Physics

Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty

Overview

The Physics department provides an education in the fundamental processes of the physical world with thorough study in both the classroom and laboratory. After completion of the program, a physics student will have excellent analytical and problem-solving skills in addition to ample hands-on laboratory experience. The Physics major is excellent preparation for professional or graduate work in physics, engineering, and related fields. In addition, a physics major finds that he or she is an attractive applicant for medical, business, or law school, as well as having an excellent foundation for science teaching.

In addition to the full spectrum of undergraduate coursework, the department offers many opportunities to participate in research projects both on and off campus. Qualified students may begin research projects as early as their first year. Current research activities in the department include experimental investigations in Astrophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Plasma Physics, and Materials Science, theoretical investigations in Cosmology and Particle Physics, and theoretical and numerical investigations in complex systems. Departmental resources include well-equipped research and instructional laboratories, as well as laboratory space for qualified students to carry out independent investigations of their own. Many students have also participated in projects at nearby institutions such as the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Students who wish to do advanced work in physics or engineering should complete the introductory physics sequence (Physics 106, 110, 120) as early as possible. These courses provide a foundation in both classical and modern physics. Fundamental understanding and procedures in analytical physics are stressed throughout. This sequence is recommended to all students who have an aptitude for scientific work and who are acquiring a strong background in mathematics, including an introduction to differential and integral calculus. Students with a strong high school physics background or a high score on the Physics AP examination may wish to consider Course Exemption by Examination, whereby the student can be exempted from some or all of the courses in the introductory sequence.

Physics majors typically begin taking courses at the intermediate level by the end of Sophomore year, and are encouraged to complete required 300-level courses by the end of Junior year. This schedule prepares a student for the widest array of 260- and 360-series courses.

Of special interest are the three series of physics courses numbered 160-169, 260-269, and 360-369. These courses cover special topics as well as subjects of active research interest within the Physics department. The 160 series is designed for non-science students interested in varying aspects of physical science. These courses have few prerequisites beyond algebra and trigonometry and many are open only to students who have not taken Physics 106, 110/115, 120/125, or their equivalent. The 260 series of courses is open to anyone who has completed Physics 120 or 125. The prerequisites for 360-series courses vary, but generally require physics beyond Physics 120 or 125.

Requirements

MAJOR: The major is designed to appeal to students who wish to prepare for professional or graduate work in physics as well as those who wish to study physics but have other career goals. The program for physics majors is composed of the Physics Foundation and one of the five Options listed below. Students can also supplement their programs by taking courses at the California Institute of Technology under the exchange program.

Physics Foundation: All physics majors must complete a core of five physics courses called the Foundation. In addition to the three-term introductory sequence (Physics 106, 110 or 115, 120), the Foundation includes a course in Modern Physics with laboratory (Physics 240) and a course in Thermal and Statistical Physics (Physics 250). Accompanying these physics courses must be work in mathematics including Multivariable Calculus (Math 212) and Linear Systems (Math 214).

Options: In addition to the Foundation, all physics majors must complete one of the following Physics Options. Upon graduation, the student's transcript will list both the major (Physics) and the chosen Option.

Some of the five Options require Physics Selectives, which are courses from the 260 or 360 series, or 300-level courses below 390 not otherwise required for the Option.

Physics Option (24 units): Physics 310, 315, 316, 320, 330, 340 and four units of Physics Selectives. This option is recommended for students who wish a thorough background in physics and for those who wish to pursue professional or graduate work in physics or engineering.

Mathematics Option (28 units): Physics 310, 320, four units of Physics Selectives and eight additional units from any other 300-level Physics courses below 390. Also required are at least eight units in Math or Computer Science numbered above 300 and below 397 (these courses must be in addition to those required math courses listed in the Foundation). This option is recommended for students who wish a broader mathematics or computer science background.

Chemistry Option (32 units): Chemistry 120 or 130, 220, 221, and 240. Also required are Physics 310, 320, 330 and either Physics 340 or Chemistry 305. This option is recommended for students who wish a broader physical science background.

Geology Option (28 units):  Geology 105, 225, 235; and either 245 or one 300-level Geology course.  Also required are Physics 310; Physics 320 or 330; and one selective.  (Both Physics 320 and 330 are strongly encouraged.)  This Option is recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in geology or geophysics.

Education Option (24 units): Physics 320 and eight units of Physics Selectives. Also required are Education 201, 205, and 340. Education 314 is highly recommended. This option is recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in secondary science education.

Physics "Capstone": All physics majors must complete the Senior Seminar, Physics 490 and 491. Majors participating in an off-campus program during the Senior year may repeat 490 or 491 to satisfy this requirement.

