Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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Curriculum Overview
Physics and Astronomy

Three majors are offered within the Department of Physics and Astronomy: Physics, Astrophysics, and Astronomy.

Physics is the study of how objects interact, move and change. It covers objects as small as sub-atomic particles, such as quarks, to as large as the universe. It is inherently an experimental endeavor. The starting and ending points are the data and observations. From experiments and observations we develop fundamental theories that allow us to explain phenomena as commonplace as the flight of a baseball to as exotic as an electron  travelling at a speed close to the speed of light.

Courses within the department seek to help students develop a deep understanding of fundamental concepts, problem-solving skills, oral and written communication skills, experimental skills and the ability to work independently as well as with others. The skills learned in studying physics translate well to many fields and careers.

Recent physics majors have gone on to graduate school in physics, astrophysics and engineering, to medical and law school and to careers ranging from teaching to working on Wall Street.

The department participates in dual-degree programs, in which students receive a B.A. from the College and a B.S. in engineering from the partner institution, with Case  Western Reserve, Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Washington  University. Students interested in any of these programs are urged to discuss them with  the department chair and the Dual-Degree Engineering adviser early in the planning of their academic programs.

Students considering a major in physics or astrophysics would normally take PHY 111 and  MAT 109 or 110 in their first semester and PHY 112 and MAT 110 or 111 in their second  semester. However, students have successfully completed these majors following other paths.

To be considered for departmental honors, in addition to meeting the College’s general  requirements, a graduating senior must have an excellent record in required courses and  complete a two-semester independent study project.

A major in Physics consists of 13 courses:
PHY 111, 112, 222, 223, 226, 333, 334, 344 and 364;
MAT 109, 110, 111 and 229.

A minor in Physics consists of six courses in the department:  
PHY 111, 112, 223 or an approved substitute; 226; 333; and one additional Physics
course above the 100-level.

The astrophysics major focuses on physical principles as they are applied to the study of  the cosmos. The goal is to promote an understanding of a diverse array of extraterrestrial  phenomena in terms of the fundamental physics principles on which this understanding  is based. These phenomena range from the very small, such as the reactions between subatomic particles that power stars, to the very large, including the expansion and evolution of the universe itself. The astrophysics major emphasizes the same understanding of  fundamental physical concepts and skills as the physics major and both majors provide the necessary grounding and background for advanced study in the sciences.

Students interested in a career in astronomy should complete an astrophysics major, or a  physics major with a 100-level and at least one 300-level astronomy course as electives.

A major in Astrophysics consists of 15 courses:
PHY 111, 112, 222, 223, 226, 333, 334;  
PHY 344 or 364 or 336;
AST 100 or 121;  
AST 210 or 370 or 372;
AST 475 or 390;
MAT 109, 110, 111 and 229.

The astronomy major represents a balance between conceptual, mathematical and historical understandings of astronomy. Students gain an understanding of the structures in the universe  on many length scales and an appreciation for modern astronomical methods and results. A student with a major in astronomy could go on to a career as a science museum curator or planetarium director, a career in teaching, a career in science journalism or public policy, or more generally to any career involving an appreciation of modern scientific methods.

A major in Astronomy consists of 12 courses:  
PHY 111, 112, 222, 223;  
AST 100 or 121;  
MAT 109, MAT 110
Any five of the following: AST 370, 372, 475, either 386 or 387, 390.

A minor in Astronomy consists of six courses: AST 100 or 121; 370; and any four of  AST 210, 372, 475, 386, 387, 390 or 490.

Majors and minors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy have studied abroad  in the following programs in recent years: Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University  programs in Scotland, Australia, England, Ireland and New Zealand; TASSEP (TransAtlantic Science Student Exchange Program). See the International Programs section of  the Catalog for further information.