Brief Description of Concentration

physicsThe concentration in Physics serves a variety of goals and interests. Many concentrators seek an understanding of the subtle, profound, and fundamental laws—relativity, quantum mechanics, and the basic force laws—that govern the behavior of all matter. Often these studies involve the smallest units of matter: molecules, atoms, nuclei, and sub-nuclear particles. A major interest of other Physics concentrators is the exploration and explanation of the diverse properties to which these laws give rise in macroscopic systems such as fluids and solids. Still others study aspects of more complex systems like oceans and atmospheres, stars, and living matter.

Learning Objectives

A concentration in Physics provides a foundation for subsequent professional work in physics, and also for work in computer science, astronomy, biophysics, chemical physics, engineering and applied physics, earth and planetary sciences, geology, astrophysics, and the history and philosophy of science. Less obviously perhaps, the intellectual attitudes in physics -- blending imagination, prediction, observation, and deduction -- provide an excellent base for subsequent graduate work in professional schools of medicine, education, law, business, and public administration.

Gateway Courses

  • Most Physics students will begin their physics program with mechanics, in Physics 15a or 16 or 19, and continue with Physics 15b and c. However, it is also possible to get started by taking Physical Sciences 12a/b or Applied Physics 50a/b. Students in these courses who are interested in the Physics concentration should consult the Director or Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies, who will work with them to design an appropriate plan of study.
  • Mathematics is an indispensable tool in physics, and students will find it very useful to improve their math skills early in their academic careers, by taking two courses at the Math 21 level, along with any needed prerequisites.
  • In some subfields of physics (condensed matter, for example), the study of chemistry is very important. And almost all physics students will find it useful to dip into chemistry to see how this neighboring science approaches similar problems. We strongly recommend Physical Sciences 10 (which counts as a physics course for the concentration) because it combines statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics, two of the most important topics in physics and chemistry, at an accessible level.


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