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Course Catalog

Physics and Astronomy

Physics is the study of the fundamental nature of everything. Through experiment and theory physicists seek to explain the interactions of matter and energy in terms of a small number of basic laws. Physics deals with everything from the very large (e.g. the structure of the universe) to the very small (e.g. atoms, nuclei, quarks and even smaller structures). The devices we depend on in our technological society are based on fundamental principles of physics. Both experimental and theoretical physicists are people who enjoy understanding how things work. Studying physics develops excellent critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are applicable to many careers. Many of our physics graduates continue with graduate school in physics, astronomy or engineering. Others continue with professional training in medical school or law school. However, it is not necessary to pursue more education to have a rewarding career with physics. An undergraduate physics degree is a spring board to a broad spectrum of career options, including engineering, systems analyst, financial analyst, management, national security, medical research, education and journalism. Nationally, employment opportunities for physics graduates have been especially good in recent years. The department offers a major and a minor in Physics. Students planning to major in Physics should consult with a member of the department as early as possible in their college careers. Incoming students who plan to major in Physics should take PHYS 120-130 and MATH 135-136 or MATH 151 in the first year. Most pre-engineering students must take PHYS 120, 130, and 350. Students interested in pre-engineering should consult with a pre-engineering advisor as early as possible. The physics major is also appropriate for students who wish to attend graduate school in astronomy.


Requirements for a major

Physics

Total courses required Nine
Core courses PHYS 120, PHYS 130, PHYS 220, PHYS 270, PHYS 280 (1/2 course), PHYS 480 (1/2 course)
Other required courses
  • Two of the following, one of which must be either PHYS 370 or PHYS 380: PHYS 240, PHYS 250, PHYS 300, PHYS 370, PHYS 380
  • Two of the following: PHYS 410, PHYS 420, PHYS 430, PHYS 440
Number 300 and 400 level courses Four and one-half
Senior requirement and capstone experience

All senior physics majors must complete PHYS 480, Senior Seminar. This course is designed to allow students to read, interpret, and discuss primary literature from current physics research. It follows a format similar to journal clubs that are found in many physics graduate school programs. The specific topics and content vary from year to year. Students utilize the knowledge base that they have developed during their previous coursework to understand the foundational principles of the contemporary research topic.

Majors who want to conduct their own independent research investigations may do so by enrolling in an independent study project under PHYS 390. These projects usually involve the student working with a department faculty member on a topic of mutual interest. The projects often produce research posters or papers that are shared with the larger community.

Additional information MATH 151 (or MATH 135-136) and MATH 152 required
Recent changes in major PHYS 220 was added to the list of core courses, Nov. 2006.
Writing in the Major Writing is a critical skill for all physics majors. Knowledge of physics is often shared by the written word. Advances in physics generally build on the work of others that is recorded in reports, and publications. Physics majors must be able to document their work in the laboratory, providing sufficient detail to allow others to understand why they chose to conduct the investigation, what they did, how they did it, and the results they obtained. Additionally, there are many occasions that require them to explain the subtleties and importance of physical phenomena and events to people who are not physics majors. Physics majors complete a series of assignments in four specific core courses, PHYS 220, PHYS 280, PHYS 370/380 and PHYS 480.

In PHYS 220, Principles of Physics III, students write a set of formal laboratory reports with particular attention to the details that are necessary for another individual to conduct the experiment and understand how to analyze the results. At least two of these reports will require a rough draft and interchange with the faculty member teaching the course before submitting a final report. At the end of the course, the instructor must certify that the writing in the course is competent.

PHYS 280, Experimental Methods, features an extended project. As part of that work, students write a proposal that includes a persuasive argument for doing the project and an article explaining the underlying physics in terms that can be understood by an educated individual outside of the physics community. Of course, the project will also include an extensive report of project's results. Again, at the end of the course, the instructor must certify that writing in the course is competent.

PHYS 370, Introduction to Atomic and Molecular Physics, and PHYS 380, Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics, both involve formal laboratory reports including at least one extended laboratory experience that takes multiple weeks to complete. The extended project will often involve a proposal that argues for the necessity of undertaking and completing the project. The report on this extended project will involve and interchange with the course instructor before a final report is submitted. Again, at the end of the course, the instructor must certify that writing in the course is competent.

