Courses & Requirements

IMPORTANT NOTE

The requirements below apply to those students with a 2022-2023 catalog year. Students are required by college policy to follow the major (and minor) requirements found in the catalog in effect at the time they declared their first major. To find your catalog year, please visit your Grades and Academic Records found in myOxy and access the catalog that matches your catalog year.

Physics

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 efforts in Particle Astrophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Plasma Physics, and theoretical efforts in Cosmology, Particle Physics, and 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 (PHYS 110, PHYS 117, PHYS 230, and PHYS 240) 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.

Physics majors typically begin taking courses at the intermediate level by the end of the 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 PHYS 160- PHYS 169, PHYS 260- PHYS 269, and PHYS 360- PHYS 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 PHYS 110/ PHYS 115, PHYS 117, PHYS 230/ PHYS 125, or their equivalent. The 260 series is open to anyone who has completed PHYS 230 or PHYS 125. The prerequisites for 360-series courses vary, but generally require physics beyond PHYS 230 or PHYS 125.

Requirements

Major

The program for physics majors is composed of the Physics Foundation and one of seven concentrations (Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Geology, Education, Computer Science, or Renewable Energy.)  Details for each concentration are listed below.

Students can also supplement their programs by taking courses at the California Institute of Technology under the exchange program.

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

Foundation

All physics majors must complete a core of four physics courses called the Foundation. Accompanying these physics courses must be work in mathematics including Multivariable Calculus and Linear Systems.

PHYS 110Introductory Mechanics

4 units

Or

PHYS 115General Physics I

4 units

PHYS 117Waves and Thermal Physics

4 units

PHYS 230Introductory Electricity and Magnetism

4 units

PHYS 240Foundations of Modern Physics

4 units

 

MATH 212Multivariable Calculus

4 units

MATH 214Linear Algebra

4 units

Concentration in Physics (28 units):

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.

PHYS 310Mathematical Methods in Physics

4 units

PHYS 315Advanced Laboratory I

2 units

PHYS 316Advanced Laboratory II

2 units

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

PHYS 330Advanced Electromagnetism

4 units

PHYS 340Quantum Mechanics

4 units

PHYS 350Statistical Physics

4 units

Physics Selective

4 units

Concentration in Mathematics (32 units):

Recommended for students who wish a broader mathematics or computer science background.

PHYS 310Mathematical Methods in Physics

4 units

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

PHYS 350Statistical Physics

4 units

Physics Selective

4 units

Any other 300-level Physics courses

8 units

Any other 300-level Math courses not including Junior Seminar

8 units

These courses must be in addition to those required math courses listed in the Foundation.

Concentration in Chemistry (32 units):

Recommended for students who wish a broader physical science background.

CHEM 120Foundations of General Chemistry

4 units

Or

CHEM 130Advanced Placement General Chemistry

4 units

 

CHEM 220Organic Chemistry I

4 units

CHEM 221Organic Chemistry II

4 units

CHEM 240Integrated Concepts in General Chemistry

4 units

PHYS 310Mathematical Methods in Physics

4 units

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

PHYS 340Quantum Mechanics

4 units

 

PHYS 330Advanced Electromagnetism

4 units

Or

PHYS 350Statistical Physics

4 units

Concentration in Geology (28 units):

Recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in geology or geophysics.

GEO 105Earth: Our Environment

4 units

GEO 225Earth: A field perspective

4 units

GEO 235Global Geophysics and Tectonics

4 units

 

GEO 245Earth's Climate: Past and Future

4 units

Or

GEO One 300-level Geology course

 

PHYS 310Mathematical Methods in Physics

4 units

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

And

One course from:

PHYS 330Advanced Electromagnetism

4 units

PHYS 340Quantum Mechanics

4 units

PHYS 350Statistical Physics

4 units

PHYS 330 is strongly encouraged.

Concentration in Education (28 units):

This concentration is recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in secondary science education. EDUC 314 is highly recommended.

