Chair: Dean Langley

Faculty: James Crumley, Todd Johnson, Thomas Kirkman, Dean Langley, Dan Steck, Adam Whitten, Sarah Yost

The program of study at Saint Benedict's and Saint John's is planned to keep students abreast of the latest developments in the study of physics. The curriculum covers the basics of classical and modern physics, examining human understanding of nature from elementary particles to the cosmos.

Physics majors choose from a sequence of courses that can give them excellent preparation for graduate school, industrial research, secondary teaching or professional studies such as engineering, law and medicine.

For majors in the other sciences, 105, 106 and 191, 200 and 211 offer an introduction to the principles of physics at different mathematical levels: 105 and 106 make use of high school level algebra, geometry and trigonometry; 191, 200 and 211 require concurrent registration in calculus and linear algebra.

Physics is a valuable study for non-science majors, too. The department offers courses (101-3, 150, and 187) which have been developed specifically to suit the needs of non-science majors. No previous introduction to physics is necessary, and mathematics is used sparingly.

The department's experimental facilities include radon monitors, gamma-ray analyzers, electromagnets, a superconducting magnet, diffusion pump vacuum systems, a variety of lasers, fiber-optics and interferometry equipment, a holography system, cryostats, and many new electronic instruments. Computing facilities include Windows PCs in laboratories and classrooms, a computing lab containing dual screen Linux PCs.

The department also maintains shop facilities for metal, glass and woodworking, photographic darkrooms and an electronics shop. Students are encouraged to work independently. Many select their own experimental projects, build special apparatus and perform original measurements.


The Physics Department takes several steps to ensure that we are doing a good job of preparing our students; seniors take the Major Field Test in physics, for example, and those planning on graduate school take the graduate record exam in physics. Overall, however, we believe that the performance of our students after they leave us is the most telling measure of the effectiveness of our program. Our students go on to engineering schools, graduate schools in physics and engineering, government and industrial laboratories, and the like. We do our best to keep in touch with our former students, find out how well they are doing and how good a job we have done of preparing them. We use this information, among other sources, in periodic reviews of our program.


The physics department offers concentrations in physics and applied physics.

Special Requirements:
Laboratory work is an important part of the curriculum. Sophomores take 332 each semester. Juniors take 370 each semester. During the senior year, research projects are emphasized in 372 and 373. All majors will be expected to have a familiarity with computers and computer programming by the beginning of their junior year.

Because there are many options available, students should consult with a physics faculty member during their first year.

Concentration in Physics (68 credits)
Required Courses:
Students should start the following sequence in the fall of their first year: 191, 200, 211, 320, 339, 341, 346, 372, 343, 344, 373 plus two semesters of 332 and 370 and 6 additional credits of upper-division physics. A mathematics sequence that includes MATH 119, 120, 239, 337, 305 and 341 should also be taken consecutively starting in the first semester. The Major Field Test in Physics is to be taken in the spring semester of the senior year.

The following courses are recommended: CHEM 123, COMM 111 and ENGL 211.

Concentration in Applied Physics (70 credits)
Required Courses:
Students should start the following sequence in the fall of their first year: 191, 200, 211, 320, 217 (or 217A and 338), 6 credits of courses in the 350 or 360 group, 339, 372, 341, 343, 373 and two semesters of 332 and 370. A mathematics sequence that includes MATH 119, 120, 239, 337, 305 and 341 should also be taken consecutively starting in the first semester. In addition, CHEM 123 is required. The Major Field Test in Physics is to be taken in the spring semester of the senior year.

COMM 111 and ENGL 211 are recommended.

Minor (44 credits)

Required Courses:
191, 200, 211, 320, 8 additional credits in upper-division courses, two semesters of 332 and two semesters of 370. A mathematics sequence that includes MATH 119, 120, 239, 337 should be taken concurrently with the first four physics courses.

Courses (PHYS)

101 Perspectives in Physics. (4)
An introduction to the scientific enterprise: the course will treat selected issues in physics, their historical development and their effect on literature, philosophy and society at large. Topics might include Newtonian mechanics, optics, quantum physics and electromagnetism. Lectures, demonstrations, discussion, occasional laboratories. Intended for non-science majors.

102 Light and Color. (4)
An introduction to optics, the science of light and color. A broad range of topics will be examined. Subject matter may include: rainbows and the color of the sky, vision and the eye, optical instruments, photography, wave aspects of light, lasers and holography. A background in physics or mathematics is not necessary. No prerequisites.

103 Energy. (4)
An introduction to commercial energy production and consumption. The physical laws governing energy transformations, the effects of energy consumption on a finite resource base and the impact of energy use in a closed environment will be examined. The technology and impact of major energy sources: fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, as well as energy-efficient consumption will be investigated. An opportunity for experimentation is provided. Intended for non-science majors.

