Physics Major

Goals for the Physics Major

As a Physics major you will be able to:

  1. Explain the basic laws of physics within the fields of classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
  2. Recognize the uniqueness of, interconnections between, and current limits of these fields.
  3. Employ mathematical techniques to understand and describe physical phenomena.
  4. Solve real-world problems by applying the skills of contextualization, approximation, analysis and reflection.
  5. Design experiments and interpret results to answer independent research questions.
  6. Use computation as a tool to advance problem-solving abilities and analysis of experimental data.  
  7. Communicate scientific reasoning and perspective to a diverse audience including faculty, student-colleagues, technical experts, and peers.

Requirements for the Physics Major

A major in physics begins with PHYS 100 and ordinarily includes PHYS 100, PHYS 107, PHYS 108, PHYS 120H, PHYS 205H, PHYS 207, PHYS 208, PHYS 210, PHYS 302 and two other units of physics at the 300-level. PHYS 104 can be taken in place of PHYS 107 in certain circumstances. Calculus at the level of MATH 115 and MATH 116 as well as MATH 205 and MATH 215 are prerequisites for several courses in the major. Independent study and thesis courses (350, 355/365, 360/370) do not count toward the major. The department also supports interdisciplinary pathways through the major -- see Interdisciplinary Option below.

All students who wish to consider a major in physics are urged to complete the introductory sequence (PHYS 100, PHYS 107, and PHYS 108) as soon as possible, and preferably by the end of the second year.

Students interested in graduate programs in physics are strongly recommended to complete PHYS 302, PHYS 305, PHYS 308, and PHYS 310, as well as PHYS 322H and PHYS 323H.

For students who entered the College in Fall 2018 or prior, major requirements normally include PHYS 107, PHYS 108, PHYS 202, PHYS 207, PHYS 208 or PHYS 308, PHYS 302, PHYS 305, and PHYS 310. The following math courses are also required:  MATH 215 and either MATH 205 or PHYS 216. Because PHYS 202 and PHYS 216 are no longer offered, students in this situation should work with their major advisors to develop individualized plans.

Interdisciplinary Option

For students interested in exploring the intersection of physics and related disciplines, we offer an interdisciplinary pathway through the major. This option can prepare students for underpin future careers and study in subjects such as biophysics, geophysics, environmental physics, materials science, electrical engineering, and other applied sciences. The interdisciplinary option has fewer course requirements within the Physics Department and additional elective requirements chosen from courses offered in other departments as well as at the Olin College of Engineering and at MIT. A key element in the design of this route through the physics major is that it should form a coordinated program of study that draws on and relates to a student's physics background. We invite students interested in this option to work with a faculty member to craft an interdisciplinary route through the physics major. Sample interdisciplinary pathways are available on the physics department website at www.wellesley.edu/physics.

Please note that the college offers Interdepartmental majors in Astrophysics and in Chemical Physics; these majors are distinct from the Physics Interdisciplinary Option. 

 

Engineering

Students interested in engineering should understand that Wellesley does not offer a major or minor in engineering, but does offer a range of coursework, cross-registration with Olin and MIT, and other options to help students pursue their interest.  More information about engineering opportunities can be found online at www.wellesley.edu/engineering.  

Thesis work and Honors in Physics

The route to honors in the major is writing an honors thesis and passing an oral examination. To be admitted to the honors thesis program (PHYS 360/PHYS 370), a student must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in all work in the major field above the 100 level; the department may petition on the student’s behalf if the GPA in the major is below that threshold. See Academic Distinctions. Students who do not meet the GPA requirement can still complete a (non-honors) thesis (PHYS 355/PHYS 365). If the student demonstrates excellence in research during PHYS 355, they may petition to enroll in the honors thesis program. That student would then be eligible for honors in the major.

 

Teacher Certification in Physics

Students interested in obtaining certification to teach physics in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should consult the chairs of the education and physics departments.

Transfer Credit in Physics

In order to obtain Wellesley credit for any physics course taken at another institution during the summer or the academic year, approval must be obtained from the chair of the department prior to enrolling in the course. In general, courses from two-year colleges will not be accepted at any level. These restrictions normally apply only to courses taken after matriculation at Wellesley. Transfer students wishing to obtain credit for physics courses taken prior to matriculation at Wellesley should consult the chair of the department.

Advanced Placement and Exemption Examinations in Physics

If a student has a strong physics background (AP, IB physics credits, or the equivalent) and wishes to be exempted from our introductory mechanics and/or electricity and magnetism courses (PHYS 107 and PHYS 108) for the purpose of enrolling in a higher-level physics course, passing an exemption examination administered by the department is necessary. Sample examinations are available from the department. Exemption from PHYS 107 and/or PHYS 108 is not granted based on AP or IB scores alone. Students may not receive more than two units of credit for the introductory physics sequence. For example, a student who enrolls in both PHYS 107 and PHYS 108 will not also receive AP or IB credit. PHYS 100 is required of all physics majors. Students should enroll in PHYS 100 independent of their placement in mechanics and electricity & magnetism.

Physics Related Courses

ENGR 160 Fundamentals of Engineering 1.0