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

Physics Selectives

12 units

EDUC 201Sociocultural Foundations of Education

4 units

EDUC 207Conflict in Education

4 units

 

Four units of:

EDUC 300Community Engagement in Education

2 units

Concentration in Computer Science (32 units):

MATH 210Discrete Mathematics

4 units

COMP 131Fundamentals of Computer Science

4 units

COMP 229Data Structures

4 units

COMP 239Computer Organization

4 units

One additional 300-level Computer Science course not including Practicum and Junior Seminar

4 units

PHYS 310Mathematical Methods in Physics

4 units

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

One course from:

PHYS 330Advanced Electromagnetism

4 units

PHYS 340Quantum Mechanics

4 units

PHYS 350Statistical Physics

4 units

Concentration in Renewable Energy (32 units):

PHYS 320Analytical Dynamics

4 units

PHYS 370Energy Physics

4 units

MATH 150Statistical Data Analysis

4 units

ECON 101Principles of Economics I

4 units

ECON 102Principles of Economics II

4 units

ECON 322Economics of Sustainable Development

4 units

Physics Selective

4 units

 

Two of the following:

ECON 201Sustainability Lab

2 units

UEP 246Applied Projects in Sustainability

2 units

INT 200Internship

2 units

When ECON 322 is not offered, students may substitute ECON 301 with Physics department approval.

Physics "Capstone":

All physics majors must complete the Senior Seminar sequence:

PHYS 490Senior Physics Seminar I

2 units

And

PHYS 491Senior Physics Seminar II

2 units

Majors participating in an off-campus program during the Senior year may repeat PHYS 490 or PHYS 491 to satisfy this requirement.

Honors in the Major

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. Consult the department chair for details.

Minor

Introductory sequence

PHYS 110Introductory Mechanics

4 units

Or

PHYS 115General Physics I

4 units

 

PHYS 117Waves and Thermal Physics

4 units

PHYS 230Introductory Electricity and Magnetism

4 units

PHYS 240Foundations of Modern Physics

4 units

Mathematics Component

MATH 212Multivariable Calculus

4 units

MATH 214Linear Algebra

4 units

Physics Selectives

Eight units of additional electives.

Second-Stage Writing Proficiency

The Second-Stage Writing Requirement in Physics can be satisfied with a passing evaluation of a student portfolio. The portfolio will consist of three items: two laboratory reports from Modern Physics (PHYS 240) and/or Advanced Laboratory (PHYS 315/PHYS 316), and one research report from Senior Physics Seminar (PHYS 490/PHYS 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. The portfolio will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis by a departmental committee.

A student may submit a portfolio only once. The portfolio is normally submitted at the end of the semester when the student completes the first semester of PHYS 490/PHYS 491. The final deadline for submission of a passing portfolio is the last day of classes in a student’s penultimate semester. Students who fail to pass the writing portfolio or those that do not wish to submit a portfolio can also satisfy the Second-Stage Writing Requirement by taking a WRD 201 course that has been approved by the Physics Department Chair in consultation with the WRD Chair. A grade of C or better will satisfy the Second-Stage Writing Requirement.

Comprehensive Requirement

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

Advising Information

First-year students interested in majoring in physics should start with Physics 110 in the fall of their first year. Next they should take Physics 117 in the spring of their first year. In addition, students should have completed at least Calculus I (MATH 110 or 114) and Calculus II (MATH 120 or 129) by the end of their first year. Students who come to the college with a more advanced background in physics should consult the department’s Course Exemption page. Physics majors typically begin taking courses at the intermediate level by the end of the sophomore year, and are encouraged to complete required 300-level courses by the end of junior year.


Students majoring in Physics must choose one of the following concentrations: Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Geology, Education, Computer Science, or Renewable Energy. The Physics concentration 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. The Geology concentration is recommended for students who wish to pursue careers in geology or geophysics. The Chemistry concentration is recommended for students looking for a broader physical science background. The Mathematics and Computer Science concentrations are recommended for students who want broader exposure to those fields of study. The Education concentration is recommended for students who are interested in pursuing careers in secondary science education.

Placement Information

No placement exam is required in order to take the introductory-level physics courses. Students who received a 5 on the AP Mechanics C exam or who have previously taken college-level physics courses should see the department  Course Exemption page for more information. 