105 Physics for the Life Sciences I. (4)
An introduction to mechanics and thermodynamics emphasizing applications to biological systems. Topics include Newton's laws of motion, equilibrium, torques, forces, conservation principles, work, energy, power, rotating systems, oscillations, temperature, heat transfer, laws of thermodynamics, fluid statics and dynamics. Intended for non-majors. Algebra and trigonometry are needed.  Recommended: MATH 115 or equivalent high school mathematics. Fall.

106 Physics for the Life Sciences II. (4)
In introduction to electricity and magnetism, wave phenomena, atomic and nuclear physics emphasizing applications to biological systems. Topics include electric and magnetic forces and fields, direct and alternating current circuits, light, sound, optical instruments, relativity, quantum physics, atomic spectra, nuclear physics, radioactivity. Intended for non-majors. Prerequisite: 105. Spring.

150 The Physics of Music. (4)
Relationships between music and physics. Sound sources and modes of oscillation, sound as a wave phenomenon and the characterization of sound; scales and keyboard temperament, auditorium and room acoustics; the physics of musical instruments and particular tone color effects in these instruments; electronic sound production, recording and electronic music synthesis. Intended for non-science majors. Alternate years.

163 Environmental Radiation. (4)
An introduction to nuclear radiation in the environment from natural and man-made sources. Topics include fundamentals of nuclear structure, stability, effects of radiation on matter, radiation detection, characteristics of natural, industrial, medical, and military radiation sources, environmental mobility, and radiation protection practices and policies. Prerequisites: Math proficiency, high school biology, chemistry, or physics.

187 Introduction to Meteorology. (4)
A survey of the basic principles involved in understanding the earth’s weather and climate. Topics include winds, fronts, cyclones, clouds and precipitation, thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes, climate and climate change, global warming and ozone depletion. Prerequisite: Math proficiency. Alternate years.

191 Foundations of Physics I. (4)
Mechanics: vectors, Newton's laws, work, energy, rigid body statics and dynamics. A calculus-based course that emphasizes analytical reasoning and problem-solving techniques. Laboratory places stress on data acquisition and analysis. Prerequisite: concurrent registration in MATH 119. Fall.

200 Foundations of Physics II. (4)
Electric and magnetic fields and their sources, electric potential and electro-magnetic induction. DC and AC circuit elements and circuits. Electromagnetic waves. Emphasis on problem solving. A laboratory is included. Prerequisites: 191, concurrent registration in MATH 120. Spring.

211 Foundations of Physics III. (4)
Thermodynamics and waves. Kinetic theory and the laws of thermodynamics are developed from a mechanical point of view. Temperature, entropy and heat engines. Wave phenomena (sound and light) are developed from a unified point of view. Geometrical optics. Prerequisites: 200, concurrent registration in MATH 239. Fall.

217A Digital Electronics. (2)
Introduction to digital electronics at the integrated circuit level; logic families, gates, counters, registers and memories. Prerequisite: 200 or consent of instructor.

217B Microprocessors. (2)
Microprocessor architectures and operation. Basic techniques of interfacing, I/O and data acquisition. Prerequisite: 217A or consent of instructor.

222 Fortran and C++ for Scientists. (2)
Fortran and C++ language fundamentals with examples from numerical analysis. Topics may include scientific data analysis and curve fitting, simulation of physical systems and numerical algorithms for integration and matrix manipulation. Prerequisites: 200 and MATH 120.

271 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the lower-division level. Permission of department chair required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

320 Modern Physics. (4)
Introduction to the ideas and mathematics of quantum theory. Bohr atom, kinetic theory, black body radiation, quantum mechanics in the Schrödinger representation. Applications of quantum mechanics to selected topics in atomic, molecular or other areas of modern physics. Prerequisites: 211 and concurrent registration in MATH 337. Spring.

332 Intermediate Physics Laboratory. (1)
Experimentation for sophomores. Quantitative measurements and analysis of data. Research approach is emphasized. Prerequisite: enrollment in 211 or 320. May be repeated for credit when different experiments are done.

338 Analog Electronics for Scientists. (2)
Circuit theory, transistors, amplifiers, laboratory test equipment and integrated circuits. Prerequisite: 200 or equivalent.

339 Physical Mechanics. (4)
The dynamics of particles and systems. Gravitational theory, particle oscillations, Hamilton's principle, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian dynamics, central force motion, rigid body motion, collisions, non-inertial reference frames, coupled oscillations. Prerequisites: 211, MATH 337. Fall.

