Physics is the fundamental science; it leads to our most basic understanding of the natural world and of human technological achievements. The physics program at Middlebury is designed to integrate physics into the liberal arts curriculum, as well as to provide challenging courses and research opportunities for students majoring in physics. Courses and student research activities in astronomy are also part of the physics program.
Course offerings reflect the needs of three categories of students: (1) those majoring in physics; (2) those majoring in another science who need a basic introduction to physics and the analytical skills it provides; and (3) those majoring in areas outside the sciences, who seek to explore the concepts of physics with a minimum of mathematics.
Courses designed especially for nonscience students are PHYS 0155 (Introduction to the Universe), PHYS 0101 (Physical Reality and Human Thought), PHYS 0104 (Chaos, Complexity, and Self-Organization), PHYS 0106 (Physics for Educated Citizens), and first-year seminars. Students majoring in the sciences, and others who desire a more analytical approach to physics, usually take the two-semester introductory physics sequence PHYS 0109-0110, and PHYS 0111. In addition, they may elect more advanced courses at the 0200-level or above.
Students in premedical and other preprofessional programs requiring two semesters of physics should take PHYS 0109 and PHYS 0110; other 0100-level physics courses are not acceptable. Such students are advised to take PHYS 0111 as well.
For those majoring in physics, we offer a broad range of courses that emphasize a variety of topics in physics while building both theoretical understanding and experimental skills. Middlebury physics majors apply their education in a wide variety of careers. Some pursue graduate work in physics and related fields; others find their physics degrees valuable in engineering, medicine, business, law, teaching, government service, and other pursuits. The physics program is designed to serve the needs of both those intending advanced study in physics and those for whom formal work in physics will end with the Middlebury degree.
The physics department encourages its majors to study abroad to gain experience at international research facilities, learn different national styles of scientific practice, improve language proficiency, and pursue academic interests outside of physics. One upper-level physics course taken abroad may be eligible for physics course credit upon approval of the department chair; students are strongly encouraged to obtain this approval before going abroad.
Physics majors interested in obtaining high school physics teaching certification should notify the education studies program preferably no later than the middle of their sophomore year.
Required for the Major in Physics: The major program consists of eight required physics courses: PHYS 0109, PHYS 0110, PHYS 0111, PHYS 0201, PHYS 0202, PHYS 0212, PHYS 0301, and PHYS 0321; a minimum of three PHYS electives; and a one-term senior project (PHYS 0704). To be eligible for departmental honors, a student must also complete either a semester of senior thesis (PHYS 0705) or one additional elective beyond those required.
Electives must be chosen from physics courses at the 0200, 0300, or 0400 level, except that an upper-level physics course taken off campus or an advanced cognate course from another department at Middlebury may be used to satisfy one of the elective requirements. Acceptable cognate courses are CHEM 0351, CHEM 0355, CSCI 0202, and MATH 0335. Mathematics at least through the level of MATH 0122 is also required; this requirement may be satisfied either at Middlebury or through appropriate pre-college courses in calculus. Independent study courses such as PHYS 0500 may not be used for elective credit. In addition to the courses listed below, PHYS courses that satisfy the elective requirement are occasionally offered during the winter term.
Prospective majors must begin the physics sequence no later than the sophomore year. Starting in the first year allows more flexibility in the choice of courses and senior work. Students planning graduate work in physics or a related subject should elect as many as possible of, PHYS 0302 (Electromagnetic Waves), PHYS 0330 (Analytical Mechanics), PHYS 0350 (Statistical Mechanics), and PHYS 0401 (Quantum Mechanics). In addition, MATH 0200 (Linear Algebra), MATH 0223 (Multivariable Calculus), and MATH 0225 (Topics in Linear Algebra and Differential Equations) are strongly recommended for those anticipating graduate study. Most physics majors will find computer programming skills through the level of CSCI 0201 extremely valuable.
Senior Program: The senior project (PHYS 0704) involves a significant piece of experimental or theoretical research to be completed in the final year at Middlebury. Topics in recent years have included work in astrophysics, atomic and optical physics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, environmental applications, laser spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, plasma physics, and quantum computing. Outstanding performance in PHYS 0704 may, with the permission of the advisor, allow continuation of the senior project as a senior thesis (PHYS 0705).
Departmental Honors: A minimum grade average of B in physics courses is required of all honors candidates. To be eligible for departmental honors, a student must also complete either a semester of senior thesis (PHYS 0705) or one additional elective beyond those required. Honors in physics are awarded on the basis of excellent senior work combined with depth and excellence of coursework in physics. A student's overall accomplishments in the department, including teaching assistantships and leadership, are also considered in the awarding of honors.
Beginning in Fall 2014, the Physics Department will no longer offer a minor.
Required for the Minor in Physics: The minor in physics consists of at least six PHYS courses, at least three of which must be at the 0200 level or above, and at least four of which must be taken at Middlebury College.
Pre-Engineering: Some students study physics with the intent of eventually doing engineering, either through a dual degree or in graduate school. Students who pursue a physics major en route to a 3-2 engineering degree (in which the Middlebury component is completed after the junior year) take the same eight-course sequence outlined above, with one elective chosen from physics courses at the 0200, 0300, or 0400 level; they also must complete a one-unit senior project (PHYS 0704). Four-year pre-engineering students (those who return to Middlebury for the senior year) take the normal physics major and choose electives in consultation with the pre-engineering advisor.
Advanced Placement: Students who seek advanced placement in physics should take the College Board AP examinations. Credit for PHYS 0109 is given to students who achieve a score of 4 or 5 on the Physics C: Mechanics examination. One AP credit is given to students who take the Physics B examination and achieve scores of 4 or 5, but such students are advised to begin their study of physics with PHYS 0109.