PHYS 480, Senior Seminar, involves a series of oral presentations. In addition to the presentations, students write a document for each activity. Some activities are designed to be informative to the general public and the document will be written in a style similar to a general interest science magazine like Discover or Science News. Other activities will mimic conference presentations and will result in documents similar to articles in physics journal accessible to undergraduate students like Physics Today or the The American Journal of Physics. The final presentation of the semester will be a formal research paper based on a literature search with an annotated bibliography and multiple drafts reviewed with the instructor before the submission of the final report. Finally, at the end of the course, the instructor must certify that writing in the course is competent.


Requirements for a minor

Physics

Total courses required Five
Core courses PHYS 120, PHYS 130
Other required courses
Number 300 and 400 level courses One

Courses in Physics and Astronomy

PHYS 103

Moons and Planets

Includes laboratory. An introductory course concentrating on the solar system. Topics to be covered include: observational astronomy; the history and development of astronomy; Kepler's laws of planetary motion; Newton's laws of motion and gravity; the Earth-moon system; the structure and composition of the planets with an emphasis on comparative planetology; asteroids, comets, the formation of the solar system, the sun and the exploration of space. Emphasis is placed on investigating the methods by which astronomers gain knowledge about the solar system. Evening laboratory periods will emphasize observation and will help students develop quantitative skills in interpreting data. PHYS 103 and PHYS 104 may be taken in either order. Prerequisite: high school algebra and trigonometry.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics High school algebra and trigonometry 1 course

PHYS 104

Stars and Galaxies

Includes laboratory. An introductory course concentrating on the astronomy of stars and stellar systems. Topics to be covered include: properties of stars; stellar evolution; white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes; the interstellar medium; the Milky Way; galaxies; Hubble's Law; and cosmology. Emphasis is placed on investigating the methods by which astronomers gain knowledge about the universe. Evening laboratory periods will emphasize observation and will help students develop quantitative skills in interpreting data. PHYS 103 and PHYS 104 may be taken in either order. Not open to students with credit in PHYS 300 or 200. Prerequisite: high school algebra and trigonometry.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics High school algebra and trigonometry 1 course

PHYS 110

Physics and Society

Includes laboratory. The fundamental concepts of classical and modern physics presented with particular attention to their application to questions of importance to members of technological society (such as energy and energy policy). Topics may include Newtonian mechanics, special and general relativity, quantum and nuclear physics and modern cosmology. This course does not fulfill the prerequisites for advanced courses in physics, nor the requirements for medicine, engineering or secondary teaching. Prerequisite: high school algebra and trigonometry.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics High school algebra and trigonometry 1 course

PHYS 120

Principles of Physics I

Includes laboratory. An introductory calculus-based course covering fundamental concepts of physics including: momentum, energy, conservation laws, particle interactions, Newton's laws, oscillations, orbits and planetary motion. Laboratory sessions will provide a hands-on opportunity to explore the concepts of physics. This course is designed for students majoring in the sciences and mathematics and those in pre-professional programs in health sciences, medicine, engineering and teaching. Prerequisite or co-requisite: MATH 136 or MATH 151 .

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics MATH 136 or MATH 151. May be taken in the same semester as PHYS 120. 1 course

PHYS 130

Principles of Physics II

Includes laboratory. This course builds on PHYS 120 and covers fundamental concepts of physics including: electric and magnetic fields, circuits, Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves, waves, interference and diffraction. Laboratory sessions will provide a hands on opportunity to explore the concepts of physics. This course is designed for students majoring in the sciences and mathematics and those in pre-professional programs in health sciences, medicine, engineering and teaching. Prerequisite: PHYS 120.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics PHYS 120 1 course

PHYS 156

Advanced Placement in Physics

Advanced placement credit for physics. A. Mechanics B. Electricity and Magnetism.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

PHYS 203

Cosmology [See also PHIL 203]

An examination of fundamental questions about the origin, order and meaning of the universe from the perspectives of physics, philosophy and other disciplines. Topics include: creation myths; development of Western cosmology; physics and metaphysics of space and time; cosmological and design arguments for the existence of God; the Anthropic Principle; life and consciousness.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
1 course

PHYS 220

Principles of Physics III

This course provides an introduction to relativity, thermodynamics, statistical and quantum mechanics, and completes the survey of fundamental physics begun in PHYS 120 and 130. Topics to be covered include special relativity, wave packets, the Schrodinger equation, solutions to the Schrodinger equation for one dimensional potentials, the hydrogen atom, multi electron atoms, quantum statistics, and an introduction to the physics of molecules, solids, nuclei, and particles. Prerequisite: PHYS 130.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 130 1 course

PHYS 240

Electronics

Includes laboratory. Experimental and theoretical treatment of direct current and alternating current circuits. Topics include: diode applications, transistors, operational amplifiers, feedback, analog-digital conversion, digital logic and microprocessors. Prerequisite: One semester of a laboratory science course.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics One semester of a laboratory science course. 1 course

