2011-2012 Academic Catalog 
    Feb 21, 2024  
2011-2012 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics Major

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  1. Scientific Perspective Courses. PHYS 020 , PHYS 030 , PHYS 140 , ASTR 001  and ASTR 002  have no prerequisites and satisfy the scientific-perspective requirement of the Program of Liberal Studies. PHYS 110  and PHYS 120 can be taken in satisfaction of either the scientific-perspective or formal-analysis requirement, but not both. PHYS 111 , PHYS 121 , 127, PHYS 130  and PHYS 131 , which also fulfill the scientific perspective, are primarily for science majors.
  2. Introductory Sequences. Prospective science majors are urged to begin their study of physics during their first or second years. The department offers two sequences of introductory courses. PHYS 110 /PHYS 111  is a two-semester, noncalculus-based survey of physics appropriate for the majority of science majors, including environmental science and policy majors and premedical/predental students. PHYS 120 /PHYS 121 /PHYS 130  is a three-semester sequence, recommended for physics, chemistry and mathematics majors, which covers mechanics, electricity and magnetism, waves, and optics in more depth than the PHYS 110 /PHYS 111  sequence. Because PHYS 121  discusses the subject matter more deeply, it is less comprehensive than PHYS 111 , and should be followed by PHYS 130 .
  3. Laboratory Courses. PHYS 110 , PHYS 111 , PHYS 120 , PHYS 121 , 127, PHYS 130 , PHYS 131  and PHYS 219  offer laboratory experience. PHYS 110  and PHYS 111  fulfill the physics laboratory requirement for premedical/predental students.

Undergraduate Program

Physics is the most fundamental of the sciences and is an important part of a liberal-arts education. Introductory courses are designed for students in all majors and provide a background in physical principles, the observation of natural processes, the logic and nature of science, and the diverse applications of physics. The introductory courses are:

Affiliate Faculty

George Phillies, Ph.D.


Program Requirements

Undergraduate Requirements

A major in physics can be structured to meet the interests of individual students, including graduate study in physics, related sciences, engineering, and careers in environmental studies, management, government, law, medicine and teaching. During their first year, prospective physics majors are urged to enroll in PHYS 120  and PHYS 121  and to consult the undergraduate physics adviser about their program of study. Physics major requirements consist of 14 common core courses and four additional approved courses in physics or related areas. The requirements are flexible and, through consultation with the undergraduate physics adviser, may be modified to satisfy the particular needs and interests of each student. Examples of individual programs include:

General Physics – for students who wish to major in physics as part of liberal-arts education, including preparation for careers in teaching or business.

Preprofessional Physics – courses in physics, chemistry and mathematics to prepare students for graduate study in physics or research in industry.

Biological Physics – includes chemistry and biology courses that can be used to prepare for medical or dental schools or for careers in the biomedical professions.

Computational Physics – advanced courses in physics, computer science and mathematics designed to prepare students for graduate study in the rapidly growing area of computational science.

Students interested in using physics as the basis for an engineering career should inquire about the 3/2 Engineering Program offering students a five-year option that combines a B.A. from Clark and a B.S. in engineering from Columbia University.

Courses in the core curriculum include:

4. Laboratory-based courses (1):

Total in core curriculum: 15

Additional approved electives: 3

Total in major program: 18


Students with strong backgrounds in physics and mathematics may replace lower-level required courses with appropriate advanced courses with adviser approval. Advanced-placement credits may count toward major requirements. Advanced undergraduates may take graduate-level courses. Majors must meet with the undergraduate physics adviser prior to registration every semester to plan their course of study and to ensure that all requirements for the major are being satisfied. It is possible to complete all requirements for the major within three years, so that it is not essential to begin the study of physics in the first year.

Information about career opportunities and further information about courses and major requirements can be obtained from the undergraduate physics adviser and other physics faculty members.

The Capstone Experience

An independent research project is the appropriate capstone experience for most physics majors. Students are encouraged to “do physics” at the earliest opportunity. Majors must take a capstone course satisfied by one semester of PHYS 299 - Directed Studies in Physics , or an approved course of comparable scope. Near the end of the junior year (or earlier) a physics major should choose a topic for his or her senior project with department faculty. Work is conducted under the guidance of a faculty member, often with the assistance of graduate students. These projects often lead to publication in refereed physics journals. Majors with a special interest in research may continue their research by enrolling in additional semesters of PHYS 299 .


Students can apply for departmental honors in recognition of meritorious academic achievement and creativity in research. An honors candidate must maintain a minimum overall B– average. All eligible majors are encouraged to participate. Written applications should be submitted to the undergraduate adviser by the end of the junior year. Candidates will conduct a research project under faculty member guidance during the junior and/or senior years. A thesis describing the work must be submitted no later than April 1 of the senior year and be defended orally in a special departmental convocation about two weeks later. Recommendation for honors in physics is made on the basis of the quality of the thesis and student performance in the defense. Students may gain credit for thesis research by registering for PHYS 299.

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