Physics

Associate Professor Walden, chair; Jarvis Professor Silverman∙∙; Associate Professors Branning and Geiss; Assistant Professor Barwick; Laboratory Lecturer in Physics Palandage

Physics is the study of energy, matter, and the interactions that govern their behavior. It is a wide-ranging and fundamental field of inquiry that links together all of the physical sciences. Research in physics addresses questions as seemingly diverse as how atoms are put together, how galaxies form and evolve, and why some balls bounce better than others. Although the everyday world with which we are familiar differs enormously in scale from the atomic and galactic domains, all of these examples share common unifying principles, such as the conservation of mass-energy, that the physicist seeks to uncover and understand. These basic principles and their most significant applications form the focus of an undergraduate program in physics.

Physics is also an interdisciplinary science, providing the theoretical underpinnings for the concepts and technologies fundamental to major fields such as chemistry, biology, medicine, electronics, and geology, and to the applied fields of optics, nanotechnology, computer science, and engineering. Lasers, MRI, and high-speed computing are but a few of the technological advances made possible by the applications of the principles of physics. An education in physics provides students with a solid understanding of basic modern science and trains them to solve complex problems. This training prepares undergraduate majors in physics for a wide variety of careers, many of which take them well outside the boundaries of what is traditionally considered “physics.”

Course levels—PHYS 141L, 231L, and 232L are courses designed as preparation for students who are planning on majoring in physics, engineering, or other physical sciences. They make use of calculus and require prior completion of, or concurrent registration in, appropriate mathematics courses. Students who are considering one of these majors are strongly advised to take PHYS 141L and MATH 131 in the fall term of their first year.

PHYS 101L and 102L provide a one-year introduction to the fundamentals of physics with no mathematics prerequisites. These courses are intended for students who are not planning further work in physics, and they do not fulfill requirements for the physics major. This is the introductory sequence most often taken by biology majors and by students preparing for medical school.

The other courses at the 100 level are open to any interested student and have no mathematics prerequisites. The courses offered vary from year to year.

The courses at the 300 and 400 levels constitute advanced work in physics. They are aimed at both physics majors and students in the other sciences. Please note that the 300-level courses are mostly offered in alternate years.

The physics major—Eleven courses and a senior exercise are required for the major. Students must earn grades of C- or better in all of these courses. It is strongly recommended that students intending to pursue graduate study take at least eight courses in physics at the 300+ level and at least one year of 300+ level mathematics courses. The Writing Intensive Part II requirement is fulfilled by PHYS 320.

The courses PHYS 490 and PHYS 399 provide qualified students with the opportunity to carry out laboratory research or independent study under the direct supervision of an individual faculty member.

The interdisciplinary computing major in physics—See the “Interdisciplinary Computing Major” section of the Bulletin. Students contemplating the interdisciplinary computing major in physics should contact the chair of the Physics Department, who will direct them to appropriate faculty members for guidance and assistance in setting up a plan of study.

Study Away—Physics majors with an interest in studying abroad should plan well in advance of the semester they will be away. This is particularly important since most upper-level physics courses at Trinity are offered biennially. Students wishing to use courses taken abroad in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the physics major must obtain the prior approval of the department chair.

Honors—Students seeking honors in physics must complete at least one additional physics course beyond the minimum required for the physics major. This course may be a semester of independent research (PHYS 399 or 490). Honors candidates must attain an average of at least a B+ in all physics courses. Honors are awarded to qualified students by a vote of the faculty.

Advanced Placement—Students who have earned an Advanced Placement exam grade in physics of 4 or 5 may receive course credit. See the “Advanced Placement” section of the Bulletin for details. Exceptionally well-prepared students who are exempt from PHYS 141 and from both MATH 131 and MATH132/142 may petition the chair of the department to take PHYS 232L prior to PHYS 231L.

Fall Term

Spring Term