Major in Physics

Physics is an appropriate major for students with career interests in areas like physics, astronomy, atmospheric science, engineering, materials science, or nuclear science as well as medicine and dentistry in some cases.

It can also be a valuable second major for students in such diverse areas as mathematics, chemistry, computer science, biology, geography, economics and business. An interdepartmental major combining any of these areas with physics can be designed to match specific student interests.

The Major

As a physics major, you’ll begin with the fundamentals and then develop progressively advanced knowledge of both theoretical and experimental physics. You’ll also learn sound research methods and technical writing skills, which are essential in the academic and business worlds.

All physics majors complete at least one full course of independent study or research during their final four terms. This period is intended to give them a chance to draw together the material they have been studying and bring it to bear on a particular project. By working closely with a faculty member on such a project, students learn how to focus their ideas toward a goal while developing skills necessary for more independent work after graduation.

For a bachelor of arts with a major in physics, five courses beyond the basic sequence are required plus one course of independent study or research (PHY 492, 494, or HON 404). The preferred sequence is as follows:

  • PHY 121, 122 General Physics I and II
  • PHY 304 Intermediate Physics
  • PHY 305 Modern Physics of Atoms, Nuclei and Particles
  • MTH 151, 152 and 251 Calculus I, II and III and MTH 341 Differential Equations or their equivalent also must be completed

Students then complete three of the following courses:

  • PHY 311 Analytical Mechanics
  • PHY 312 Electricity and Magnetism
  • PHY 313 Thermodynamics
  • PHY 414 Modern Optics
  • PHY 421 Quantum Mechanics

For a bachelor of science with a major in physics, seven courses beyond the basic sequence are required plus one course of independent study or research (PHY 492, 494, or HON 404). The preferred sequence is as follows:

  • PHY 121, 122 General Physics I and II
  • PHY 304 Intermediate Physics
  • PHY 305 Modern Physics of Atoms, Nuclei and Particles
  • PHY 311 Analytical Mechanics
  • PHY 312 Electricity and Magnetism
  • PHY 313 Thermodynamics
  • PHY 414 Modern Optics
  • PHY 421 Quantum Mechanics
  • MTH 151, 152 and 251 Calculus I, II and III and MTH 341 Differential Equations or their equivalent also must be completed, in addition to CS 220, CHM 211 and CHM 212 or CHM 220

For both degrees, students who qualify for advanced placement may receive credit for all or part of the introductory sequence.

MTH 342 Applied Analysis and MTH 346 Statistics for Scientists are strongly recommended. For many students, this leads to a mathematics minor or to a double major. Introductory courses in chemistry (CHM 211 and 212), computer science (CS 201, 220, 315, and IS 221), and PHY 370 Physical Electronics are also recommended.

Teaching Licensure

Qualified middle and high school science teachers are in great demand in the United States. Physics majors can earn a license for teaching in secondary schools by completing a specified course sequence in both the physics and education departments.

For more information about becoming a middle or high school science teacher and applying for admission to a teacher licensure program in the Department of Education at Elmhurst College, see Broadfield Requirements for Secondary Science Licensure.

The Minor

Physics can be a valuable minor for students in such diverse areas as mathematics, chemistry, computer science, biology, geography, economics, and business.

For a minor in physics, at least five courses are required. These will normally be PHY 121, 122, 301, 302, and one other upper-level physics course. At least three of the five courses must be completed at Elmhurst College.

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