Most students who are interested in majoring in Physics should take the Calculus Placement Assessment (ALEKS) during the summer prior to their first year. You do not need to take the Calculus Placement Assessment if you any of the following are true:

  • You received a score of 4 or 5 on either the AP Calculus AB or BC exam;
  • You receive an IB Calculus HL score of 5 or above;
  • You have already taken a Calculus 1 course at another accredited college or university. 

Sample 4-Year Plans

Physics Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • PHYS 316 (2 units)
  • Physics Selective
  • General Elective (4 units)

 

Curricular Notes:

  • To complete Core by the end of the sophomore year, students will need to double dip at least one course.
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • The Physics Selective can be any course from the 260 or 360 series, or 300-level courses below 390, that are not otherwise required for the concentration.

Mathematics Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

  • 300-Level PHYS course
  • 300-Level PHYS course
  • 300-Level MATH course
  • General Elective (4 units)

Year 4

  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • PHYS 316 (2 units)
  • Physics Selective
  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes:

  • To complete Core by the end of the sophomore year, students will need to double dip at least one course.
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • The Physics Selective can be any course from the 260 or 360 series, or 300-level courses below 390, that are not otherwise required for the concentration.
  • The Mathematics concentration requires 8 units of 300-level PHYS courses in addition to PHYS 310, PHYS 320, and PHYS 315. The department recommends PHYS 315 (2 units), PHYS 316 (2 units), PHYS 330 (4 units), and/or PHYS 340 (4 units).
  • For the two 300-level MATH courses, students can take any 300-level MATH course except MATH 300: Junior Colloquium.

Geology Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

  • PHYS 330
  • GEO 235 + Lab
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Year 4

  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes:

  • To complete core by the end of the sophomore year, students will need to double dip at least two courses.
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • GEO 105 must be taken before the end of the sophomore year. Students pursuing the Geology Concentration can take PHYS 340 or PHYS 350 instead of PHYS 330, but PHYS 330 is strongly encouraged.
  • A 300-level Geology course can be taken instead of GEO 245 if desired.

Education Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

  • Physics Selective (4 units)
  • EDUC 207
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Year 4

  • PHYS 490 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • EDUC 300 (2 units)
  • Physics Selective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • Physics Selective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes:

  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • The Physics Selective can be any course from the 260 or 360 series, or 300-level courses below 390, that are not otherwise required for the concentration.

Computer Science Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

  • PHYS 490 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • PHYS 320
  • 300-Level COMP course
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • General Elective (2 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes:

  • In order to complete core by the end of the sophomore year, at least one course will need to be double dipped.
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • Computer Science concentration students can take two from: PHYS 320, PHYS 330, PHYS 340, and PHYS 350
  • The 300-level COMP course can be any course except COMP 390 or practicum.

Renewable Energy Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

  • Fall FYS course
  • PHYS 110 + Lab (CPLS)
  • Calculus 1 (CPMS)
  • Core Requirement (4 units)
  • Spring FYS course
  • PHYS 117 + Lab
  • Calculus 2 (CPMS)
  • Core Requirement (4 units)

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Curricular Notes:

  • To complete core by the end of the sophomore year, students will need to double dip at least one course.
  • Though ECON 102 is not required for the concentration, it is a prerequisites for ECON 322 which is required.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • The Renewable Energy Concentration requires students to complete two of the following: ECON 201, UEP 246, and INT 200
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • The Physics Selective can be any course from the 260 or 360 series, or 300-level courses below 390, that are not otherwise required for the concentration.

Chemistry Concentration


Fall

Spring

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

  • PHYS 491 (2 units; Senior Seminar)
  • CHEM 240 + Lab
  • General Elective (4 units)
  • General Elective (4 units)

Curricular Notes:

  • To complete core by the end of the sophomore year, students will need to double dip one course
  • MATH 212 and MATH 214 can be taken in any order.
  • Though it is not a requirement for the major, students are strongly encouraged to take COMP 165: Mathematica (2 units) by the end of their sophomore year.
  • COMP 131 is recommended, but not required for this concentration.
  • Chemistry Concentration students can take either PHYS 330 or PHYS 350.

Transfer Credit Policies

Transfer courses taken online may not be used to substitute for an Oxy physics course. Students should reference the Transfer Credit section for details.

Courses

Physics Courses