Curriculum Overview

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers two majors: Physics and Astrophysics.

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 endeavour. 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, Pennsylvania State 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 Physics 111 and Mathematics 109 or 110 in their first semester, and Physics 112 and Mathematics 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 14 courses:
PHY 111, 112, 223, 226, 331, 333, 344, 421, 432; and either PHY 222 or 224
MAT 109, 110, 111, and 229.


A minor in Physics consists of six courses in the department:

     Physics 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 sub-atomic 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, 223, 226, 333, 331; and either PHY 222 or 224;

     AST 121, 421; and two of AST 312, 322, 332;

     MAT 109, 110, 111 and 229.

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 (Trans-Atlantic Science Student Exchange Program). See the International Programs section of the Catalog for further information.  

Courses Offered (Physics)


A list of regularly offered courses follows. Please note the key for the following abbreviations: (A) Arts; (H) Humanities; (S) Social Sciences; (N) Natural Sciences with Laboratory; (LS) Language Studies requirement; (NSP) Natural Science in Perspective; (NW) Non-Western Cultures requirement.


111. Fundamental Physics I. (N)

First semester of a two-semester sequence that investigates the physical laws governing the behavior of particles and systems. PHY 111 always covers Newtonian mechanics. Additional topics, such as special relativity, thermodynamics and wave phenomena are covered at appropriate times during the sequence. Corequisite: MAT 109. Offered every semester.            

Asplund, Gagnon, Keebaugh, Pagano, Stubbins, Trainor

112. Fundamental Physics II. (N)

Second semester of a two-semester sequence that investigates the physical laws governing the behavior of particles and systems. PHY 112 always covers electromagnetism, optics, atomic and nuclear physics. Additional topics such as special relativity, thermodynamics and wave phenomena are covered at appropriate times during the sequence. Prerequisites: PHY 111. Corequisite: MAT 110. Offered every semester.             

Keebaugh, Lytle, E. Praton, Trainor

222. Electronics. (N)

Basic electronic concepts, devices and circuits, d.c. and a.c. circuit theory with emphasis on equivalent circuit models. Design and analysis of power supplies, amplifiers and oscillators. Laboratory work with instruments and circuits. Prerequisites: PHY 112.     


223. Modern Physics. (N)

Topics include special relativity, vibrations and waves, kinetic theory, basic quantum mechanics, quantum statistics and selections from atomic, molecular, solid state, nuclear and high-energy physics, or astrophysics. The course includes emphasis on development of laboratory, data analysis and mathematical skills. Prerequisite: PHY 112 or permission of instructor. Offered every Fall.     


224. Optics. (N)

Introduction to geometrical and physical optics: waves, optical components, interference, diffraction, polarization, and lasers. Laboratory work supports classroom content, introduces modern optical equipment and measurement techniques, and explores current applications of optics. Prerequisite: PHY 112 and MAT 111 or permission of the instructor. Not offered in 2018-19.      


226. Analytical Mechanics.

Newton’s laws applied to particles: rectilinear motion; simple, damped and driven oscillations; gravitation and central forces; Lagrange’s equations and the Hamiltonian; non-inertial frames of reference; and dynamics of systems of particles. Prerequisites: PHY 111. Corequisite: MAT 229. Offered every Spring.      


331. Mathematical Methods of Physics.

Mathematical techniques important in analyzing physical systems; topics include Fourier series; series solutions of differential equations with applications such as Schrödinger’s equation and electrostatic potential theory; partial differential equations, with multi-dimensional applications to electrostatic potentials, the heat flow and wave equations, Poisson’s equation and electromagnetic radiation. Prerequisite: PHY 226 or permission of the instructor. Offered every Fall.   


333. Electric and Magnetic Fields.

Topics include Coulomb force, electrostatic field and potential, Gauss’s Law, dielectrics, Ampere’s Law, Faraday’s Law, magnetic properties of matter, Maxwell’s equations and electromagnetic radiation. Corequisite: PHY 331 or permission of the instructor. Offered every Fall.     


344. Quantum Mechanics.

Basic postulates of quantum mechanics; wave equation in one and three dimensions; non-degenerate, degenerate and time-dependent perturbation theory; the hydrogen atom. Prerequisite: PHY 331 or 333 or permission of the instructor. Offered every Spring.     


