Physics courses

ASTR 106 Introduction to Astronomy/Lab

How can we use light to learn about the universe? How can we measure the properties of planets, stars, and galaxies? How can we explore our cosmic origins and the history of the universe? This course provides an introduction to modern astronomy with an emphasis on how we know what we know.

ASTR 201 Introduction to Stellar and Planetary Astrophysics

An introduction to stellar and planetary astrophysics, focusing on the basic physics required to understand and interpret astronomical observations of stars and planets. Building on a foundation of the introductory physics sequence, this course explores the consequences of Newtonian gravity and few-body dynamics, hydrostatic balance, nuclear reactions, and radiative transfer for the structure and evolution of stellar and planetary systems. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 107 or 109 and 108 or s31.

ASTR 202 Galaxies and Cosmology

An introduction to the astrophysics of galaxies and cosmology with an emphasis on the physical principles required to understand and interpret astronomical observations. Building on a foundation of the introductory physics sequence, this course explores properties of the Milky Way Galaxy, galaxy formation and evolution, the interstellar and intergalactic medium, dark matter and dark energy, the expansion history of the universe, and modern cosmology. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 107 or 109 and 108 or s31..

FYS 471 Race, Gender, and Identity in STEM

How do race, gender, and identity impact someone’s decision to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? This course provides an introduction to stereotype threat, impostor syndrome, identity development, and the growth mindset, with an emphasis on strategies for success in STEM fields. Relevant topics include the history of science and its connections to colonialism, and barriers that have prevented STEM disciplines from achieving equity in terms of the demographic representation among scientists.

FYS 500 Seeing With Light: The Physics of Biological Imaging

Observing nature on any length scale requires harnessing the properties of light. Guided by the laws of physics, biological imaging has evolved over the past several centuries from observing pond scum to resolving individual proteins at the atomic scale. This seminar surveys the properties of light, the fundamental physics of imaging systems ranging from the human eye to modern nanoscopes, and their application in addressing biological questions. Familiarity with algebra and trigonometry is expected.

FYS 505 Bates STEM Scholars

What does it mean to become a scientist or mathematician and how do we build STEM identity? What habits of mind and practice are particularly effective in developing expertise in STEM knowledge and skills? What is the role of a supportive community of scholars? This seminar explores these questions and strategies for creating student success through reflective writing and collaborative engagement in learning. Corequisite(s): one of the following: any 100-level biology or earth and climate sciences course; CHEM 107A; MATH 105, 106, 205, or 206; NRSC 160; NS/PH 117; or PHYS 107.

FYS 511 Information is Physical: From Classical to Quantum Computers

The natural sciences and computing have long been intertwined disciplines. This connection is deeply established although not always readily apparent: first, in that computing is a fundamentally physical process, something in and of nature and not merely abstract; second, in that the evolution of our universe according to the laws of physics is itself a kind of computation; and third, in that much of scientific progress now is wholly dependent on computing infrastructure. In this course students learn about the history of computing machines, and how this has culminated in our ubiquitous networked devices and the recent development of rudimentary quantum computers. Students read historical nonfiction on the history of computing, and explore new ideas in recent computing research. Computational work of their own as well as written work help students clarify and communicate their ideas on the subjects, including their own relationship to technology.

PHYS 103 Musical Acoustics/Lab

An introduction to the science of sound and the acoustics of musical instruments through the study of mechanical vibrations and waves. Concepts such as resonance, standing waves, and Fourier synthesis and analysis are developed and applied to theoretical and laboratory investigations of musical sound. Additional topics include hearing, psychoacoustics, and musical scales and harmony. No background in physics or mathematics beyond algebra is assumed. Laboratory work, problem solving, and simulations are integrated into class activities.

PHYS 106 Energy and Environment

This course examines energy as a fundamental concept in physics and an essential element of human society. Basic principles of energy conservation and transformation are developed in order to understand sustainable and unsustainable energy resources, how they are utilized, and their environmental impacts, including climate change. No background in physics or mathematics beyond algebra is assumed.

PHYS 107 Introductory Physics of Living Systems I/Lab

An introduction to physics designed for students majoring in life sciences and/or interested in pre-health studies. Topics include geometrical optics, Newtonian mechanics, acoustics, fluids and thermal physics. Class meetings integrate group-based laboratory investigations, simulations and problem solving.

PHYS 108 Introductory Physics of Living Systems II/Lab

A continuation of PHYS 107, designed for students majoring in life science and/or interested in pre-health studies. Topics include wave optics, electricity and magnetism, quantum and nuclear physics. Class meetings integrate group-based laboratory investigations, simulations and problem solving. Prerequisite: PHYS 107 or 109.

