Physics is the study of scientific law, the attempt to understand the fundamental principles governing the operation of the universe. Put simply, the physicist wants to know how stuff works, with “stuff” being everything from the tiniest constituent particles of atomic nuclei to entire clusters of galaxies, and everything in between.
In addition to providing fascinating insights into nature’s inner workings, the study of physics provides a discipline which supports success in a variety of endeavors. Perhaps most obviously, a degree in Physics is intended to prepare you for graduate school in physics, astronomy, engineering, and similar technical fields. This path is fairly typical for those intending to pursue advanced research or a career in academia. For those who are more interested in teaching K-12, the combination of a physics major with coursework in education provides a strong foundation in both content knowledge and pedagogy. And regardless of your eventual career path, the analytical skills, the habits of rigor and precision, the eagerness to think through and solve complex problems, and the ability to communicate difficult ideas clearly will prepare you well for service in any field you choose.
About the major
Due to the demanding nature of the field, the physics major at Principia requires a rigorous course of study. The first two years of Principia’s Physics program are devoted to an introductory sequence which covers the fundamentals of major themes of physics: classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermal physics, and modern physics. This introductory coursework is followed by a core of four upper-level courses covering these areas in greater depth. This provides a strong theoretical foundation; the necessary background in experimental work is obtained through regular labs during the introductory sequence and a higher-level Advanced Laboratory course. Students can tailor their studies to their particular interests with their choice of upper-division elective courses; however, we recommend that students who plan to enter graduate school in physics or astronomy take as many physics electives as possible! The program culminates in a major capstone project in which the student has the opportunity to engage in original research under the guidance of a faculty member.
In addition to these physics courses, the Physics major requires a very strong background in mathematics, as well as some chemistry. While it’s not currently required, we also highly recommend a course in computer programming.
Fitting in these requirements prior to graduation can involve careful planning! The major planning page should help you to organize your classes so that you make sure you fit everything in.
The schedule of courses page lists current course offerings, as well as classes planned for upcoming terms. The course description page lists all of the courses offered by the Physics Department.
Finally, some highlights of our department’s research program can be found here.