COMPREHENSIVE REQUIREMENT: The comprehensive requirement for majors is met by completion of the year-long Senior Seminar (Physics 490/491) with a grade of C or better and by passing a comprehensive examination on the material covered in the Physics Foundation.

WRITING REQUIREMENT: The Physics Department's portion of the College Writing Requirement can be satisfied with a passing evaluation of a student portfolio. The portfolio will consist of two items: one laboratory report from Modern Physics (Physics 240) and/or Advanced Laboratory (Physics 315/316), and one research report from Senior Physics Seminar (Physics 490/491). Students are encouraged to revise these reports before submitting the portfolio. Typical formats for the required writings will be presented in the related courses. The writing is expected to be clear, precise, and intelligible to someone who has completed the Physics Foundation. Proper spelling, grammar, and organization are essential.

A student may submit a portfolio only once. The portfolio will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis by a departmental committee which will meet each semester to consider portfolios received by the last day of classes. Failing students may fulfill the departmental writing requirement by obtaining a grade of C or better in Writing and Rhetoric 401, Writing Across the Curriculum. Students who would like to improve their writing skills in advance of taking Physics 240, 315, 316, 490 or 491 may elect to take Writing and Rhetoric 401 in their Junior or Senior year; a grade of C or better will satisfy the Physics Department's portion of the College Writing Requirement.

The portfolio is normally submitted at the end of the semester when the student completes the first semester of 490/491. The latest students can submit a passing portfolio is the last day of classes in their penultimate semester. Students who fail to do so must enroll in English Writing 401 in their final semester and pass with a grade of C or better.

If English Writing 401 is not offered in the student's final semester, another English Writing course may be substituted with the approval of the department.

MINOR: The Physics courses of the Foundation and four units of Physics Selectives.

COMBINED PLAN IN LIBERAL ARTS AND ENGINEERING: The program for majors provides for entrance into the Combined Plan Programs (3-2) at Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology. Students interested in engineering should consult the combined plan page for details of these programs.

HONORS: Senior physics majors with an overall grade point average of 3.25 are permitted to present an oral and written thesis on their research for College Honors consideration at graduation. See the Honors Program and consult the department chair for details.

Courses

Introductory Physics Courses

Students seeking to fulfill a core science requirement in physics should consider one of the 160-series of courses listed below.

106 - Waves

An introduction to the physics of waves with examples from optics, acoustics, and modern physics. Open to frosh and sophomores only. Includes one three-hour lab per week. Prerequisite: concurrent enrollment in a Calculus 1 course or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

110 - Introductory Mechanics

Covers classical mechanics, including kinematics and dynamics of particles and rigid bodies, conservation laws, and examination of specific force laws. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisites: A Calculus 2 course (may be taken concurrently); or permission of instructor. Some prior physics experience is recommended.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

115 - General Physics I

The first of a two-course introduction to physics designed for life science and premedical students. Topics include Newton's laws of motion, gravitation, work and energy, conservation laws. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Courses with multiple lecture sections may require evening examinations. Prerequisites: A Calculus 2 course (may be taken concurrently); or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

120 - Introductory Electricity and Magnetism

Introduction to electricity and magnetism, electronic circuits, electromagnetic induction, and Maxwell's Equations. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115, and a Calculus 2 course; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

125 - General Physics II

The second of a two-course introduction to physics designed for life science and premedical students. Topics include electrostatics and electromagnetism, electric circuits, geometrical and physical optics. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Courses with multiple lecture sections may require evening examinations. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115, and a Calculus 2 course; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

The 160 Series

Designed for non-science students interested in different aspects of physical science, the courses numbered 160-169 rarely have prerequisites beyond algebra and trigonometry and many are open only to students who have not taken Physics 106, 110/115, 120/125, or their equivalents. Typically only one or two courses are offered from this series each year. The Department reserves the right to cancel classes with extremely small enrollments.

161 - Geek Toys

Exploration of physical laws and processes through simple and geeky-cool devices and demonstrations, many of which students will build themselves and keep. The toys will illuminate topics from across physics, including classical mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, and magnetism. Course Fee: $125 Prerequisites: algebra and trigonometry, or permission of instructor. Not open to students who have completed Physics 110, 115, 120, or 125; or equivalent.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

162 - Astronomy

A survey of the solar system, stars and stellar evolution, galaxies and cosmology. Prerequisite: algebra and permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

163 - Physics as a Liberal Art

A survey of classical and modern physics with an emphasis on basic principles and their applications. Prerequisites: proficiency in high school algebra and trigonometry. Not open to students who have completed Physics 110, 115, 120, or 125; or equivalent.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

