Washington Signature
[ Search and Navigation ]   [ View Full Site ]
Offices & Services

Offices: Registrar - Catalog


Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics


Karl Kehm, Chair

Colin Campbell

Gerald Ferguson

Juan Lin

Derek Thuecks

Physics is the most fundamental of sciences. Taking as its domain all forms of matter and energy, it seeks 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 solution requires creative insight alongside logical rigor and mathematical reasoning.

Study of physics helps the student 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 scientists 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 the major student in 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 and 110 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.

The Physics Major

The major in physics requires the following courses in physics and six auxiliary courses in related fields.

PHY 111. General Physics I

PHY 112. General Physics II

PHY 201. Electronics

PHY 204. Fundamentals of Modern Physics

PHY 301. Electromagnetism

PHY 304. Classical Mechanics

PHY 401. Selected Experiments

PHY 403. Quantum Physics

CHE 111. General Chemistry I

CHE 112. General Chemistry II

MAT 201. Differential Calculus

MAT 202. Integral Calculus

MAT 203. Multivariable Calculus

MAT 345. Differential Equations

CSI 201. Computer Science I (Strongly recommended)

In their junior and senior years, physics majors are required to participate in a weekly seminar (Physics 391/392/491/492).

Students planning to major in physics should ideally take Physics 111, 112, and Mathematics 201, 202 in their freshman year. These courses constitute the foundation of the major and should be taken early to ensure timely progress towards graduation. In addition, the student is urged to complete the requirements in chemistry (Chemistry 111, 112) during the first two years.

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.

Senior Capstone Experience

In addition to the required courses listed above, all students must fulfill the Senior Capstone Experience. This is a year-­long research project on a theoretical or experimental topic that the student wishes to investigate.

The Minor In Physics

The minor in physics requires a total of six semester courses in physics—Physics 111, 112, 201, 204, and two additional ones from among the courses required for the major.

Courses In Physics

100. 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.

101. 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 three­hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: High school algebra and trigonometry, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Fall)

102. 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)

110. 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.

111. 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: Mathematics 201, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Fall)

112. 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 three­hour laboratory session per week. Prerequisite: Physics 111, co­requisite: Mathematics 202, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Spring)

201. Electronics

The study of electronics as it is used in the physical sciences. Theory, operation and applications of R­L­C 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: Physics 112. (Offered annually: Fall)

204. Fundamentals of 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. Prerequisite: Physics 112 and Mathematics 203, or permission of the instructor. (Offered annually: Spring)

301. Electromagnetism

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: Physics 204 and Mathematics 345, or permission of the instructor.

304. 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: Physics 112 and Mathematics 345, or permission of the instructor.

PHY 340. Earth and Planetary Systems Studies

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: Physics 140 and 141.

401. Selected Experiments

Advanced experiments in mechanics, electromagnetism, waves, physical and geometrical optics, thermal and statistical physics, atomic, and nuclear physics. Prerequisite: Physics 204, or permission of the instructor.

403. Quantum Physics

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: Physics 301 and Mathematics 345, or permission of the instructor.

391/392. Junior Physics Seminar

491/492. Senior Physics Seminar

Weekly meetings of students and faculty. Students are required to read journal articles of current interest in physics and astronomy and give oral presentations summarizing their contents. Presentations of SCE projects are also made here. One credit per semester. Can be taken up to four times for credit. Open for credit to physics majors and minors only. Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor.

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.