Physics Department

In the Department of Physics and Astronomy

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers several programs: (1) the physics major, (2) the physics major with a concentration in astrophysics, (3) the astronomy minor, and (4) the physics minor.

Physicists study 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 on 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 involve undergraduate contributions. Research projects make use of the department’s well-equipped laboratories, computer workstations, the Collins Observatory, 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 a joint program with Dartmouth College or Columbia University. 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 modern physics. For students with a previous background in physics and calculus from high school, Physics 143 may be taken instead of Physics 141.

Faculty

Chair, Professor Charles Conover
Professors Robert Bluhm, Charles Conover, and Duncan Tate; Assistant Professors Dale Kocevski, Jonathan McCoy, and Elizabeth McGrath; Faculty Fellow Michael Pagano; Senior Laboratory Instructor Lisa Lessard


Requirements +

No requirements for the major, or the major with concentration in astrophysics, 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. The point scale for retention of the major applies to all courses taken that can satisfy the requirements listed below.

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 (or 253), 311, 321, 332, and 431.

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 and satisfy their academic goals. 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.

Required Physics Courses (unless exempted by advanced placement)

Physics

  • 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); no more than one of the courses should be in computer science.

Computer Science (152 is recommended over 151)

  • 151 Computational Thinking: Visual Media
  • 152 Computational Thinking: Science

Mathematics

  • 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 or astronomy courses, and at least one 300-level or higher physics course must be taken at Colby.

Astronomy

  • 231 Introduction to Astrophysics
  • 342 Galaxies and Cosmology
  • 397 Topics in Astrophysics

Biology

  • 274 Neurobiology

Chemistry

  • 255 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
  • 341 Physical Chemistry

Mathematics

  • 332 Numerical Analysis

Physics

  • 253 Electronic Measurement in the Sciences
  • 254 Essential Electronics
  • 311 Classical Mechanics
  • 312 Physics of Fluids
  • 321 Electricity and Magnetism
  • 332 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
  • 333 Experimental Soft Matter Physics
  • 334 Experimental Atomic Physics
  • 335 General Relativity and Cosmology
  • 338 Nuclear and Particle Physics
  • 431 Quantum Mechanics

Requirements for the Physics Major with a Concentration in Astrophysics

Students should work closely with their advisors in selecting courses to fulfill the requirements for the concentration. Not all upper-level courses are offered every year. Astronomy 231 and one 300-level physics or astronomy course must be taken at Colby. All senior physics majors are required to participate in department colloquia by enrolling in Physics 401 and 402. For students electing the astrophysics concentration, Physics 415 should focus on a topic in astrophysics or a closely related field.

Required Courses (unless exempted by advanced placement)

Physics

  • 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)

Astronomy

  • 231 Introduction to Astrophysics
  • 342 Galaxies and Cosmology

Computer Science – Choose one (152 is recommended)

  • 151 Computational Thinking: Visual Media
  • 152 Computational Thinking: Science

Mathematics – Choose three (unless exempted by advanced placement)

  • 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 two. At least one must be a 300-level or higher physics or astronomy course.

Astronomy

  • 335 General Relativity and Cosmology
  • 397 Topics in Astrophysics

Computer Science

  • 231 Data Structures and Algorithms
  • 251 Data Analysis and Visualization

Mathematics

  • 381 Mathematical Statistics I: Probability

Physics

  • 311 Classical Mechanics
  • 321 Electricity and Magnetism
  • 332 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
  • 338 Nuclear and Particle Physics
  • 431 Quantum Mechanics

Statistics

  • 212 Introduction to Statistical Methods
  • 321 Applied Regression Modeling

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.

Majors in physics must, in addition to fulfilling the requirements for the major, 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 253, 254, 333, or 334). In their senior year they must also take Physics 483 and 484 Independent Honors Project in the place of Physics 415. A written honors thesis is required.

Majors with a concentration in astrophysics must, in addition to fulfilling the requirements for the concentration, take three additional electives, two of which must be 300-level or higher physics or astronomy courses. In their senior year they must also take Physics 483 and 484 Independent Honors Project in the place of Physics 415. A written honors thesis is required. It is expected that students electing the astrophysics concentration will focus their honors thesis on a topic in astrophysics.

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. 

Requirements for the Minor in Astronomy

Students must take one of either Astronomy 151 or 172 and the following required courses:

Astronomy

  • 231 Introduction to Astrophysics
  • 342 Galaxies and Cosmology

Physics

  • 141 Foundations of Mechanics (or 143 Honors Physics)
  • 145 Foundations of Electromagnetism and Optics

Mathematics

  • 121 Single-Variable Calculus (or 161 Honors Calculus I, or 101 and 102 Calculus with Pre-calculus I and II)

Note: Students cannot fulfill the astronomy minor if electing to major in physics. Physics majors interested in astronomy should consider the astrophysics concentration.

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