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  • Exploring the Solar System (PHY205): This course is essentially a user's guide to the sky.  It emphasizes motion and process in the sky, not memorization of facts and definitions.  Although the mathematics required for the course does not go beyond basic algebra, you need to be prepared to use it throughout the course.   A typical text is Guy Ottewell's "Astronomical Calendar".   Prerequisite:  Math Level 3.

  • Exploring the Universe (PHY206): This course covers large-scale features of the universe such as stars, galaxies, and nebulae. It also discusses important theoretical issues such black holes and the origin of the Universe.  Typical text: Fraknoi, “Voyages Through the Universe”.  Prerequisite: Math Level 3.

  • Exploring Astronomy Lab (PHY293):  This course is a hands-on guide to the night sky.  When the weather is good you will go outside and make observations of the sky using the naked eye, binoculars, and small telescopes.  When the weather is bad you will do indoor activities to learn about telescopes and astronomical concepts. The lab has no prerequisite and is not concurrent with a lecture course, though it is taught at the same level as Exploring the Solar System and Exploring the Universe.  Some algebra is used to interpret lab measurements. 

  • Planetarium Operations (PHY342): This course teaches students to operate the campus planetarium.  Students will also learn to lead other kinds of astronomy presentations and outreach activities.  This is a small course that requires instructor approval.

  • Introduction 
Astrophysics (PHY340)     Introduction for science majors. This course covers similar material as Exploring the Solar System, at a level suitable for science majors. Formation of stars, H-R diagram, binaries, brightness scale, distance ladder, doppler effect, stellar masses, parallax, proper motion, radial motion, mass-luminosity, black-body radiation, spectroscopy, telescopy, telescopes, dense stars, black holes, glaxies, relativity and cosmology. (Prerequisite: General Physics I)

  • Observational Astronomy (PHY341)    This course will provide an introduction to the tools and techniques of observational astronomy, including telescopes, CCD detectors, and reduction and analysis of astronomical images and spectra. Will require telescopic work outside of class time. (Prerequisite: Intro to Astrophysics)

  • Solar Physics (PHY343)   A study of the structure of the Sun, and the physical phenomena (such as sunquakes, eclipses, sunspots, flares, prominences) that take place in its interior and near the surface. (Prerequisite: Intro to Astrophysics)

  • Extraterrestrial Life (PHY344)   Origin of life in the solar system, existence of other planetary systems, possibilities and techniques for detection of and communication with other intelligences.



These two sequences are for science, math, engineering, and computer science majors. Both satisfy the new GE requirements.

  • General Physics I,II (PHY201&211/PHY202&212): This is our calculus-based introductory sequence, and is the physics requirement for many, though not all, of the aforementioned majors. The major part of “I” is classical mechanics; the major part of “II” is electricity and magnetism. Both are demanding and time consuming; a casual effort that you think will get you through with a C- usually results in a lower grade. Although the course is calculus-based, the math that trips up most students is algebra and trigonometry! If you are a science major who intends to do graduate work, this is the sequence you should take regardless of the official requirement. Modern research in many of these areas is highly quantitative; people who know physics (and mathematics) usually have an advantage over people who don't.   By the way, the 211 and 212 designations are for the lab sections; they are separate courses, although you have to take them at the same time as the lectures. Typical text: Halliday, Resnick, and Walker, “Fundamentals of Physics”.  Prerequisites:  for General Physics I you need Calculus I;  for General Physics II you need Calculus II and General Physics I.  

  • Fundamental Physics I, II (PHY221&231/PHY222&232) If your major does not require a calculus-based physics course, you can take these two courses. Algebra and trigonometry are the required mathematical skills. Most people consider this sequence easier than the calculus-based one; the courses cover more topics, but in less depth. The 231 and 232 designations are for the lab sections; they are separate courses, although you have to take them at the same time as the lectures. Typical text: Cutnell and Johnson, “Physics”.  Prerequisites:   for Fundamental Physics I you need College Algebra;  for Fundamental Physics II you need Fundamental Physics I.

          The emphasis in the following course is more on physical intuition, and less on mathematical formalism
          (but some math is used). 

  • Physics for the Inquiring Mind (PHY100): This is a 3-credit course that deals with a variety of basic ideas in classical and modern physics. Meetings are held in a laboratory so that the instructor can combine lecture, discussion, and experiment as needed. Typical text: Hewitt, “Conceptual Physics”.   Prerequisite: high school algebra.