341 Electricity and Magnetism. (4)
Electrostatic potentials and fields in vacuum and dielectric media, magnetic vector potentials and fields in vacuum and magnetic materials, electrostatic and magnetic energies, slowly varying currents. Prerequisite: 339. Spring.

343 Thermodynamics. (2)
Foundations of thermodynamics and applications. Prerequisite: 320. Spring.

344 Statistical Mechanics. (2)
Foundations of statistical mechanics. Applications to condensed matter systems, classical and quantum gases. Prerequisites: 320, 339. Spring.

346 Quantum Mechanics. (4)
Foundations of quantum theory, wave packets, Schrödinger's equation in one dimension, raising and lowering operators. Formal structure of quantum mechanics. Angular momentum and the hydrogen atom. Prerequisite: 339. Fall.

348 Advanced Theoretical Physics. (2-4)
A continuation of 339, 341 and 346. Topics could include advanced Hamiltonian and Lagrangian mechanics, tensors, eigenvalue problems, small oscillation; Maxwell's equations, wave equation, radiation, antennas, waveguides; matrix methods in quantum mechanics, spin, perturbation theory, transitions, many-electron atoms. Prerequisites: 339, 341, or 346 (as appropriate), or permission of instructor. Spring.

353 Applied Nuclear Physics. (2)
Applications of the interaction of radiation with matter to nuclear detection techniques. Current measurement methods for charged and uncharged radiation. Prerequisite: 320.

357 Experimental Optics. (2)
Study of optical phenomena with emphasis on the needs of the experimentalist. Topics may include optical systems design, spectrum analysis, image processing, holography. Prerequisite: 320.

358 Advanced Electronics. (2)
Topics will be selected from the following in advanced analog and digital circuitry: active filters, precision circuits, low noise techniques, high frequency techniques, advanced microprocessor circuits, scientific instrumentation. Laboratory. Prerequisites: 217A and 338.

360 Topics in Applied Physics. (2)
Topics covered will vary from year to year. One such topic is physics of solids: crystal structure, lattice vibrations, band theory and electrical conduction in metals and semiconductors. Other topics such as magnetic and dielectric properties as time permits. Prerequisite: 320.

362 Topics in Modern Physics. (2)
The concepts and principles presented in 191 through 320 will be used to study specific areas of physics not available elsewhere in the curriculum. Subject matter will come from such areas as elementary particle, condensed matter, nuclear, atomic, molecular physics and cosmology. Topics will be announced. Prerequisite: 320.

363 Topics in Nuclear Physics. (2)
Fundamental structure and properties of nuclei. Nuclear reactions, models and decay. Examples taken from current medical and industrial applications. Prerequisite: 320.

364 Topics in Astrophysics. (2)
Selected topics in astrophysics. Such subjects as general relativity, cosmology, stellar formation and evolution and galaxies will be studied. Prerequisites: 320, MATH 239, 337.

365 Topics in Elementary Particle Physics. (2)
Physics at the smallest known length scale. Topics will include relativistic particle decay, construction of baryons and mesons from quarks, the four fundamental interactions and corresponding gauge particles, the vision and consequences of grand unified theories, the cosmic onion. Prerequisite: 320.

366 Topics in Relativity. (2)
Foundations and application of the special and general theories of relativity. Topics covered may include: relativistic kinematics, structure of flat space-time, curvature and topologies of general space-times, Schwarzschild and Friedman solutions, cosmology, blackholes and gravitational radiation. Prerequisite: 320.

367 Optics. (2)
An introduction to geometrical and physical optics: matrix optics, interferometry, thin films, Fourier optics, spatial filtering, holography. Prerequisite: 320.

368 Topics in Space Physics. (2)
Space physics is the study of plasma which fills the space between the Sun and planets of our solar system. The course will include an introduction to plasma physics, followed by a study of the atmosphere of the Sun, the solar wind, the Earth's magnetosphere, auroras, and space weather. Prerequisite: 320.

370 Advanced Physics Laboratory. (1)
Research and experimentation for juniors. Topics selected by the student in consultation with a faculty member. May be repeated for credit when different experiments are done.

371 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the upper-division level. Permission of department chair and completion and/or concurrent registration of 12 credits within the department required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

372 Senior Research. (1)
Individualized experimental or theoretical projects for seniors. Fall.

373 Senior Thesis. (1)
Oral and written report based on the work done in 372. Spring. (If a physics major is taking 372-373 for " Distinction in Physics," that student needs approval of the department chair and director of the Honors Thesis Program. See HONR 398 for further information.)

Physics Comprehensive Exam. (0)
Students will take a comprehensive exam in physics chosen by the Physics Department. Emphasis will be on core concepts in introductory and advanced physics. Students should register for this course in the spring semester of their senior year.