Curriculum and Requirements
Natural Sciences Division
Physics is the study of the most basic principles of nature that describe the world around us, from subatomic particles, to the motion of everyday objects, to the galaxies and beyond. Courses in physics allow students to develop a sound knowledge of these principles as well as the analytical, computational, and experimental techniques necessary to apply them to a broad range of theoretical and experimental problems. A physics degree is excellent preparation for graduate school in physics and engineering, and for careers in the health sciences, law, and teaching.
The Physics Curriculum
The Department of Physics offers three options for students wishing to begin their exploration of physics.
Students interested in exploring physics as a potential major or minor field of study should begin by taking PHYS 140 (Classical Physics) and PHYS 145 (Modern Physics) in their first year. Together with PHYS 240 (Fields and Spacetime), these courses form a calculus-based introduction to physics particularly suitable for students who plan to take upper-level courses in physics, chemistry, and/or mathematics. PHYS 140 and 145 require concurrent enrollment in or credit for Calculus I and II, respectively, and each has a co-requisite laboratory course, as well (PHYS 110 and 146 for first-year students, PHYS 141 and 146 for others). PHYS 110 (First-Year Seminar in Physics) is a weekly seminar open only to first-year students enrolled in PHYS 140 or holding credit for an equivalent course. It introduces students to laboratory work in physics in the context of one of the subdisciplines of physics pursued by faculty members in the department. Recent seminar topics have included nanoscience, biological physics, and astrophysics. PHYS 141 and PHYS 146 (Introduction to Experimental Physics I and II) are weekly laboratories, closely tied to lecture material; they make extensive use of computers for data acquisition and analysis.
First-year students who have unusually strong physics preparation from high school, including a high score on the Advanced Placement C-level Physics Examination, experience with quantitative laboratory measurement, and significant use of calculus in their high school physics course, may want to consider beginning their study of physics with PHYS 240 and its co-requisite laboratory course, PHYS 241, in the first semester, followed by PHYS 145 and 146 in the second semester. Placement into PHYS 240 is determined in consultation with the instructor and chair of the department. A student choosing this option should consider taking PHYS 110 (First-Year Seminar in Physics) in the fall, as well.
Students who desire a less mathematical approach to physics can choose from an array of courses designed to engage learners in the physics relevant to various interesting subfields of the discipline. Recent course offerings in this series have included: PHYS 102 (Good Nukes, Bad Nukes - QR); PHYS 104 (Einstein); PHYS 105 (Frontiers of Gravity and Astrophysics); PHYS 106 (Astronomy: Planets and Moons); PHYS 107 (Astronomy: Stars and Galaxies - QR); PHYS 108 (Geology); and PHYS 109 (Origins). These courses are suitable for diversification in the sciences and are accessible to any Kenyon student regardless of class year or prior preparation. Those including the QR designation also satisfy the college's quantitative reasoning requirement, making regular, weekly use of numerical, statistical, and/or graphical techniques to help students explore the material in quantitative ways. All contain some laboratory sessions in which students gain experience with the phenomena discussed in lectures. Usually, one or two such courses are offered each semester.
Upperclass students seeking a one-year survey of physics with laboratory should take PHYS 130 and 135 (General Physics I and II) and the co-requisite laboratory courses, PHYS 141 and 146 (see above). Entry into PHYS 130 and 135 requires sophomore standing; no first-year students will be admitted to these courses.
Requirements for the Major
The minimum requirements for a major in physics consist of the following:
- PHYS 140; 110 or 141; 145; 146; 240; 241; 245. In extraordinary circumstances, PHYS 130 and 135 may be substituted for PHYS 140 and 145 with permission of the department chair.
- One unit of experimental physics including both PHYS 380 and 385, the rest being chosen from among PHYS 381, 382, 386, and 387.
- One unit of theoretical physics selected from PHYS 340, 350, 355, 360, 365, 370, or 375; including at least one of PHYS 340, 350, or 360.
- One half unit of computational physics chosen from PHYS 270 or PHYS 218. (Note that PHYS 218 has a prerequisite of MATH 118 and is not offered every year.)
- One-half additional unit selected from experimental or theoretical physics courses numbered above 320.
- MATH 111, 112, and 213, or equivalent; and either MATH 224 or 333.
A student preparing for graduate study in physics should enroll in several advanced physics courses in addition to the minimum requirements and is encouraged to take further work in mathematics and chemistry. A student preparing for graduate study should expect to average about 2.25 units per semester. Care should be taken to satisfy the College's graduation requirement to take nine units outside of the major department.
Note: All courses in physics numbered above 220 have as prerequisites PHYS 140 and 145 and MATH 111 and 112, unless otherwise noted. PHYS 141, 146, 241, and courses numbered 380-387 are laboratory courses involving substantial experimental work.
The Senior Exercise includes the presentation of a talk on a topic in physics at a department colloquium and a comprehensive written exam in physics.
Honors work in physics involves directed research on a specific topic in experimental, theoretical, or computational physics, culminating in a written thesis, an oral presentation at a departmental colloquium, and an examination by an outside specialist.
Requirements for the Minor
The department offers two minors, physics and astronomy. Students considering one of these minors should work with a faculty member in the physics department as the minor is being planned, since some courses are not offered every year.
Requirements for the Physics Minor
The program for a minor in physics consists of the following:
- PHYS 140; 110 or 141; 145; 146; 240; 241. PHYS 130 and 135 may be substituted for 140 and 145 with permission of the department chair.
- One additional unit selected from physics courses numbered above 220.
This minor is open to students with all majors, but may be especially attractive to students in disciplines that have strong ties to physics, such as chemistry, mathematics, and biology. Other combinations of introductory courses may also be acceptable. Note: All courses in physics numbered above 220 have as prerequisites PHYS 140, 141, 145, 146, and MATH 111 and 112, unless otherwise noted.
Requirements for the Astronomy Minor
The program for a minor in astronomy consists of the following:
- Both 100-level astronomy courses: PHYS 106 and 107;
- A year of introductory physics with lab: PHYS 130 and 135 or 140 and 145; 110 or 141; 146.
- An additional .5 unit selected from all physics courses (see suggestions below).
There are several options for the choice of the fifth course. While any of the 100-level courses could be used, specific intermediate courses accessible upon completion of the introductory sequence with lab are also good choices. For example, PHYS 240, 241 (Fields and Spacetime) provide further experience with the foundations of physics. PHYS 218 and 219 explore computational approaches to problem solving using examples from astronomy, physics, and other sciences. Other options may include independent study and special topics courses related to astronomy.
Note that College rules prohibit a student from receiving a minor in the same department as his or her major. Thus, a physics major may not elect to minor in astronomy.