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Courses and Requirements

We aspire to help students forge tools to reveal the stunning quantitative vistas on our universe. Given the various trajectories of Hamilton students, this education: (1) prepares students for physics graduate school; (2) supports students in their pursuit of different quantitative interests including engineering, chemical physics, and careers where quantitative analysis is employed; (3) fulfills the one-year introductory physics requirements for students pursuing health professions, chemistry, and graduate work in other sciences; and (4) includes courses accessible to students across the campus with a wide variety of interests and mathematical backgrounds.

A concentration in physics normally consists of 11 courses: 190, 195, 290, 295, 348, 390, 550, and four other electives chosen in consultation with an advisor who is a member of the physics faculty. At least one of the electives will be selected from physics courses at the 300-level or above, not including 348 and 390 which are required. One of the electives may be taken credit/no credit. Students who wish to prepare for graduate school in physics or engineering should choose electives from physics courses at the 300-level and above. Students with other interests may, in consultation with their advisor, select up to two electives from other science departments. Such courses should support interdisciplinary interests or career goals. Normally 390 is taken in the spring semester of the junior year in preparation for the research project undertaken in 550. To be eligible for honors in physics students must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in the courses that satisfy the concentration requirements and must complete outstanding work in the senior project.

In the first year, prospective concentrators should normally take 190 and 195, and mathematics. In the first semester, the appropriate mathematics course may be Calculus I (Math 113), which is a co-requisite for 190. However if the Mathematics Department grants advanced placement, the student may wish to take Calculus II (Math 116), Multivariable Calculus (Math 216), or Linear Algebra (Math 224). Students with significant experience with physics, including advanced placement courses, should consult with a member of the department before registering for a physics class.

Students who wish to major in physics but who have taken either 100-205 or 200-205, or who wish to begin the major should consult with the department chair.

Physics 290 and 295 are normally taken in the second year. Additionally, during the spring of the second year, we recommend taking one course from Electronics and/or General Relativity. Other options should be discussed with a member of the physics faculty.

We believe that our students need to be aware how historical contributions of underrepresented groups in science illuminate inequalities of opportunity to contribute to science and technology, that a diversity of perspectives are crucial to science when dealing with complex problems, that the impact of science is both local and global, and that science policy decisions are made in the real world in which biases might be hidden. Beginning with the Class of 2020 concentrators may satisfy the SSIH requirement by completing 348, co-taught with Chemistry in either their junior or senior year.

A minor in physics consists of five courses: 190, 195, 290 or 295, and two other physics courses. One of the other physics courses may be taken credit/no credit. Students can complete the minor with 100-205 or 200-205, plus three other physics courses, of which one must be at the 200 level or above. Students may use Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or A-level courses to meet only one of the five required courses for the minor. A minor in astronomy consists of five courses: a 2-course introductory sequence (190-195, 100-205, or 200-205), 290, 160 and an upper level elective chosen in consultation with the chair. A student who majors in physics may not minor in astronomy.

Students interested in the 3-2, 2-1-1-1, or 4-2 engineering programs affiliating Hamilton with engineering schools should normally take 190, 195, and calculus (or linear algebra if mathematics placement so warrants) in their first year. Students in the 3-2 program are expected to complete the first three years of the major including at least 8 courses in physics. There are many possible options in engineering programs, and because of their complexity, interested students should consult the engineering advisor, Professor Gordon Jones. This is also the case for those who have taken 100-105 or 200-205 and have then become interested in engineering.

Students seeking to transfer credit in physics for part of the introductory sequence (100-205 or 200-205) at another institution must successfully complete one course of introductory sequence at Hamilton. Successful completion requires a minimum grade of B.

Juniors or seniors without prior courses in the department may enroll in 100, 120, 135, 136, 160, 175, 200 and 245.

100 F Survey of Physics I.
The first semester of a year-long sequence (100-205) for pre-med students and other scientists who require a year of physics. Topics include mechanics, fluids and thermodynamics. Emphasis on applications of physics in medicine and in other sciences. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory. First year students need instructors signature to enroll. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, knowledge of algebra and trigonometry. K Brown.

105 S Survey of Physics II.
The second semester of a year-long sequence (100-105) for pre-med students and other scientists who require a year of physics. Topics include electricity, fluids, waves, optics, atomic physics and nuclear physics. Emphasis on applications of physics in medicine and in other sciences. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 100, 200 or 190. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory. Knowledge of algebra and trigonometry required. B Moser.

[120 S] How Things Work.
A few basic physics principles can explain many common devices such as car engines, TVs, refrigerators, airplanes and eyeglasses, and some not-so-common devices such as atomic bombs and lasers. This course qualitatively teaches basic physics concepts with the aim of demystifying technology. A conceptual introduction to physics where all the examples come from your experience. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Maximum enrollment, 45.