164 - Light

Identical in all respects to Physics 165 except that there is no lab component. Students attend regularly scheduled lectures for Physics 165, do the homework and take the 165 exams. Prerequisites: algebra and trigonometry, or permission of instructor. Not open to students who have completed Physics 110, 115, 120, or 125; or equivalent.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

165 - Light

An introduction to optics and modern physics for both science and non-science majors. Topics include geometrical optics, physical optics, waves, special relativity, wave-particle duality, atomic and nuclear physics. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisites: algebra and trigonometry, or permission of instructor. Not open to students who have completed Physics 110, 115, 120, or 125; or equivalent.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

166 - Spacetime Physics

An introduction to the theory of special relativity for both science and non-science majors. Topics include Einstein's postulates, the geometry of relativity, the Lorentz transformations, and the structure of spacetime. Prerequisites: algebra and trigonometry, or permission of instructor. Not open to students who have completed Physics 110, 115, 120, or 125; or equivalent.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

168 - Energy Conversions and Resources

This course introduces the physics of energy and energy conversions. The goal of this course is to provide students with the tools to recognize and quantify the various energy conversion processes important to society. Fundamental concepts of conservation of energy, efficiency, work and heat will be introduced during the first half of the course. These concepts will provide a framework for topical information on global energy resources (renewable and nonrenewable), energy generation systems, and societal energy demands. Prerequisites: algebra or trigonometry, or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI  

197 - Independent Study in Physics

Supervised investigation by students who have not yet completed Physics 320. Prerequisite: permission of supervising instructor and approval of department.
1 or 2 units 

240 - Modern Physics

Introduction to the physics of the twentieth century, emphasizing special relativity and elementary quantum mechanics. Includes the breakdown of classical concepts; light quanta and matter waves; Schrödinger equation and solutions in 1 and 3 dimensions; hydrogen atom, exclusion principle, and the periodic table. Other topics include a selection from atomic, nuclear, particle, and condensed-matter physics. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisites: Physics 106, Physics 110 or 115, and Physics 120; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

250 - Thermal and Statistical Physics

Connects the microscopic properties of the physical world with its macroscopic properties using classical and quantum statistics. Topics include classical and quantum ideal gasses, classical thermodynamics, phase transitions, and kinetic theory. Prerequisites: Physics 106, Physics 110 or 115, and Physics 120; or permission of the instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

The 260 Series

Designed for students interested in different aspects of physical science at a deeper level than those in the 160 series, the courses numbered 260-269 are generally open to anyone who has completed Physics 120 or 125 or their equivalents. Typically only one or two courses are offered from this series each year. The Department reserves the right to cancel classes with extremely small enrollments.

261 - Simulations in Physics

An introduction to the numerical solutions of problems in physics. Applications are drawn from classical dynamics, electrostatics, magnetostatics, relativistic dynamics, and chaotic systems. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115; and Physics 120 or 125 (may be taken concurrently);  and Computer Science 161; or permission of instructor.

262 - Electronics

Theoretical and experimental electronics fundamental to modern research. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Physics 120 or 125; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

263 - Measurement and Control of Instrumentation by Computer

A laboratory based course covering the C programming language, the LabWindows CVI programming environment, and the use of D/A and A/D converters. Prerequisite: Physics 120 or 125; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: LAB-SCI

264 - History of Physics

This course will explore the interactions of physics and society through selected studies in the history of classical and modern physics. Course work will include reading and discussion of original and interpretive works, research papers, and oral presentations to the class. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115; and Physics 120 or 125; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: EUROPE

265 - The Substance of Substance

An introduction to the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions. Topics include quarks and leptons; symmetries and conservations laws; special relativity; the fundamental forces and their relationship; and the early universe. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115; and Physics 120 or 125 (may be taken concurrently); or permission of instructor.  

266 - Space, Time, and Black Holes

An introduction to the theory of relativity. The first half of the course, focusing on special relativity, includes discussions of the relationship between space and time; mass and energy; and cause and effect. The second half of the course presents the fundamentals of the general theory of relativity, with an emphasis on the physics of black holes.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

267 - Engineering Physics

An introduction to the field of engineering. Students who have completed either of the introductory sequences in physics are well prepared to apply that knowledge to a wide variety of subjects. Applications covered include static equilibrium, elastic properties of materials, vibrations, thermodynamics, thermal properties of matter, fluids, waves and sound, DC circuits, and AC circuits. Prerequisites: Physics 110 or 115; and Physics 120 or 125 (may be taken concurrently); or permission of instructor.

