Courses for Majors
In the first year, we recommend that prospective majors take Introduction to Classical Physics 171.105–106, with the corresponding laboratory 173.115-116. Taking General Physics for Physical Sciences 171.101–102 is also acceptable, although less desirable. In the fall semester of sophomore year, students take Contemporary Physics Seminar 172.203 and either Special Relativity and Waves 171.201 or the combination of Wave Phenomena with Biophysical Applications 171.309 and Special Relativity 171.207. In the spring semester of the sophomore year, students following the standard track enroll in Classical Mechanics 171.204 and Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics 171.312.
During the first two years, students also bring themselves up to speed in mathematics. We require completion of Calculus I and II 110.108–109, Calculus III 110.202 or 211, Differential Equations 110.302, and Linear Algebra 110.201 or 212. Because our students arrive with a wide range of mathematical preparation, we advise them to consult the Department of Mathematics to determine where they best fit in. Many students take significantly more mathematics than the required core.
Most students begin junior year with the required courses Introduction to Electromagnetic Theory II 171.301 and Quantum Mechanics I 171.303. The required laboratory course, Advanced Lab 173.308, may be taken in the spring of junior or senior year. All majors are required to take either Quantum Mechanics II 171.304 or Introduction to Topics in Contemporary Physics 171.418.
The two forms of the degree, BA and BS, differ only in their requirements for electives. Among the electives offered undergraduates in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are:
- Introduction to Stellar Physics 171.313
- Introduction to Galaxies and Active Galactic Nuclei 171.314
- Introduction to Space Science and Technology 171.321
- Condensed Matter Physics 171.405
- Nuclear and Particle Physics 171.408
- Physical Cosmology 171.410
- Independent Research 171.501-502
Undergraduates with the appropriate course prerequisites are encouraged to take graduate-level courses, such as:
- General Relativity 171.646
- Graduate Quantum Mechanics AS.171.605
- Physics of Cell Biology AS.171.648
- Advanced Statistical Physics AS.171.703
- Introduction to Plasma Physics 171.672
Courses for Non-Majors
Students may fill distribution requirements with less-technical courses that require no math or physics prerequisites. These include:
- Introduction to Frontier Physics 172.114: A one credit seminar introducing students to the questions physicists are unraveling today.
- Stars and the Universe: Cosmic Evolution 171.118: An introduction to astronomy.
- Subatomic World 171.113: An introduction to the concepts of symmetries, relativity, quanta, neutrinos, particles and field that focuses on concepts instead of math.
- Physics of the Everyday World 171.115: An introduction to the concepts of physics and their implications for the natural world around us.
Students who have taken or placed out of General Physics may take Physics of Human Energy Use 171.121 or Physics of Modern Technologies 171.120.
The department offers three two-semester introductory physics sequences, designed to meet the needs of a variety of students:
- General Physics for Physical Science Majors 171.101–102: A comprehensive one-year course in general physics, intended for physical science and engineering majors who do not plan to pursue further studies in the department. This sequence can be started in either semester and is offered in the summer.
- General Physics for Biological Science Majors 171.103–104: Similar to 171.101-102, but is tailored to students with a biological science or engineering major.
- Introduction to Classical Physics 171.105–106: Intended for students who plan to take more than one year of physics, perhaps as a minor. It is less comprehensive than 171.101–102 or 171.103–104, but it covers the material in greater depth. Students should be aware that the 171.105–106 sequence alone is not adequate preparation for the physics portion of the MCAT exam.
While the two general physics courses are aimed at students with different interests, either may fulfill the requirements for pre-med or engineering students. They are also accepted in place of 171.105–106 as pre-requisites for 171.201.
Two intermediate sequences are available:
- Special Relativity and Waves 171.201 and Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics 171.312: Complete an integrated four-semester introduction to core subjects in physics. The sequence 171.105-106 is the preferred prerequisite for 171.201, although 171.101–102 or 171.103–104 are acceptable.
- Biological Physics 171.310 and Wave Phenomena with Biophysical Applications 171.309. Aimed at students in biophysics and biomedical engineering, 171.310 covers key physical concepts from statistical physics, fluid mechanics, and electricity and magnetism that are relevant to understanding biological systems. 171.309 covers wave phenomena and biological probes that depend on the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with matter.