[135 F] Space-time and the Quantum World.
A study of two fundamental developments in modern physics — quantum theory and relativity. Drawing on the quantum mechanics of spin and space-time diagrams, we gain an overview of some of the more thought-provoking aspects of contemporary physics. Breaking from tradition, this is not a historical survey but instead focuses on the fundamental nature of these two developments, as well as the role of observation in modern physical theory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Comfort with simple algebra and geometry helpful.

[136 S] Physics and Art.
This course is a survey of some of the interesting ways in which fine art intersects math and physics. The curriculum consists of six topics in which some juxtaposition of physics and art is present; in some cases physics is relevant to the context of the art, in some case to the content of the art, and in some cases, both. We begin with some of the earliest works of art and proceed chronologically, including cave paintings and radiocarbon dating, the Archimedes palimpsest and imaging techniques, and the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and their connection to chaotic motion and fractals. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Familiarity with algebra and calculus recommended.

160 F Introduction to Astronomy.
A description of the universe, starting with the appearance and organization of the solar system and working outward. Development of the heliocentric view. Observational deduction of properties of stars. Stellar evolution and its relation to pulsars and black holes. Galaxies and the structure and history of the universe. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) A Lark.

175 S The Physics of Musical Sound.
An exploration of the physics that underlies the production of musical sounds. Covers issues ranging from the nature of musical sound, units, some physical principles, theory of wave propagation and mode formation, physical mechanisms of how instrument families work and their implications for musical use of those families, acoustics of halls, digital simulations of musical instruments and performance spaces. Algebra will be used. Four hours of class/laboratory per week. May count toward a concentration in physics. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) (Same as Music 175.) Maximum enrollment, 16. B Collett.

190 F The Mechanical Universe.
The first semester of a sequence of physics courses for students interested in physical sciences, math or engineering. Normally the first course for students who plan to major or minor in physics. Introduction to principles governing the motion of a particle and of systems of particles. Kinematics and dynamics; energy, linear momentum, angular momentum and conservation laws. Introduction to the laws of special relativity. Sophomores and above need instructor’s signature to enroll. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Calculus I (may be taken concurrently). Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory. K Burson.

195 S Waves and Fields.
The physics of oscillations, waves and fields. Topics include simple harmonic motion, fluids, sound, electric and magnetic fields, light, optics and interference phenomena. Emphasizes the use of calculus as a tool to describe and analyze the physical world. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 190 or 200 and Mathematics 116 (may be taken concurrently). S Major.

200 F Physics I.
The first semester of a year-long calculus-based sequence (200-205) for scientists and pre-med students who require a year of physics. Topics include Newtonian mechanics, conservation laws, fluids, kinetic theory and thermodynamics. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory. First year students need instructor’s signature to enroll. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Mathematics 116 or equivalent. Not open to students who have taken 100 or 190. V Horowitz.

205 S Physics II.
The second semester of a year-long sequence (200-205) for pre-med students and other scientists who require a year of physics. Topics include electricity and magnetism, optics, relativity, atomic physics and nuclear physics. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Physics 100 or 200. D Jacobs.

207 S Introduction to Quantum Computing.
An introductory study of the rapidly growing field of Quantum Computation. The course starts with a brief introduction to the mathematical framework for describing quantum bits (qubits) and quantum gates. Topics will include physical realizations of qubits (with examples from condensed matter and atomic physics) and selected quantum algorithms. Prerequisite, Physics 290 or permission of the instructor. Math 224 or familiarity with matrix multiplication is recommended. V Horowitz.

215 F Nuclear Weapons in World War II.
World War II has been called “the physicists’ war”; it was perhaps the first global conflict in which physicists played a central role. In this course we examine the scientific paradigms that shaped physicists’ effort to understand fission, the relevant fission processes, and the technical principles that went into construction of the first atomic weapons. We also examine the structural and institutional hierarchies that were present at the time of the war, the social disparities involved in the fabrication of the weapons, and the decision to deploy two atomic weapons on Japanese cities. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, Phys 195 and Math 216 or permission of instructor. K Brown.

245 S Electronics and Computers.
Hands-on introduction to the concepts and devices of electronics. Study of analog and digital circuits, computer architecture, assembler programming and computer interfacing. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Six hours of laboratory. Maximum enrollment, 8. B Collett.

290 F Quantum Physics.
Wave-particle duality, the nuclear atom, the development of Schrödinger’s wave mechanics and the quantum theory of atoms. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Physics 195 or 205, and Math 116. B Collett.

