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In the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Physics studies nature and how things work on levels ranging from the smallest subatomic and atomic scales, through intermediate scales describing matter in its various forms, up to the largest astrophysical scales. Physics students acquire skills in mathematical calculation, experimental measurement and instrumentation, theoretical and numerical modeling, scientific writing, and oral presentation. Flexible major and minor programs are designed to fit within a liberal arts education and to provide preparation for careers or advanced training in science, teaching, business, medical professions, and engineering. The department welcomes students from all majors and with diverse backgrounds.

The introductory course sequence, Physics 141 (or 143) and 145, provides a solid basis for further work in physics as well as preparation for medical school and advanced study in other sciences. These courses also provide excellent preparation for students who plan to enter professions such as law, teaching, and business. The intermediate and advanced course offerings in the department provide a strong background for graduate study in physics, astronomy, engineering, and interdisciplinary fields such as biophysics, environmental science, medical physics, and bioengineering.

Emphasis is placed upon independent work and cooperative research with the faculty in atomic, molecular, and optical physics, condensed-matter physics, theoretical physics, and astronomy. All faculty members have active research programs that thrive on undergraduate contributions. Research projects make use of the department's well-equipped laboratories, computer workstations, and supporting machine, electronic, and technical shops.

Students seeking a career in engineering may consider applying to an exchange program in which both a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of engineering can be earned upon successful completion of three years at Colby and two years at Dartmouth College. Students should consult with the engineering advisor before selecting their first-semester courses.

Physics 141, 145, 241, and 242 form a full introduction to classical and 20th-century physics. For students with a previous background in physics and calculus from high school, Physics 143 may be taken instead of Physics 141.


Requirements for the Physics Major

Physics majors have a lot of flexibility in choosing the courses that are most appropriate for them. Students should work closely with their advisors in selecting courses to fulfill the requirements for the major. Not all upper-level elective courses are offered every year. Physics 415, taken in the fall of the senior year, involves completing an independent project, internship, or research in physics or a related field. All students are invited to attend the colloquia presented by faculty, senior students, and visiting scientists; senior physics majors are required to participate by enrolling in Physics 401, 402. The point scale for retention of the major applies to all courses taken that can satisfy the requirements listed below. No requirements for the major may be taken satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Physics majors receive Distinction in the Major upon graduating if they have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in physics and mathematics.

Required Physics Courses (unless exempted by advanced placement)

  • 141 Foundations of Mechanics (or 143 Honors Physics)
  • 145 Foundations of Electromagnetism and Optics
  • 241 Modern Physics I
  • 242 Modern Physics II
  • 401-402 Senior Physics and Astronomy Colloquium
  • 415 Physics and Astronomy Research (Physics 483-484 for students completing the honors major)
Mathematics and Computer Science Courses: Choose four (unless exempted by advanced placement) 

Computer Science

  • 151 Computational Thinking
  • 121 Single-Variable Calculus (or 161 Honors Calculus I)
  • 122 Series and Multi-Variable Calculus (or 162 Honors Calculus II)
  • 253 Linear Algebra
  • 262 Vector Calculus
  • 311 Ordinary Differential Equations
Elective Courses: Choose at least three. At least two must be 300-level or higher physics courses, and at least one 300-level or higher physics course must be taken at Colby.


  • 231 Introduction to Astrophysics
  • 274 Neurobiology
  • 255 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
  • 341 Physical Chemistry
  • 332 Numerical Analysis
  • 254 Essential Electronics
  • 311 Classical Mechanics
  • 312 Physics of Fluids
  • 321 Electricity and Magnetism
  • 332 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
  • 334 Experimental Atomic Physics
  • 335 General Relativity and Cosmology
  • 336 Condensed Matter Physics
  • 338 Nuclear and Particle Physics
  • 431 Quantum Mechanics

Honors in Physics

In the junior year, physics majors may apply for admission to the honors program. A 3.25 grade point average in physics and mathematics courses is normally required. Successful completion of the honors program will result in the degree being awarded “With Honors in Physics.” A thesis completed as part of the Senior Scholars Program may be substituted for the honors thesis.

Requirements for the Honors Major

In addition to fulfilling the requirements for the basic physics major, students must take three additional 300-level or higher physics courses and one additional 200-level or higher mathematics course. In fulfilling these requirements, students must take at least one upper-level experimental course (Astronomy 231, Physics 254, or 334). In their senior year, they must also take Physics 483-484 Independent Honors Project in the place of Physics 415. A written honors thesis is required.

Students considering graduate school in physics or astronomy are strongly encouraged to take all of the following courses: Mathematics 253, 262, 311, 352, Physics 254, 311, 321, 332, and 431. 

Requirements for the Minor in Physics

Physics 141 (or 143), 145, 241, 242 (or a physics course numbered 300 or above), Mathematics 121 (or 161), 122 (or 162).

No requirements for the physics minor may be taken satisfactory/unsatisfactory.




Colby College reserves the right in its sole judgement to make changes of any nature in its program, calendar, academic schedule, fees, deposits, or any other matters in this catalogue.