PHYS 109 Energy, Matter, and Motion

A calculus-based introduction to physics for students interested in the physical sciences. Starting from the concept of energy, the course develops mechanics and thermodynamics with a focus on conservation laws for mass, momentum, and energy. Students examine the atomic nature of matter and its implications. They consider current areas of research as well as applications in physics-adjacent disciplines (e.g., biology, oceanography, materials science, etc.) in order to learn the methods and techniques of the course. Prerequisite(s): MATH 105 or 106.

PHYS 115 Physics for Policymakers

This course presents a minimally mathematical survey of advanced physics aimed at providing future policymakers, executives, and elected officials with background necessary to be comfortable with the increasing scientific and technological nature of economic and political issues. Topics covered include energy and power, atoms, heat, radioactivity and nuclear power, gravity and space, electricity and magnetism, waves and light, climate change, quantum physics, and relativity.

PHYS 119 The Anthropocene

This research-based course examines the current geological epoch, the Anthropocene, where humans are the agents of environmental change. How does climate change at present differ from those in the past? How do we know humans really are the drivers of climate change? How can we expect climate change to manifest in the near future? Why is biodiversity important? The course addresses these questions from scientific and mathematical perspectives. The course also critically examines IPCC projections and proposals like the Green New Deal. Students construct their own narrative of the course topics through independent or collaborative research.

PHYS 211 Newtonian Mechanics

A rigorous study of Newtonian mechanics. Beginning with Newton’s laws, the concepts of energy, momentum, and angular momentum are developed and applied to gravitational, harmonic, and rigid-body motions. Prerequisite(s): MATH 106 and PHYS 107 or 109.

PHYS 216 Computational Physics

An introduction to computational methods for simulating physical systems, this course focuses on the numerical analysis and algorithmic implementation necessary for efficient solution of integrals, derivatives, linear systems, differential equations, and optimization. While the course presents a rigorous introduction to the numerical analysis underlying these techniques, the emphasis remains on practical solutions to important physical problems. Students solve problems across the wide range of applications of computational physics including astrophysics, biological population dynamics, gravitational wave detection, urban traffic flow, and materials science. No prior experience in programming is required, though students without a technical computing background are encouraged to take PHYS s10 before enrolling. Prerequisite(s): MATH 106 and PHYS 108. Prerequisite(s), which may be taken concurrently: MATH 205.

PHYS 220 Dynamical Climate

An introduction to the dynamical behavior of climate on geologic and human timescales. Simple conceptual models are developed, with the goal of understanding the role of feedback, stability, and abrupt changes. Topics include the basic physics of climate, El Niño/La Niña, climate models, the greenhouse effect and global warming, and glacial cycles. Python is used as the main computational tool; no prior experience is required. Prerequisite(s): MATH 106; and any 100-level earth and climate sciences course OR PHYS 109.

PHYS 221 Nuclear and Radiation Physics

How and why do radioactive nuclei emit radiation? How does ionizing radiation interact with matter and what does that mean for us? How is radiation used to image the body and treat cancer? What are the health hazards of radiation? How do we harness nuclear reactions to generate energy? This course surveys the fundamentals of radioactivity, nuclear reactions, x-ray and gamma physics, radiation dosimetry, medical imaging and therapy, and nuclear reactor physics. Students explore the scientific, medical, environmental, and political contexts of nuclear and radiation science. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 108 or 109.

PHYS 222 Electricity and Magnetism

A detailed study of the basic concepts and fundamental experiments of electromagnetism. The development proceeds historically, culminating with Maxwell’s equations. Topics include the electric and magnetic fields produced by charge and current distributions, forces and torques on such distributions in external fields, properties of dielectrics and magnetic materials, electromagnetic induction, and electromagnetic waves. Prerequisite(s): MATH 106 and PHYS 108 or 109. Prerequisite(s), which may be taken concurrently: PHYS 108. Recommended background, which may be taken concurrently: MATH 206.

PHYS 230 Electronics

A laboratory-oriented study of the basic principles and characteristics of electronic components and their applications in circuits and instruments found in a research laboratory. Both analog and digital systems are studied, as are microcontrollers and their applications. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 222.

PHYS 231 Laboratory Physics/Lab

Students investigate selected experiments relevant to the development of contemporary physics and the practice of experimental physics research. They are introduced to the use of electronic instruments and computers for data acquisition and analysis, techniques of error analysis, and the practice of speaking and writing about experimental physics. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 211, 222, 230, or s31.

PHYS 255E Nonlinear Models and Chaos

A model is a simplified description of a system in mathematical and/or conceptual terms. Models help us understand how systems work and behave. The goals of this course are threefold: building models of natural systems, exploring their underlying mathematical structures and similarities, and simulating them with computers. Concepts acquired from simple systems in physics are applied to more complex systems in areas of biology, environment, climate, and social dynamics. Prerequisite(s): MATH 105 or 106 and PHYS 107.

