Skip to main content

Academic Program

Academic Program

We handed out information about majoring and minoring in our department at the sophomore information session in late January. You can look at some sample plans of study for majors.

We have several "first courses" for students taking a sequence of physics course, either potential majors/minors or majors in allied fields with physics requirements: Phys 3 for engineers, Phys 3L for life science students, and Phys 5 for potential majors/minors. More information about first courses is available in the course catalog.

We have a list of learning goals for our students. We are committed to helping all our students meet these goals.

Course offerings for science students

Intended for students majoring in engineering, chemistry, biology, and other fields outside of our own department, the two semester calculus-based sequence of PHYS 003 and 004 covers primarily mechanics and electricity and magnetism. For students interested in life sciences, PHYS 003L is offered every fall in place of PHYS 003, and  PHYS 004L is offered every spring in place of PHYS 004.

For students considering majoring in physics, astrophysics, or astronomy, the corresponding courses are PHYS 007 (Classical Mechanics) and PHYS 008 (Electricity, Magnetism, and Waves). This sequence may also be appropriate for some students intending to major in other subjects. Likewise, it is possible for students taking the 003, 004 sequence to become majors, but it is not the usual route. Note that PHYS 007 and PHYS 008 are typically taken in the sophomore year by students intending on majoring in the department.

The typical major track for Physics starts with PHYS 005 (The World of Particles and Waves) in the fall semester of the first year, which is typically followed in the spring by PHYS 006 (Foundations of Contemporary Physics). PHYS 007 and PHYS 008, mentioned above, are typically then taken in the fall and spring of the second year.

Students are encouraged to consult with their advisor or the chair if they wish to take these classes in a different order; some flexibility is feasible but it’s also important to be well prepared in order to have a good learning experience.

Intended astronomy or astrophysics majors typically take ASTR 016 (Astrophysics: Stars, ISM, and Galaxies) during the fall of their second year, along with the above classes or they take ASTR 014 (Astrophysics: Solar System and Cosmology) during the spring of either their first year or sophomore year.

Having completed the above four-semester sequence of courses, a physics, astronomy, or astrophysics major is prepared to take the upper level seminars our department offers, with the three different majors requiring a different mix of seminars. These seminars are small classes in which student present most of the material in class. 

See the course major and minor pages for requirements for graduation in the physics, astronomy, or astrophysics majors.  We also offer a rotating set of advanced seminars, typically taken by seniors, but not required for the major. We also offer two Advanced Laboratory courses (081, 082), a half-credit each, which are required for physics majors as is PHYS 063 (Procedures in Experimental Physics) which is also a half-credit course and is a pre-requisite for Advanced Laboratory.               


The Physics and Astronomy Department teaches the concepts and methods that lead to an understanding of the fundamental laws governing the physical universe. Emphasis is placed on quantitative, analytical reasoning, and problem solving, as distinct from the mere acquisition of facts. Particular importance is also attached to laboratory work because physics and astronomy are primarily experimental and observational sciences - our understanding is grounded by experimental and observational facts. 

The physical world is rich with interesting and diverse phenomena, and yet has an underlying orderliness and elegance. We strive to imbue our students with appreciation for both of these facets of physics and astronomy in courses ranging from the offerings for majors described above to broad survey courses and more narrowly focused introductory courses for both science and non-science majors. We also offer several interdisciplinary courses, from environmental studies to gender studies.

We view research (often culminating in an honors thesis) as an important component of our academic program, complementing the coursework. Many students do research over the summer, whether they are planning on writing theses or not, and these research experiences are an important part of many of our students' educations. Many students also find summer research opportunities off campus, at national labs, observatories, and research universities. Students also run evening peer-mentoring sessions to provide help for students in introductory classes, attend research colloquia given by visiting scientists, and generally participate in the academic life of the department.