Concentration Advisor: John Smedley


Energy is a fundamental quantity in scientific descriptions of the natural world, as well as a central commodity that drives human economies. In this concentration, students study foundational ideas in physics, such as Newtonian mechanics, electricity, magnetism, and the quantum realms of the atom and atomic nucleus. These topics provide a basis for understanding the environmental impacts associated with energy generation, such as air pollution and climate change. For example, coal is a primary energy source for much of the electricity produced in the United States, while burning it leads to the emission of toxic substances such as mercury, and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Understanding how energy in transformed and transmitted, and all the ensuing problems that come from extracting primary energy sources and utilizing them, are critical environmental concerns.

Students begin by studying foundational ideas in Newtonian mechanics, electricity and magnetism, and quantum physics in the introductory sequence Physics 107-108, which also requires Mathematics 105-106. Problem solving is emphasized throughout, and the introductory physics lab serves to develop skills in quantitative measurement and uncertainty analysis. Sophomore courses treat basic topics such as electricity and magnetism at a more sophisticated mathematical level, as well as introduce topics of special relevance to the environment such as renewable energy and climate modeling. These courses also place some emphasis on writing skills and computer-based analysis.

Courses that count for the fourth course (200- or 300-level) requirement within the core:

  • ES/RU 216 Nature in Russian Culture
  • ENVR 227 Catastrophe and Hope
  • EN/ES 237 Books That Changed the World
  • AN/ES 242 Environment, Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples
  • ENVR 272 Oikos: Rethinking Economy and Ecology
  • ENVR 301 Politics of Nature
  • ENVR 334 The Question of the Animal
  • AN/ES 337 Social Movements, NGOs, and the Environment
  • ENVR 340 Literatures of Agriculture
  • ENVR 348 Nature and the Novel
  • ENVR 350 Environmental Justice in the Americas
  • ECON 222 Environmental Economics

Concentration Requirements:

1. Mathematics 105 Calculus I

2. Mathematics 106 Calculus II

3.  Physics 107 Classical Physics

4.  Physics 108 Modern Physics or FYS 274

5.  Physics 222 Electricity, Magnetism and Waves

6. One of the following:

7.  One additional course from the following list:

Other Considerations

If possible, students should take Physics 107-108 and Mathematics 105-106, in the first year. These courses serve as prerequisites for the 200 level courses. Chemistry 302 and Physics 361 are similar and are offered in alternate years, although Chemistry 302 requires a year of introductory chemistry as prerequisite. Students may choose either a one- or two-semester senior thesis. Those interested in graduate study in environmentally related fields should review admission requirements in the junior year, or as soon as interest in graduate school is recognized, as these vary widely depending on the program. Students interested in graduate study in engineering will require more background in mathematics and chemistry, and those interested in graduate study in physics generally need to complete the physics major, at a minimum.