268 - Engineering Materials

A complete engineering design includes an appropriate choice of construction materials. This course will introduce the science of materials used in a wide range of typical engineering applications. As time permits, topics will include the mechanical, elastic, thermal, electrical, magnetic and environmental properties of metals, polymers, ceramics, glasses, composites,and 'green' materials. Prerequisite: Physics 120 or 125 (may be taken concurrently) or permission of instructor. Prerequisite: Physics 120 or 125.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: Mathematics/Science

269 - Special Topics in Physics I

Special topics in physics, selected largely by student interest and requiring no more than introductory physics courses. Possible topics include: variational methods, celestial mechanics, chaos, nonlinear systems. Satisfies a Physics Selective requirement.

310 - Mathematical Methods in Physics

Survey of the elements of advanced mathematical ideas and techniques typically used in physics. Physical examples and intuition will be emphasized throughout. Topics covered will include Div, Grad, and Curl; matrices, tensors, and groups; complex analysis, Fourier series and integrals; boundary and initial value problems; and special topics as time permits. Includes one ninety-minute laboratory per week. Prerequisites: Physics 106 and 120; and Math 214 (may be taken concurrently with permission of instructor); or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI 

315 - Advanced Laboratory I

Selected experiments in modern physics. Special emphasis on research techniques, including literature search, analysis of data, and preparation of written reports. Prerequisites: Physics 240 or permission of instructor.
2 units 

316 - Advanced Laboratory II

Selected experiments in modern physics. Special emphasis on research techniques, including literature search, analysis of data, and preparation of written reports. Prerequisites: Physics 240 or permission of instructor.
2 units 

320 - Analytical Dynamics

Motion of particles, systems of particles, and rigid bodies. conservation laws; coordinate transformations, both stationary and moving; Hamilton's and Lagrange's equations. Includes one ninety-minute laboratory per week. Prerequisites: Physics 106, Physics 120, and Math 214; or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI 

330 - Advanced Electromagnetism

Electro- and magneto-statics, Maxwell's equations, electrodynamics, boundary value problems, radiation. Includes one ninety-minute laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Physics 310 or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

340 - Quantum Mechanics

The foundations of the theory of quantum mechanics with applications to physical systems. Formal development of the postulates of quantum mechanics, representation of states, angular momentum, spin, and perturbation theory. Applications include the harmonic oscillator, hydrogen atom, and Zeeman effect. Includes one ninety-minute laboratory per week. Prerequisites: Physics 240 or Chemistry 305, and Physics 310, or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

The 360 Series

Designed for students interested in advanced topics in physics, the courses numbered 360-369 have varying prerequisites but generally require physics beyond Physics 120/125. Typically only one or two courses are offered from this series each year. The Department reserves the right to cancel classes with extremely small enrollments.

361 - Computational Physics

Many problems in physics can be formulated (i.e., written as equations) but not solved analytically. In such cases computational techniques are often employed to solve the equations and advance our understanding of the physics. This course provides an introduction to these techniques and their use. Prerequisite: Physics 240

362 - Cosmology and Particle Physics

Particle physics and cosmology began to become intertwined around the turn of the century with the discovery of cosmic rays. This course will explore the fusion of these smallest and largest length scales. A brief introduction to particle physics and cosmology will be given followed by a discussion of current topics in this new field of astroparticle physics. Topics will include cosmic rays, big bang nucleosynthesis, structure formation, dark matter, and the cosmological constant. Prerequisite: Physics 240 or permission of instructor.

363 - Solid State Physics

An introduction to the physics of solids. Topics include free electrons, crystal structure, lattice vibrations, energy bands, and the electrical, magnetic, and optical properties of solids. Prerequisites: Physics 240 and 250 or permission of instructor.

364 - Plasma Physics

An introduction to the physics of plasma, including charged particle motion in electromagnetic fields, plasma waves, plasma confinement, and non-linear effects. These ideas will be used to understand space and ionospheric phenomena, laser-plasma interactions, containment of matter and anti-matter, and energy generation by controlled nuclear fusion. Prerequisites: Physics 120, 310, and Math 212 

365 - Subatomic Physics

Survey of the contemporary status of the quantum physics of subatomic particles and atomic nuclei. Emphasis is given to discussing and examining the fundamental constituents of matter (quarks and leptons) and the fundamental forces of nature (electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force). Topics include the classification and relationships among particles, properties of nuclei and nuclear interactions (such as fission and fusion), electroweak and quantum chromodynamic interactions, and the unification of the fundamental forces of nature. Applications to and insights derived from astrophysics and cosmology will also be included. Specific topics covered will be selected by the instructor. Prerequisites: Physics 310 and 320 (may be taken concurrently); or permission of instructor.

