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Physics

Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

 

Karl Kehm, Chair

Colin Campbell

Gerald Ferguson

Juan Lin

Derek Thuecks

 

Physics is the most fundamental of sciences. Physicists seek to discover the laws that govern the behavior of material objects and waves, and the interactions between particles. Application of these universal laws to systems ranging from atoms and molecules to clusters of galaxies gives rise to challenging problems whose solutions requires creative insight alongside logical rigor and mathematical reasoning.

 

The study of physics helps students to understand the scientific method and its implications—how to make rational inferences from data and how to test hypotheses critically. It also leads to an appreciation of the aesthetic dimensions of a scientist’s work and the interrelationship of physics with other areas of knowledge and its technological applications. This aspect is particularly emphasized in courses intended for distribution.

 

Courses in the department are designed to develop the student’s competence in those fundamental areas of classical and modern physics that have played an important role in the evolution of physics. Familiarity with the art of scientific experimentation is provided through laboratory work that complements the study of theoretical principles. Computation—the third mode of “doing physics”—is emphasized at all levels.

 

The Physics Department prepares its majors for any career where problem-solving skills are required. Popular career options include graduate study in physics, industrial research, secondary school teaching, and professional careers in engineering and medicine. Some of our recent graduates have gone on to graduate studies in the physical sciences. Others have chosen to work in government or industrial laboratories or used their computer skills in the private sector.

 

Physics 100, 101, 102 and 105 are designed to serve the needs of students wishing to take a science course to meet distribution requirements. They do not assume any special mathematics or science preparation beyond high school algebra and trigonometry.

 

Requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Physics

  1. All of the following introductory courses are required:

PHY 111. General Physics I

PHY 112. General Physics II

PHY 211. Modern Physics

PHY 252. Scientific Modeling and Data Analysis

 

  1. Three upper level theory courses are required, selected from the following:

            PHY 321. Classical Mechanics

            PHY 322. Quantum Mechanics

            PHY 323. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

            PHY 324. Electricity and Magnetism

 

  1. Both of the following courses in experimental physics are required:

            PHY 352. Electronics

            PHY 451. Advanced Physics Laboratory

 

  1. All of the following courses in mathematics are required:

            MAT 201. Differential Calculus

            MAT 202. Integral Calculus

            MAT 203. Multivariable Calculus

            MAT 345. Differential Equations

 

  1. One additional science or math course is required, selected from the following list:

BIO 111, CHE 111, CSI 201, ENV 140, MAT 325, MAT 340, any additional physics course at the 300+ level, or another science or math course approved by the department.

 

  1. Five semesters of the departmental seminar course are required (PHY 292, 391, 392, 491 and 492). Each seminar course is one credit hour. The seminar meets one afternoon each week.  Students begin the seminar sequence during the spring semester of the sophomore year.

 

  1. All students must fulfill the Senior Capstone Experience (SCE). The SCE is a year-long research project on a theoretical, computational or experimental topic completed during the senior year.

 

Students planning to major in physics should ideally take PHY 111, 112, MAT 201 and 202 in their freshman year. However it is possible to complete the major if students start major coursework during their sophomore year.  A score of four or better on an Advanced Placement examination may, with the approval of the appropriate academic department, earn course credit toward graduation and make the student eligible to take upper-level courses in the department. Physics majors intending to become certified high school teachers should inform the Education Department as early in their college careers as possible to assure proper scheduling.

 

Physics and Engineering Dual Degree with Columbia University

Students pursuing the Physics/Engineering Dual Degree Combined Plan Program receive a degree in Physics from Washington College and a degree in an engineering discipline at Columbia University.  Admission to Columbia University is guaranteed provided students fulfill admissions requirements: students must complete general admission requirements for Columbia University’s Combined Plan Program as well as any special requirements for the engineering subfield the students seek to pursue.  Students work closely with an engineering advisor to plan course schedules to ensure that all requirements are met.

 

For the 3:2 combined physics and engineering degrees, students must complete Washington College’s physics curriculum through the third year as well as the college’s distribution and writing program requirements.  Specific course requirements for the physics portion of the dual degree are as follows. 

