Physics Requirements

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.

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 in premedical and other professional programs, and others who desire a more analytical approach to physics, usually select courses from the introductory physics sequence PHYS 0109, PHYS 0110, and PHYS 0111. In addition, they may elect more advanced courses at the 0200-level or above.

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. For students completing double majors, courses counted towards another major cannot also be counted as electives toward the physics major. 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 majoring in physics are advised to complete MATH 0122 (or equivalent) by the end of their first two regular terms. 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).

The Physics Department does not offer a minor.

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 the number 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.

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 by the end of 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: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.

Department of Physics

McCardell Bicentennial Hall
276 Bicentennial Way
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753