PHYS 301 Mathematical Methods of Physics

A study of selected mathematical techniques necessary for advanced work in physics and other sciences. The interpretation of functions as vectors in Hilbert space provides a unifying theme for developing Fourier analysis, special functions, methods for solving ordinary and partial differential equations, and techniques of vector calculus. These methods are applied to selected problems in acoustics, heat flow, electromagnetic fields, and classical and quantum mechanics. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 211. Prerequisite(s) or corequisite(s): MATH 205. Recommended background, which may be taken concurrently: MATH 206.

PHYS 308 Introductory Quantum Mechanics

An investigation of the basic principles of quantum mechanics in the Schrödinger representation and the application of these principles to tunneling, the harmonic oscillator, and the hydrogen atom. Basic theoretical concepts such as Hermitian operators, Ehrenfest’s theorem, commutation relations, and uncertainty principles are developed as the course proceeds. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 301 and s31.

PHYS 309 Quantum Computing

In the emerging field of quantum computing, the laws of nature are used to store and process information in new ways. Leveraging the extraordinary properties of quantum mechanics enables an exponential speed-up for certain classes of computational problems. In this course students are introduced to the ideas of the qubit, quantum gates, and quantum circuits; learn about experimental progress; explore quantum algorithms; and implement their own code on quantum cloud computing resources. Prerequisite(s): MATH 205. Prerequisite(s) or corequisite(s): PHYS 308.

PHYS 341 Condensed Matter

A study of crystal structures and the electronic properties of solids, together with an investigation of some active areas of research. Topics include crystal binding, X-ray diffraction, lattice vibrations, metals, insulators, semiconductors, electronic devices, superconductivity, and magnetism. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 222 and 301. Recommended background: PHYS 308 or 361.

PHYS 360 Independent Study

PHYS 361 Thermal Physics

The theory of equilibrium states is developed in a general way and applied to specific thermodynamic systems. The concepts of classical and quantum statistical mechanics are formulated. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 108 or s31 and PHYS 211 or 222.

PHYS 373 Classical and Modern Optics

A general course on light treated as an electromagnetic wave, including the theory and operation of common optical instruments. A significant part of the course is devoted to topics in modern optics, such as the use of lasers and the nonlinear effects produced by intense light sources. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 108 or s31 and PHYS 222.

PHYS 409 Quantum Theory

A formal treatment of quantum theory using Dirac notation, including an introduction to approximation methods and their applications. The general theory of angular momentum and time-independent perturbation theory are developed and used to derive the fine and hyperfine structures of hydrogen. Additional topics may include quantum statistics, quantum dynamics, and time-dependent perturbation theory.Prerequisite(s): PHYS 308.

PHYS 412 Advanced Classical Mechanics

A development of the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of classical mechanics, together with the ideas of symmetry and invariance and their relation to fundamental conservation laws. Additional topics include kinematics and dynamics in noninertial reference frames, a detailed analysis of rigid-body motion, and the theory of small oscillations and normal modes. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 211 and 301.

PHYS 422 Electromagnetic Theory

Starting from Maxwell’s equations, this course develops electrostatics from solutions to Poisson’s equation, magnetostatics using the vector potential, electrodynamics with scalar and vector potentials, and properties of electromagnetic waves. Simple radiation problems are discussed as well as the relativistic formulation of electrodynamics. Prerequisite(s): PHYS 222 and 301.

PHYS 457 Senior Thesis

An independent study program for students working on a research problem in a field of interest, culminating in the writing of a senior thesis. Students register for PHYS 457 in the fall semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both PHYS 457 and 458.

PHYS 458 Senior Thesis

An independent study program for students working on a research problem in a field of interest, culminating in the writing of a senior thesis. Students register for PHYS 458 in the winter semester. Majors writing an honors thesis register for both PHYS 457 and 458.

PHYS S10 Basic Computational Science Lab Skills

A hands-on introduction to computational thinking for scientists and engineers. This course focuses on practical skills using UNIX command line tools, typesetting mathematics in LaTeX, handling data, version control, basic software development practices, and an introduction to programming in Python. Students learn how to use computers as research tools, designing and documenting experiments using software.

PHYS S31 Spacetime, Waves, and Photons

An exploration of several core ideas in modern physics: special relativity (Einstein’s formulation of space and time underlying the modern understanding of the universe), the wave and particle (photon) nature of light, and the consequences of energy quantization. Laboratory investigations consider related phenomena. The course may examine additional topics in quantum mechanics and nuclear or particle physics. Prerequisite(s): MATH 106 and PHYS 107 or 109.

PHYS S50 Independent Study