Degrees and Programs

Physics Concentration

Feb. 1, 1993 — AOS Guidelines: Science, Mathematics and Technology

Physics is the study of matter and energy. Mathematical abstraction characterizes its methodology. Physics is both empirical, based upon controlled observation, and theoretical, in the effort to relate the results of such observations together using abstract conceptual frameworks.

Physics, in fact, requires a dynamic relationship between theory and experiment, between abstract principles and observations of physical behavior. Physics is an active and ongoing attempt to improve both the theories of physics and their match with observation.

  • Purely theoretical work invents theory, draws testable predictions from existing principles, compares existing theories and works out the meaning of newly acquired data for existing theory
  • Experimental work involves designing, creating and carrying out the experiments, advancing the art of making measurements at the limits of accuracy and generating the data for testing the theories of physics.

The major areas of study in physics are:

  • mechanics (force and motion)
  • heat
  • electricity and magnetism
  • optics (light) and waves
  • quantum physics.

A physics concentration requires:

  • at the outset, strong working knowledge of algebra, trigonometry and calculus (differential and integral)
  • as early as is feasible, an introductory study of physics which utilizes calculus and which covers most or all of the major areas listed above
  • intermediate or advanced-level study in all of the same five major areas, as well as laboratory work covering as many of the areas as possible
  • study of calculus through differential equations is essential
  • additional work in mathematics such as linear algebra, partial differential equations and complex variables.

Additional study in other areas of physics is also recommended, for example, acoustics and mechanical waves, computational physics, relativity, advanced experimental techniques, atomic physics, solid state physics, nuclear physics, elementary particles, lasers and quantum optics and fluid dynamics. A final, integrative contract is desirable, possibly including some kind of direct participation in ongoing research.

Students should be proficient in use of the computer for enlarging and improving understanding of physics. Possible applications of the computer to physics include collecting and analyzing data, complex calculations, exploring the nature of analytical solutions to problems, simulations and attacking classes of problems that were not solvable in the past.