PHYS 250

Optics

Includes laboratory. Experimental investigation of geometrical and physical optics. Specific topics investigated include: image formation by lenses and mirrors, optical instruments, image processing, interference, diffraction, polarization, optical communication, lasers and holography. Prerequisite: One semester of a laboratory science course.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Science and Mathematics One semester of a laboratory science course. 1 course

PHYS 270

Mathematical Methods

Methods in applied mathematics for students in physical sciences and engineering. Topics include: partial differentiation, vector analysis, complex numbers, linear algebra, ordinary differential equations, multiple integrals, and Fourier series. Prerequisite: PHYS 120 and MATH 152.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 120 and MATH 152 1 course

PHYS 280

Experimental Methods

Includes laboratory. An introduction to the techniques, methods and necessary skills used in experimental physics. Data will be collected by using a variety of instruments, including oscilloscopes, nuclear instrumentation, and other data sensors. The course will introduce a variety of statistical and data analysis techniques. Machine shop skills will be developed during the course. Prerequisite: PHYS 120.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 120 1/2 course

PHYS 300

Astrophysics

The concepts of classical and modern physics are applied to the study of astronomy, providing a physical basis for understanding the components and structure of our universe. Topics to be covered include: spectroscopy, stellar properties, binary stars, stellar classification, stellar structure and evolution, galaxies and galactic structure, active galactic nuclei and cosmology. Prerequisite: PHYS 130.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 130 1 course

PHYS 350

Engineering Mechanics

A theoretical treatment of forces acting on rigid bodies including: analysis of force systems on rigid bodies, equilibrium requirements, stresses in frames and trusses, forces in beams and cables, friction, centroids, moments of inertia, the motion of particles and rigid bodies, studies of energy and momentum, kinematics, curvilinear motion and central forces. Prerequisite: PHYS 120.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 120 1 course

PHYS 370

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Includes laboratory. A theoretical and experimental investigation in atomic, molecular and condensed matter physics. Topics to be covered may include: atomic models, magnetic dipole moments, multielectron atoms, x-ray excitations, optical excitations, atomic spectroscopy, quantum statistic, molecules, molecular bonding, molecular spectra, band theory of solids, conductors, semiconductors, superconductors, and collective phenomena. Prerequisite: PHYS 220.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 380

Nuclear and Particle Physics

Includes laboratory. A theoretical and experimental investigation in nuclear and particle physics. Topics to be covered may include: nuclear phenomenology, nuclear models, radiation, nuclear reactions, experimental methods in nuclear physics, particle interactions and detection, properties of elementary particle, symmetries, the standard model, and theories beyond the standard model. Prerequisite: PHYS 220.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 390

Topics

A. Astronomy. P. Physics. Selected topics in astronomy or physics. May be an independent study project. Prerequisite: depends on the topic.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Depends on the topic. 1/4-1/2-1 course

PHYS 410

Thermal Physics

Treatment of the laws of thermodynamics and the concepts of temperature, pressure, entropy, chemical potential and free energy as related to the quantum statistical behavior of microscopic systems. Included are applications to kinetic theory of gases, heat engines, photons and phonons, systems in magnetic and electric fields, transport phenomena, and biological and engineering problems. Prerequisite: PHYS 130 and PHYS 270.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 130 and PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 420

Classical Mechanics

Basic definitions and principles of classical mechanics, conservation laws, systems of particles and motion of rigid bodies, oscillating phenomena and an introduction to generalized coordinates and the methods of Lagrange and Hamilton. Prerequisite: PHYS 120 and PHYS 270.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 120 and PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 430

Electricity and Magnetism

Theoretical investigation of electrostatics and magnetostatics, both in vacuum and in the presence of matter. Further topics include the Maxwell equations and electromagnetic waves. Prerequisite: PHYS 130 and PHYS 270.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 130 and PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 440

Quantum Mechanics

Non-relativistic wave mechanical treatment of physical systems. Definition and interpretation of state functions; construction of wave packets; solutions of the Schrodinger equation for simple one-dimensional systems; the hydrogen atom; various approximation methods, including perturbation theory. Prerequisite: PHYS 220 and PHYS 270.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
PHYS 220 and PHYS 270 1 course

PHYS 480

Senior Seminar

Individual presentations and group discussions cover a wide range of topics. Prerequisite: A senior physics major or permission of instructor. Required of all physics majors.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Senior major or permission of instructor 1/2 course