Degrees and Programs

Major in Physics

The goals of the physics curriculum are to provide a conceptual and quantitative understanding of the fundamental laws of nature upon which all physical and biological systems depend, and to provide the experimental and theoretical methods required to attain this understanding. The physics department courses serve the needs and interests of students regardless of their background in science and mathematics. Astronomy (101 and 102), Energy (105 and 107), The Scientific Revolution (110) and Global Climate (112) are designed for the student with little or no background in the sciences or mathematical reasoning. Students in the life sciences or the pre-medical program should enroll in Physics 103, 104 or Physics 151, 152. Students who plan to major in a physical science should elect Physics 151, 152, as should those in the Engineering Combined Plan.

Students who are curious about the behavior of the natural world at its most basic level and who find pleasure in discovering the order in the world around them should consider a major in physics. In addition to its intrinsic worth as a liberal art, the study of physics serves as preparation for further professional training in physics, engineering, medicine and other related fields, such as biophysics, geophysics, space science and secondary school science teaching.

Physics majors also pursue careers in business, management and industry, often in areas that deal in the application or development of technology.

Coursework for the physics major depends on material covered in previous courses, so it is strongly advised to begin with Physics 151, 152 in the first year. Physics 221, 222 should be completed in the sophomore year, by which time all of the major topics in classical and modern physics will have been surveyed. Courses at the junior and senior levels investigate particular areas of physics in greater detail and abstraction, and at increasing levels of mathematical sophistication. Students may also undertake independent studies and projects at the intermediate or upper level on topics of mutual interest between the student and a faculty member.  Physics students can explore recent discoveries and active fields of research in the seminar series in contemporary physics (Physics 451-4).

It is possible for physics majors to participate in programs abroad. Those interested in this option should take Physics 151, 152 in their first year and consult this page for details.

We believe that students attain the most complete physics education through the actual process of doing physics. Consequently, the department provides a strong and evolving laboratory program. Most 100-level courses include weekly experiments that are closely related to concurrent classroom work. Laboratory work in higher-level courses gradually allows students more freedom and responsibility to design and execute their experiments. The physics curriculum culminates in Physics 489, a semester-long project selected and executed by each senior major in consultation with a faculty sponsor. Students have the opportunity to participate in faculty research activities during the academic year (Physics 403, 404) and during the summer.

Well-qualified students may receive summer stipends to conduct research in astrophysics, experimental low-temperature physics, computational physics, history of physics and near-field optical microscopy. Physics laboratories are well equipped with modern equipment, electronic instrumentation, computers with data interfaces, a high-vacuum system and a machine shop.

The requirements for a degree in physics total 10 course units, which include two half-unit laboratory courses (Phys 317 and 318):

  • Phys 151 & 152 - University Physics
  • Phys 221 & 222 - Modern Physics
  • Phys 307 - Classical Mechanics
  • Phys 308 - Electricity and Magnetism
  • Phys 317 - Instrumentation Lab
  • Phys 318 - Electronics Lab
  • Phys 333 - Mathematical Methods of Physics
  • Phys 489 or 498 - SYE: Advanced Laboratory (or Advanced Lab with Honors)
  • One additional course unit at the 400 level

In preparation for senior-year research we strongly recommend that physics majors take Physics 452 in their junior year.

The three-course calculus sequence (Math 135, 136, 205) should be completed as soon as possible. Since physics students make extensive use of computers, potential majors are advised to enroll in CS 140 (Intro to Computer Programming) during the sophomore year. Majors considering the possibility of graduate study in physics are strongly encouraged to take Physics 401 - Quantum Mechanics. Also recommended for the major are Math 217 (Linear Algebra) and Math 230 (Differential Equations), and Chem 103 & 104 (General Chemistry) or Chem 105 (Accelerated General Chemistry).

Junior Year Abroad

See "How to Major in Physics and Go Abroad"

Minor in Physics

A minor in physics consists of Phys 151 & 152 (University Physics) and 221 & 222 (Modern Physics), plus one unit at the 300 level or above selected from the following courses:

  • 1 unit: Phys 307 (Classical Mechanics)
  • 1 unit: Phys 333 (Mathematical Methods of Physics)

or

  • 0.5 units: Phys 317 (Instrumentation Lab)
  • 0.5 units: Phys 318 (Electronics Lab)
  • 0.5 units: Phys 452 (Seminar in Contemporary Physics)

Biology-Physics Interdisciplinary Major

Students may elect an interdisciplinary major in biology and physics as a basis for work or advanced study in such fields as biophysics, radiation biology, radiological health or environmental science.  The major is also acceptable for pre-medical students. A major in Biology-Physics consists of four biology course units, four physics courses, two Chemistry course units, two more upper level biology or physics courses, and a senior research project. More information can be found on the Biology-Physics Major page.

Geology-Physics Interdisciplinary Major

Students with an interest in geophysics may prepare for graduate study in that field by choosing the interdisciplinary major in geology and physics.  The requirements of this major include advanced work in both physics and geology, but there is some flexibility in the choice of courses to meet the specific needs of the student. A major in Geology-Physics consists of five course units of geology, four and one half units of physics, two more upper level geology or physics courses and a senior research project. More information can be found on the Geology-Physics Major page.

3+2 Engineering Combined Program

Students in the 3+2 Engineering Combined program who choose physics as a major must complete eight course units in physics, which includes two half-unit courses (Phys 317 and 318). Phys 151, 152, 221, 222, 307, 308 and 333 make up the remaining seven units. Other requirements for the engineering combined plan are given on the 3+2 Engineering Combined Programs page.

Certification to Teach Physics

Students seeking initial certification as a 7-12 physics teacher in New York must major in physics and also complete the certification minor in education. Physics majors intending to complete student teaching after graduation in the University's Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Certification Program must complete the physics major and the educational studies minor in education (or its equivalent) as undergraduates. Consult the "Education" section of the University Catalog and/or speak to the coordinator of the teacher education program in the Department of Education as early as possible.