These are designed primarily for physics majors, although students from other fields with the appropriate math and physics background are welcome.

  • Applied Mathematics I, II (MAT341, MAT 342): This is a one year sequence designed to give physics majors the mathematical tools needed for their physics electives.  Topics include vector calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, Fourier analysis, and complex variables. Typical text: Kreyszig, “Advanced Engineering Mathematics”.  Prerequisites: Calculus I and Calculus II.  For Applied Math II, you need to have also taken Applied Math I.

  • Mechanics I, II (PHY306, PHY307): This is the first really hard physics course because the problems are a big leap up from those in General Physics. To ease the transition, the first course moves relatively slowly, dwelling on the mathematics when necessary (most likely you will be taking Applied Mathematics at the same time, so each course can reinforce the math encountered in the other). The second course moves faster. Topics include energy conservation, oscillations, central force motion, dynamics of systems of particles, Hamilton and Lagrangian formulations. Typical text: Thornton and Marion, “Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems”.  Prerequisites:  Mechanics I: General Physics II, Applied Math I;  Mechanics II:  Mechanics I,  Applied Math II or PI.

  • Electricity and Magnetism (PHY313): This is the study of moving and stationary electric charges, and the fields associated with them. Vector calculus is used extensively; you will have covered this in Applied Mathematics. Topics include electric fields, electric potential, Laplace’s equation and its solution; laws formulated by Lorentz, Biot-Savart, Ampere, and Faraday; Maxwell’s equations. Typical text: Griffiths, “Introduction to Electrodynamics”.  Prerequisites: General Physics II,  Applied math I, Calculus III.

  • Computational Physics (PHY305):  In this course, you learn a variety of computational techniques, such as the numerical solution of systems of differential equations, that are good for solving physics problems.   Programming languages that have been used in the past are C++ and IGOR.  Prerequisites: Applied Math I,  Mechanics I.

  • Modern Physics I and II (PHY308, PHY309): The first semester covers special relativity, then introduces the discoveries that led to the development of quantum physics:  blackbody radiation, the contributions of Thomson and Rutherford, photoelectric effect, Compton effect,  spectra and the Bohr model.   The second semester is devoted to a detailed introduction to quantum mechanics:  solutions of the Schroedinger equation for various potentials (including harmonics oscillator and one electron atoms), along with other topics.   A set of notes is provided by the instructor.  Prerequisites:  Modern I:  General Physics II;  Modern II: Modern I.

  • Modern Physics Laboratory (PHY310): In this course, you do a small number of experiments some of which may extend over several weeks.   Prerequisite: Modern Physics I.

  • Optics (PHY322): Unlike General Physics II, which emphasizes geometrical optics, this course emphasizes physical optics. Topics include harmonic motion, interference, Fraunhofer and Fresnel diffraction, coherence, polarization, scattering, holography, fiber optics. Typical text: Hecht, “Optics”.  Prerequisites:  Applied Math I

  • Thermal Physics (PHY422):   This course covers the basics of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.   Major topics are the first and second laws, engines and refrigerators, entropy, Boltzmann statistics, Quantum statistics.   Typical text:  Schroeder, " Thermal Physics".  Prerequisites:  Applied Math I.

  • Quantum Physics  (PHY331): This is the formal study of quantum mechanics. Topics include interpretation of the wave function; the time independent Shroedinger equation and its solution for various potentials; eigenvalues and energy quantization; one electron atoms; magnetic dipole moments and spin; multi electron atoms. Typical text: Griffiths, “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics”.   Prerequisites:  Modern Physics I.

  • Senior Project (PHY491): In consultation with a faculty advisor you pick a problem of interest to you, solve it, write it up into a final paper, and make a public presentation about it. The problem should not be too difficult – you should be able to finish it in a semester – and can be theoretical, experimental, or computational. (It is not a bad idea to start thinking about this in your junior year to get a head start.)  Prerequisite: PI.


This depends on the semester.  Past examples include molecular modeling, general relativity, non-linear dynamics.   Independent study is also an option.


  • Engineering Mechanics (PHY315):  This course is primarily for engineering students.   The emphasis is on statics, although some dynamics is also covered.