I, II (MATH-UA 221, 222). Potential physics majors should begin their calculus sequence in the Fall semester of their freshman year. Variations may be constructed with the approval of the director of undergraduate studies. In addition, students are advised to take advanced mathematics courses—such as Linear Algebra (MATH-UA 140)—as they proceed in the major.

Double major including physics:
The major offers flexibility to complete the requirements for a second major in the College. Students may wish to combine a major in physics with a major in a field such as mathematics, computer science, chemistry, economics, or biology. Students should consult the director of undergraduate studies in their freshman year to outline a program that is best tailored to their needs.
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Program

The B.S. degree provides breadth in the sciences in addition to the physics major. The B.S. degree in physics will be granted to students completing the following:

  • The required courses for the B.A. major (see above), including one advanced physics elective
  • Computational Physics (PHYS-UA 210)
  • Two courses in chemistry at or above the level of General Chemistry I, II and Laboratory (CHEM-UA 125, 126)
  • One course in biology at or above the level of Principles of Biology I (BIOL-UA 11) or in chemistry above the level of General Chemistry II and Laboratory (CHEM-UA 126)


Minor in Physics

Consists of four of the following courses, or three of the following courses plus one of the courses listed under the minor in astronomy:

  • Sound and Music (PHYS-UA 10)
  • General Physics I (PHYS-UA 11)
  • General Physics II (PHYS-UA 12)
  • 20th-Century Concepts of Space, Time, and Matter (PHYS-UA 20)
  • Any course at or above Physics I (PHYS-UA 91), except for pure laboratory courses
Minor in Astronomy

Consists of four courses. The Universe: Its Nature and History (PHYS-UA 7) is required, plus the three following courses (or two of the following and one of the courses listed under the minor in physics):

  • Origins of Astronomy (PHYS-UA 8)
  • Observational Astronomy (PHYS-UA 13)
  • Astrophysics (PHYS-UA 150)
Honors Program

Candidates for a degree with honors in physics must complete the requirements for the B.A. major described above. They must also complete the equivalent of a semester of experimental or theoretical research. Students who wish to fulfill this requirement should discuss possible options, such as independent study courses, with the director of undergraduate studies. A research paper based on this work must be prepared and orally presented. For additional general requirements for a degree with honors, please see the Honors and Awards section of this bulletin.