295 S Electromagnetism.
Introduction to the mathematical description of the electric and magnetic fields, their sources and their interactions with matter. Exploration of Maxwell’s laws with emphasis on the relationship between the physics and the mathematics needed to describe it. Three hours of class. Prerequisite, 290. Normally taken concurrently with 245. Math 216 is recommended. M Smith.

298 F,S Physics Research.
Independent work on a research project under supervision of a faculty member. Prerequisite, Consent of instructor. One-quarter or one-half credit per semester. Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory only. Students may repeat 298 for credit, but only a maximum of one-half credit of Physics Research can count towards their concentration. Department.

[315 S] Topics in Cosmology.
Exploration of observational and theoretical topics in cosmological physics. Topics may include evidence for the Hot Big Bang Model of the Universe, background cosmological evolution and dark energy, the cosmic microwave background, primordial nucleosynthesis, growth of large scale structure, as well as evidence and candidates for dark matter. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Phys 290.

320 S Topics in Mathematical Physics.
A study of mathematical methods and their use in investigating physical systems. Topics may include ordinary differential equations, special functions, Sturm-Liouville theory, partial differential equations, integral transforms, calculus of complex functions, numerical methods, tensor analysis, and group theory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Math 224 and (either Physics 295 or Math 216), or permission of instructor. Normally offered on alternate years. S Major.

[325 S] General Relativity.
An introduction to the physics and mathematics of space-time geometry including Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity with applications to black holes, gravitational waves, and cosmology. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Prerequisites Math 216 or permission of instructor. Normally offered on alternate years.

335 S Condensed Matter.
An introduction to condensed matter that explores the physics of metals, insulators, semiconductors, and superconductors, with particular attention to structure, thermal properties, energy bands, and electronic properties. The course draws on quantum physics to explain the origin of these properties and addresses experimental methods commonly used to understand material properties. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, Phys 290. K Burson.

340 S Topics in Quantum Physics.
Exploration of topics in contemporary physics using the tools of quantum mechanics developed in PHYS 290. Topics may include multi-electron atoms, molecules, solid state physics, lasers and quantum optics, nuclear physics, quantum computing, and particle physics. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 290. K Burson.

348 S Science, Technology, and Society.
An examination of the assumptions, paradigms, and hierarchies embedded in science and technology using case studies. Evidence-based hypothesis testing and analysis will examine evidence pointing to the structure of hierarchies built into and from science and how those structures may result in inequalities for various groups participating in and affected by science and technology. Topics will vary but might include: gender and race disparities in STEM fields, broad effects of climate change or environmental crises, scientific and cultural contexts of nuclear and chemical weapons. (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies.) Prerequisite, Chemistry or physics concentrator. (Same as Chemistry 348.) Brewer and Brown.

350 F Classical Mechanics.
Principles of classical mechanics, including oscillations, nonlinear dynamics, dynamics of systems of particles, non-inertial reference frames, Hamilton and Lagrangian mechanics, celestial mechanics, rigid body motion and coupled oscillations. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 295 or consent of instructor. K Brown.

370 F Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics.
Properties of large-scale systems in terms of a statistical treatment of the motions, interactions and energy levels of particles. Basic probability concepts and the principles of statistical mechanics. Explanation of thermal equilibrium, heat, work and the laws of thermodynamics. Application to various physical systems. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 290. S Major.

390 F,S Research Seminar.
A series of research projects stressing the integration of theory and experiment. Emphasis on scientific writing, formal oral presentations, use of the current physics literature. (Writing-intensive.) (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 290. Maximum enrollment, 14. B Collett.

450 S Quantum Theory.
An exploration of the mathematical tools and foundations of quantum mechanics. Topics include angular momentum, spin, measurement, bound states and perturbation theory. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 350. V Horowitz.

480 F Electromagnetic Theory.
Intensive study of Maxwell’s equations in both differential and integral form; electrostatics and electro-dynamics; special relativity; and the transformation of electromagnetic fields. Introduction to electromagnetic waves and dielectric and magnetic materials. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 295 and 350 or consent of instructor. K Brown.

550 F,S Senior Research Project.
Independent research in collaboration with faculty supervisor. Students will give a series of formal oral presentations about their research and will write a comprehensive thesis. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Open to senior concentrators or to others with consent of instructor. B Collett.

551 S Senior Research.
Independent research in collaboration with faculty supervisor. Students will give a series of formal oral presentations about their research and will write a comprehensive thesis. Prerequisite, Phys 550. S Major.

(from the Hamilton Course Catalogue)

Contact Information


Physics Department

198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
315-859-4367 315-859-4807 physics@hamilton.edu
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