 

Requirements for the Bachelor of Science in Physics for Dual Degree Engineering Students

  1. All of the following introductory courses are required:

PHY 111. General Physics I

PHY 112. General Physics II

PHY 211. Modern Physics

PHY 252. Scientific Modeling and Data Analysis

 

  1. Two upper level theory courses are required, selected from the following:

PHY 321. Classical Mechanics

PHY 322. Quantum Mechanics

PHY 323. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

PHY 324. Electricity and Magnetism

 

  1. PHY 352. Electronics

 

  1. All of the following courses in mathematics are required:

MAT 201. Differential Calculus

MAT 202. Integral Calculus

MAT 203. Multivariable Calculus

MAT 345. Differential Equations

 

  1. CHE 111. General Chemistry I

 

  1. Three semesters of the departmental seminar course are required (PHY 292, 391 and 392). Each seminar course is one credit hour. The seminar meets one afternoon each week.

 

Requirements for the Minor in Physics

The minor in physics requires a total of six semester courses in physics: PHY 111, 112, 211, 252 and two additional courses in physics at the 300 level or higher.  MAT 201, 202, 203 and 345 are also required.

 

Courses In Physics
  1. Concepts in Contemporary Physics

This course traces the evolving concepts of space, time, and motion through the main contributions of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and Bohr. Topics include: sizing up the universe surrounding us, the kinematics and dynamics of motion, the great conservation laws, the unification of space-time and gravity in the theories of special and general relativity, the physics of black holes, and the quantum structure of matter. There will be laboratory sessions, class demonstrations, and exercises.

 

  1. College Physics I

An algebra-based introduction to physics for life science majors. Kinematics in one and two dimensions, Newton’s laws of motion, work-energy theorem, conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, collisions, rotational kinematics and dynamics, simple harmonic motion, Newton’s law of gravitation, fluid mechanics, temperature, heat, kinetic theory and thermodynamics. One three-hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: High school algebra and trigonometry, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Fall)

 

  1. College Physics II

Second part of two-semester algebra-based introduction to physics for life science majors.  Electric charge, electric field and potential, conductors, dielectrics, capacitors, electric circuits and power; magnetic fields, forces on moving charges and on current-carrying wires, fields of current-carrying wires, electromagnetic induction; wave motion, superposition, physical and ray optics; quantum physics of atoms and atomic nuclei. One three-hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: Physics 101 or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Spring)

 

  1. Astronomy

A survey of the universe, beginning with the Earth, Moon, the planets, and the Sun, and continuing outwards to distant stars, galaxies, galactic clusters, superclusters, and large-scale structure. The emphasis will be on the interplay between physical theory and observation that leads to the modern astrophysical perspective of the universe. Topics include the origin and evolution of stars, formation of red giants, planetary nebulae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, supernovae, and black holes. We will explore the present state of our knowledge of these objects and how this knowledge is acquired. The course concludes with a discussion of quasars and the past, present, and future of the universe according to the Big Bang cosmology. There will be laboratory and observing sessions, demonstrations, and exercises.

 

  1. General Physics I

A calculus-based introduction to physics for further study in the physical sciences and engineering. Mechanics: kinematics and dynamics of particles, conservation laws, the law of universal gravitation, oscillations, and fluids. Thermodynamics: internal energy, heat, work, entropy and their statistical foundations. One three-hour laboratory session per week. Co-requisite: MAT 201, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Fall)

 

  1. General Physics II

Second part of two-semester calculus-based introduction to physics. Waves: wave propagation, superposition, interference, and physical and ray optics. Electric and magnetic fields: Coulomb’s law, Gauss’s law, electric potential, steady currents, magnetic forces, Ampere’s and Faraday’s laws. One three-hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: PHY 111, co-requisite: MAT 202, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Spring)

 

  1. Modern Physics

The first part of the course will explain the special theory of relativity: simultaneity, time dilation, length contraction, Lorentz’s transformations, and relativistic dynamics. The second part of the course will introduce the fundamental ideas of quantum physics: Planck’s hypothesis, Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom, wave-particle duality, Schrödinger’s equation, and basic applications of the formalism to atomic and molecular physics. One three-hour lab session per week. Prerequisite: PHY 112, co-requisite: MAT 203, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Fall)

 