366 - Relativity

Review of special relativity. Introduction to the fundamentals of general relativity and gravitation, with applications to cosmology. Topics include the big bang theory, primordial nucleo-synthesis, the dark matter problem, gravitational red shift and the expansion of the universe, stellar evolution, and black holes. Prerequisite: Physics 310 or permission of instructor.
CORE REQUIREMENT MET: MATH/SCI

368 - Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

A critical analysis of the literature of nanoscience and nanotechnology. This course will examine the chemical and physical properties of quantum dots, carbon nanotubes, metal and semiconductor nanowires, and biomolecules and other nanometer scale structures useful in molecular electronics, chemical biology, and in building macroscopic structures with tailored properties from nanoscale components. Includes introductory instruction to scanning tunneling microscopy. Prerequisite: Physics 240 or Chemistry 220; or permission of instructor.

369 - Special Topics in Physics II

Special topics in physics, selected largely by student interest. Prerequisites vary with subject area. Possible topics include: group theory in physics, applications of quantum mechanics in atomic, nuclear, and particle physics, introduction to relativistic quantum mechanics, nonlinear pattern forming systems, hydrodynamic instabilities, superfluidity and superconductivity, methods of material science. Satisfies a Physics Selective requirement.

390 - Junior Physics Seminar I

Students will participate in weekly seminars and conduct library-based research on topics in physics. Students will present one seminar and one written report on their work. Completion of this course with a grade of C or better partially fulfills the comprehensive requirement for graduation with a degree in physics. Prerequisites: Physics 106, 110 or 115, 120, 240, and 250 or permission of instructor.
2 units

391 - Junior Physics Seminar II

Students will participate in weekly seminars and conduct library-based research on topics in physics. Students will present one seminar and one written report on their work. Completion of this course with a grade of C or better partially fulfills the comprehensive requirement for graduation with a degree in physics. Prerequisites: Physics 106, 110 or 115, 120, 240, and 250 or permission of instructor.
2 units

395 - Research in Physics

Research supervised by a member of the faculty. May be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: approval of department.
1 to 4 units

396 - Professional Internship

Off-campus participation (up to full time) in the work of a major laboratory engaged in research and development that involves pure or applied physics. The student will take part in the ongoing technical work of the laboratory under joint supervision by a member of the laboratory's professional technical staff and Occidental physics faculty. Normally, formal application to the laboratory is required, and admission may be competitive. Prerequisites: approval of department, supervising instructor, and the laboratory.
2 to 12 units 

397 - Independent Study in Physics

Supervised investigation by properly qualified students. Prerequisites: permission of supervising instructor and approval of department.
1 to 4 units 

400 - Physics Research Seminar

A seminar course in which students and faculty will make weekly oral reports describing their ongoing research projects. Prerequisite: a specific, ongoing research project.
2 units 

490 - Senior Physics Seminar I

Students will participate in weekly seminars and conduct library-based research on topics in physics. Students will present one seminar and one written report on their work. Completion of this course with a grade of C or better partially fulfills the comprehensive requirement for graduation with a degree in physics. Prerequisites: Physics 240, Physics 250 and Physics 320 or permission of instructor.
2 units 

491 - Senior Physics Seminar II

Students will participate in weekly seminars and conduct library-based research on topics in physics. Students will present one seminar and one written report on their work. Completion of this course with a grade of C or better partially fulfills the comprehensive requirement for graduation with a degree in physics. Prerequisites: Physics Physics 240, Physics 250 and Physics 320 or permission of instructor.
2 units 

499 - Honors in Physics

Supervised investigation by students admitted by the department to the Honors Program. Prerequisite: permission of supervising instructor and approval of department.
2 or 4 units

Faculty

Regular Faculty

George Schmiedeshoff, chair

Professor, Physics

Ph.D., University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Dennis Eggleston

Professor, Physics

B.S., M.S., Ph.D., UCLA

Russell Gleason

Laboratory Coordinator

B.S., B.A., California State University, Fullerton; M.S., California State University, Long Beach

Janet Scheel

Associate Professor, Physics

B.S., University of Illinois, Urbana; M.A., M.S., Cornell University; Ph.D., Caltech

Alec Schramm

Professor, Physics

B.A., Cornell University; M.A., Ph.D., Duke University

Daniel Snowden-Ifft

Professor, Physics

B.A., Swarthmore College M.A., Ph.D., UC Berkeley

On Special Appointment

Jennifer Carson

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Physics

S.B., Massachusetts Institute of Technology; M.S., San Francisco University; M.S., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Rafael Araya-Gochez

Adjunct Assistant Professor, Physics

M.A. Johns Hopkins, Ph.D Johns Hopkins