Need help deciding which courses in the Physics Department are best suited to your background and interests? The most important questions to ask yourself in choosing a physics course at Kenyon are:

  • What particular topics in physics interest me?
  • Am I likely to take more physics after this year?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether you want to take an introductory survey of physics or one of the many "general interest" courses offered by the department. Introductory surveys cover a wide range of topics and can prepare you for further study in the discipline. General interest courses focus on a specific topic such as astronomy or geology; they don't directly lead into intermediate-level physics courses.

General Interest Physics Courses

General interest physics courses are designed to be accessible to any Kenyon student. They typically do not involve as much mathematical work as the introductory survey courses, nor do they prepare students for entry into intermediate-level physics courses. All of these courses involve some laboratory work and can be used to fulfill the distribution requirement in the Natural Sciences division. Some (but not all) of these courses can be used to fulfill the collegiate requirement for coursework involving quantitative reasoning (designated "QR" courses); see the Course of Study for details, including which courses are being offered.

  • Physics 105 (Unifying Ideas in Physics) concentrates on four key ideas — the conservation of energy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, relativity, and quantum theory — that shape our understanding of the physical world.
  • Physics 106 (Astronomy: Planets and Moons) is a survey of the structure and history of our Solar System, based primarily on information returned by planetary exploration spacecraft.
  • Physics 107 (Astronomy: Stars and Galaxies) focuses on the physics of stars, stellar evolution, interstellar matter, galaxies, and cosmology.
  • Physics 108 (Physical Geology) is a survey of topics in physical geology, focusing on the modern theory of plate tectonics.
  • Physics 109 (Origins) investigates the origins of the Universe itself, the formation of planet Earth, and the origin of life on Earth.

Introductory Surveys of Physics

We offer two introductory surveys of physics. For first- or second-year students who are possible physics, mathematics, or chemistry majors or who may wish to take further courses in physics, the recommended courses are Physics 140 (Classical Physics), Physics 145 (Modern Physics) and Physics 240 (Fields and Spacetime). These courses provide a complete survey of physics in three semesters, which is the norm in introductory level physics for physical science and engineering students at most universities. For upper-level students, particularly pre-medical students, there is a more compressed survey of physics available: Physics 130 (General Physics I) and Physics 135 (General Physics II). This sequence is only appropriate for upperclass students, due to its quicker pace.

All of these courses have required labs; one may not register for the course without also registering for a section of the co-requisite lab. The co-requisite course for:

  • Physics 140 is either Physics 141 (preferred) or Physics 131
  • Physics 145 is Physics 146
  • Physics 240 is Physics 241
  • Physics 130 is Physics 131
  • Physics 135 is Physics 136

Physics 140 also has a co-requisite of Math 111 (Calculus A) or its equivalent, since some calculus will be used in the lectures. Physics 145 has a co-requisite of Math 112 (Calculus B), and Physics 240 has a co-requisite of Math 213 (Calculus C), for the same reason.

Physics 141 (First Year Seminar in Physics) is designed to introduce entering students to an area of contemporary physics research. Generally, the topics vary from year to year; in the past, the seminar has explored topics such as material science, nanoscience, astrophysics, particle physics, biological physics and gravitation. We strongly recommend this course for first year students considering physics as a major; it is open ONLY to first-year students enrolled in Physics 140 or Physics 240.

Physics 141 and 146 (Introduction to Experimental Physics I and II) provide students with opportunities to perform hands-on, quantitative explorations of the physical principles being discussed in Physics 130, 140, 135, and 145.

Advanced Placement in Physics

Students with C-level AP Physics credit (i.e. those who scored either 4 or 5 on the Mechanics-C exam) may be eligible to enroll in Physics 240 (Fields and Spacetime) and Physics 241 (Fields and Spacetime Laboratory) instead of Physics 140 in the fall semester, depending on the amount of experience the student has had in laboratory work. Such students would then likely continue in physics by taking Physics 145 (Modern Physics) and 146 (Intro to Experimental Physics II) in the spring semester. Several first-year students have successfully followed this route. Please note that while first-year students in Physics 240 are allowed (encouraged!) to enroll in Physics 110, it does not substitute for the co-requisite laboratory, Physics 241. If you are interested in this option, please contact the Physics Department chair.

If you have any further questions about the courses or about what might be the best choice for you, please contact the department chair (or any member of the Physics Department) for advice.