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 students not majoring in Physics include PHYS 0155 (Introduction to the Universe), PHYS 0106 (Physics for Educated Citizens), selected offerings in winter term, and first year seminars. Students majoring in the sciences for premedical, pre-engineering, and other professional programs, and others who desire a more analytical approach to physics, have two tracks to choose from. Students with little prior exposure to physics may prefer to begin with PHYS 0108 (Physics of Motion), followed by PHYS 0111 (Waves, Optics, and Thermodynamics) or PHYS 0114 (Electricity and Magnetism). Students who have successfully completed high school physics and calculus courses should instead opt for PHYS 0109 (Introductory Mechanics), a more accelerated version of introductory Newtonian mechanics than PHYS 0108. In addition, all students who complete PHYS 0114 may elect more advanced courses at the 0200-level or above. The physics department does not offer a minor.

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, improve language proficiency, and pursue academic interests outside of physics. Students who study abroad, or in a 2-1-1-1 pre-engineering program, may be eligible to transfer one upper-level physics course per term off campus for the physics major. Transfer is contingent upon approval of the department chair, for a maximum of two transferred courses. Students should obtain this approval before studying off campus.

Physics majors interested in obtaining high school physics teaching certification should consult the education studies program as soon as possible, 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 0108 (Physics of Motion) or PHYS 0109 (Introductory Mechanics), PHYS 0114 (Electricity and Magnetism), PHYS 0214 (Relativity and Electromagnetism), PHYS 0216 (Waves and Fourier Analysis), PHYS 0218 (Quantum Physics), PHYS 0222 (Experimental Physics 1), PHYS 0321 (Experimental Physics 2), and PHYS 0350 (Statistical Mechanics); and a minimum of four PHYS electives, at least one of which must be PHYS 0301 (Intermediate Electromagnetism), PHYS 0318 (Quantum Mechanics) or PHYS 0330 (Analytical Mechanics), and at most one of which may be a designated 100-level elective if taken by the end of a student’s third fall/spring semester.  Designated 100-level electives include PHYS 0111 (Waves, Optics and Thermodynamics), and PHYS 0155 (Introduction to the Universe). One of CHEM 0351 or CHEM 0355 may also be counted for elective credit. Other electives must be selected from PHYS courses at the 0200 or 0300 level or approved courses taken abroad within the limits described above. In all cases, at least two electives must be courses in the Middlebury Physics Department at the 0200 or 0300 level. 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.

For students completing double majors, courses counted towards another major cannot also be counted as electives toward the physics major. Independent study or senior work courses such as PHYS 0500, PHYS 0704, and PHYS 0705  may not be used for elective credit. In addition to recurring courses in spring and fall terms, 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 (typically no later than the third fall/spring term on campus). Starting in the first year allows more flexibility in the choice of courses and senior work and increases the feasibility of off-campus study. 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 0301 (Intermediate Electromagnetism), PHYS 0318 (Quantum Mechanics, and PHYS 0330 (Analytical 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.

Courses in Astrophysics: For those students majoring in physics who wish to pursue courses with a focus on  astrophysics we offer courses at all levels of the curriculum, including PHYS 0155 (Introduction to the Universe), PHYS 0255 (Introduction to Astrophysics), and PHYS 0370 (Cosmological Physics).

Senior Program

With permission of an advisor and the department, students may complete a senior project (PHYS 0704), which 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 physics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, cosmology, environmental applications, optics, laser spectroscopy, classical and quantum waves, and quantum computing.  Outstanding performance in PHYS 0704 may, with the permission of the advisor and department, 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 a semester-long senior project (PHYS 0704). Honors in physics are awarded primarily 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.


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 and two electives, at least one of which must be PHYS 0301, PHYS 0318 or PHYS 0330. Students in a 2-1-1-1 pre-engineering program (those who return to Middlebury for the senior year) take the normal physics major and choose electives in consultation with the pre-engineering advisor.