  1. Earth and Planetary Systems

This course features a detailed examination of the unique interaction between the Earth’s geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, and how these systems contrast with those of the other planets in the solar system. The course includes a lecture and an integrated lab component. The lecture discussion and reading emphasizes the history of Earth systems, from the birth of the solar system and differentiation of the Earth, to the emergence of biological life, chemical evolution of the modern atmosphere, and the changes to the Earth’s climate, ocean and lithosphere throughout geologic history. The lab will introduce students to important tools in Earth Science research, including radiometric dating, chemical studies of natural materials, remote sensing and data base analysis. The course provides advanced students with the necessary scientific and intellectual background for pursuing further studies in Earth and planetary science, geography, and environmental studies. Includes three lecture hours per week plus lab. Prerequisite: ENV 140 and 141, or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Scientific Modeling and Data Analysis

The first part of the course serves as a focused introduction to programming for scientists and engineers, with topics including algorithm development, statistical analysis, numerical integration, and the creation of publication-quality graphics.  The second part of the course focuses on a research project in the student’s major.  Programming language: Python. Co-requisite: MAT 202.

 

  1. Classical Mechanics

Kinematics and dynamics of particles and rigid bodies. Topics include: Conservation laws, central forces, motion in non-inertial frames, small oscillations, and Lagrangian and Hamiltonian equations of motion. Prerequisite: PHY 211, PHY 252 and MAT 345, or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Quantum Mechanics

An introduction to the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics: quantum states and the principle of superposition, probability distributions and expectation values, observables and operators, operator representations, and perturbation theory. There will be a discussion of selected applications of the theory to atomic, solid state, and nuclear physics. Prerequisite: PHY 211, PHY 252 and MAT 345, or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

An in-depth presentation of the three laws of thermodynamics and their applications followed by a study of the statistical foundations that underpin these phenomenological laws. Additional topics include the theory of ideal gases, heat engines, statistical properties of systems of particles, the Boltzmann distribution, entropy, partition functions and quantum gases. Other topics may be included at the discretion of the instructor. Prerequisite: PHY 211, PHY 252 and MAT 345, or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Electricity and Magnetism

Electric and magnetic fields in vacuum. A survey of experiments and theory leading to Maxwell’s equations. Topics include: electrostatics, electric currents, magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction, Maxwell’s equations, and electromagnetic waves. Prerequisite: PHY 211, PHY 252 and MAT 345, or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Electronics

The study of electronics as it is used in the physical sciences. Theory, operation and applications of R-L-C electrical circuits, diodes, transistors, operational amplifiers, timers, analog, digital, mixed-signal and microprocessor circuits. The course comprises three lecture hours and one three-hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: PHY 211 and MAT

345 or permission of the instructor.

 

  1. Advanced Physics Laboratory

Advanced experiments in mechanics, electromagnetism, waves, physical and geometrical optics, thermal and statistical physics, atomic, and nuclear physics.

Prerequisite: PHY 351 or permission of the instructor.

 

292, 391, 392, 491, 492. Physics Departmental Seminar

The departmental seminar consists of weekly meetings of students and faculty. Meetings include both formal presentations and informal discussion. Students solve problems in physics, conduct reviews of current scientific literature, deliver oral presentations, and develop writing skills appropriate to the physics discipline. The physics seminar is also the venue for presentations of SCE projects. One credit per semester. The course is open for credit to physics majors and minors only.

 

190, 290, 390, 490. Internship

 

194, 294, 394, 494. Special Topics

 

195, 295, 395, 495. On-campus Research

A ten-week, on-campus summer research project guided by a faculty mentor. Based on mutual interests, the student and faculty mentor develop a research project supported by a reading list and involving theoretical, laboratory, or field investigations supervised by the faculty mentor. Participants produce a final report detailing the findings of their research. Selection of students will depend on academic background, scholastic achievement, and the results of a personal interview with the faculty mentor. The course may be taken twice for credit. Not offered as pass/fail. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

 

196, 296, 396, 496. Off-campus Research

 

197, 297, 397, 497. Independent Studies

The study of areas of physics not covered in other courses. Instructor and student will meet weekly to discuss any progress made. Designed for the student interested in pursuing a professional career in physics or engineering. Available to physics majors and others by agreement of instructor. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

 

SCE. Senior Capstone Experience

The Senior Capstone Experience is required of all majors in Physics. It consists of an experimental, theoretical, or computational investigation of a current topic in physics under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Results of these investigations will be presented in two sessions of the weekly Physics Seminar, and may also result in conference posters or publication in professional journals. Academic credit equivalent to one semester course (four credits) is granted upon successful completion of the Senior Capstone Experience, and a grade of Honors, Pass or Fail will be recorded on the student’s transcript along with the title of the investigation.