421. Experimental Methods of Physics. (N)

Designed to familiarize students with equipment and procedures used in a research laboratory. Experiments will illustrate principles involved in atomic, molecular and solid-state physics. Computer interfacing of apparatus using LabView or similar software will be introduced.  Prerequisites: PHY 222 or 224, PHY 333, and PHY 344 or permission of the instructor. Offered every Fall.     

Crawford, Gagnon

432. Statistical and Thermal Physics.

Physical concepts and methods used in describing the behavior of systems consisting of large numbers of particles. Statistical mechanics and thermodynamics discussed from a unified point of view. Connection between the microscopic content of the theory and the laws of thermodynamics developed. Prerequisites: MAT 111 and PHY 226 or permission of the instructor.    


442. Condensed Matter Physics.

Development of concepts and methods for understanding the behavior of solids. Semiconductor physics. Laboratory projects related to the physics of solids and applications. Prerequisites: PHY 333 or permission of the instructor. Not offered 2018-19.    


490. Independent Study.

Independent study directed by the Physics staff. Permission of the department chair is required.


Courses Offered (Astronomy)

100. Survey of Astronomy. (N)

A survey of important areas and concepts of astronomy. Topics may include development of astronomy from ancient to modern times, including studies of the night sky; light and the electromagnetic spectrum; our solar system, including the laws governing the motion of the planets; evolution and properties of stars; black holes and neutron stars; structure, origin and evolution of galaxies; and the history and present properties of the universe. Weekly laboratory meetings at the Observing Deck, Planetarium or Computer Classroom. Offered every Fall.  

Asplund, Pagano, E. Praton

121. Introduction to Astrophysics. (N)

A quantitative introduction and exploration of some of the main ideas in modern astrophysics with an emphasis on the relationship of contemporary physics to astronomy. Topics may include astronomical instrumentation, radiation laws and spectra, physical characteristics of the sun and other stars, stellar formation and evolution, the solar system, compact objects, extragalactic astronomy and galaxies, and cosmology. Weekly laboratory meetings at the Observatory Deck, Planetarium or Computer Classroom. Corequisite: MAT109. Offered every Spring.    

Crawford, Trainor

312. Solar System Astrophysics.

A study of the characteristics of the solar system from a physical perspective. Topics include the physics of planetary atmospheres and interiors, dynamics of solar system bodies, magnetic fields, and the solar wind. Prerequisite: AST 121 or 100. Corequisite: PHY226. Not offered 2018-19    


322. Stellar Astrophysics.

A study of the physics of stars (including the Sun), star formation, the interstellar medium, structure and evolution of stars, properties of normal stars, stellar interiors, and stellar kinematics; exotic end-states of stars. Prerequisite: AST 121 or 100. Corequisite: PHY226. Not offered 2018-19    


332. Galaxies and Cosmology.

A study of the physical properties of galaxies and their nuclei, large-scale structure in the universe; and cosmology. Topics include galactic structure and properties of normal galaxies; galaxy formation; the Hubble flow and cosmic distance scales, active galaxies and quasars; galaxy clusters and large-scale structure of the universe; cosmic background radiation, and inflationary “big bang” cosmology. Prerequisite: AST 121 or 100. Corequisite: PHY226.  


386. Changing Concepts of the Universe. (NSP)

Historical examination of primitive and early cosmologies to present-day theories of the organization, extent and nature of the universe. Early Greek astronomy to present-day “big bang” theory. Use of simple astronomical instruments to reproduce observations of early astronomers. Not a laboratory course. Same as STS 386.    

K.A. Miller

387. Archeoastronomy. (NSP)

Fundamental astronomy of ancient cultures: Stonehenge and other stone rings in England and Europe; circles and temples in the Americas, Asia and Africa; time-keeping and calendars; prediction of seasons and eclipses. Methods of analysis: motions of celestial bodies; use of planetarium, celestial globes and grids; surveying of sites. Not a laboratory course. Same as STS 387.    

E. Praton

421. Experimental Methods of Astrophysics. (N)

Investigations into the experimental and observational techniques used in modern astrophysics. Overviews of instrumentation and detection methods; numerical and observational principles used; data reduction and analysis; error analysis and statistical confidence. Coursework includes classroom and experimental lab work, observing projects, and independent projects and presentations. Prerequisites: AST 312, AST 322 or AST332; Corequisite: PHY 333. Offered every Fall.     
Gagnon, Crawford

390, 490. Independent Study.

Independent study directed by the Astronomy staff. Permission of the department chair is required.