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Home > Academics > Undergraduate Physics > Courses in the Physics Major

Courses in the Physics Major

By its very nature, physics requires a strong mathematical background, and the physics major has a minimum mathematical prerequisite of the four-course Introductory Calculus sequence ending with Differential Equations (Math 3, 8, 13, 23, or equivalent). Many students come to Dartmouth with advanced placement in mathematics and place out of one or more of these courses. While some of these courses can be taken in parallel with the four introductory physics courses (numbered 13, 14, 19 and 24) or the two introductory honors courses (15 and 16), the minimum mathematical prerequisite must be satisfied before the core (40's level) physics courses are taken. More mathematics than this minimum is desirable, particularly for those interested in pursuing theoretical research in graduate school: Linear Algebra (Math 22 or 24), Introduction to Applied Math (Math 46), Introduction to Applied Math (Math 46), Functions of a Complex Variable (Math 43), and Chaos (Math 53) are particularly recommended, as is an introductory computer science course.

First-year students who achieve the levels of advanced placement in physics described in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies "Pre-matriculation credit and placement" webpage , receive credit for, Physics 3 and/or Physics 4. If they wish, they can place into the honors sequence on the basis of an examination administered during First Year Orientation, so long as their mathematics preparation is adequate, and they are prepared to do the extra work involved in an honors course. In this case, it is possible to complete the introductory sequence Physics 15, 16, 24 in the first year.

The minimum physics major (including the physics prerequisites) consists of the following courses: Physics 13 and 14 plus Physics 19, 24, 41, 42, 43, 44, and two electives; or the honors sequence 15, 16, 24, 41, 42, 43, 44, plus three electives, one of which must fulfill the culminating experience requirement (see below). The major requires one upper-level laboratory course; Physics 47, Physics 48, Physics 49, Physics 76 or Astronomy 61. Elective courses are Physics 30, Physics 47, Physics 48, Physics 49, Astronomy 15 or 25, and all physics and astronomy courses numbered in the sixties, seventies and nineties. Descriptions of all physics and astronomy courses can be found here. Courses in other departments (principally engineering or chemistry) can be substituted for some of these, by permission of the chair. The core sequence (41-44) can be taken in any order. Students are required to complete a culminating activity in the major. For the physics major this requirement may be satisfied by receiving credit for one of the following courses: Physics 68, Physics 72, Physics 73, Physics 74, Physics 76, Physics 82, Astronomy 74, Astronomy 75, Astronomy 81, Physics 87. Students who intend to proceed to graduate work in physics are strongly recommended to take more than the minimum number of electives. They should take Physics 66, 76, and 91 and advanced courses in physics and astronomy. There is also a wide range of graduate courses which are open to qualified undergraduates.

While it is desirable to begin the physics sequence in the first year, it is possible to begin in the sophomore year and still complete the minimum major within four years. Consult the Chair or a major adviser at once if you are thinking of doing this.

Students with a wide range of interests, or who are particularly interested in cross-disciplinary fields such as biophysics, are encouraged to take a modified major, a double major, or a physics major with a minor in another subject. A modified major requires at least ten courses, of which at least six (excluding the two prerequisites) should be in physics. It is discussed in more detail in the next section.

Students majoring in another subject may modify it with physics, or take a physics minor. All courses numbered Physics 19 and above, or Astronomy 15 and above, are in principle suitable for the modified major, so long as the prerequisites are satisfied. It is often possible to substitute a course from another department for a prerequisite: for example EngSci 23 for Physics 41. Other substitutions can be made with the permission of the instructor of the course for which the prerequisite is required.

Click here for the Physics Major brochure.