Physics is the study of how the universe works, a quest for the simple rules that underlie all the glorious complexity we see around us, from why water runs downhill to what keeps the stars shining to the structure we observe in the universe.

A physics education is based in three kinds of study: learning the laws of nature, exploring the ways those laws work in the laboratory, and building the problem solving skills needed to explain the complex behavior we observe.

While many of our students go on to graduate work in physics and related fields, many others go on to apply their problem solving skills in diverse fields including medicine, finance, teaching, law, and high-tech industries.

The physics department has three kinds of introductory courses to address different needs and interests. Most intermediate physics courses require Physics 290, so students interested in a Physics major are encouraged to begin as early as possible with Phys 190 or a more advanced course, if appropriate. Note that you must start the year-long introductory courses in the fall, but there is some freedom to switch from one sequence to another after the first semester. Students interested in physics or in pre-engineering studies should begin studying physics in the fall semester of the first year. The year-long introductory physics courses begin in the fall at Hamilton; it is not possible to take the first course in the spring.

Most students who are interested in majoring or minoring in physics, or in completing the pre-engineering track, take Physics 190 in their first semester. (Information for students with advanced placement is in the next paragraph.) Physics 190 students should concurrently sign up for a class in mathematics; the math department offers placement advice based on the results of an exam. Calculus I (Math 113) is a co-requisite for Physics 190; any student who elects Physics 190 and places into Math 113 must take both. We recommend that students who enroll in 190 also enroll in a math course during the first semester.

Entering students with advanced high school work in physics may also choose to enroll in 190, but can consider other possibilities. Students with a score of 5 in AP Physics C (mechanics) can skip 190 and enroll in Physics 195, which follows 190 in the spring term. Students with scores of 5 in both parts of Physics C (mechanics and E&M) are eligible to begin with Physics 290 (Quantum Physics, offered in the fall semester). Similarly, students who arrive with high scores on A-levels or Higher IB - 6 or 7 - may place into classes beyond the first physics course, and should contact the Department Chair for advice about placement. Normally, we recommend that students who place into 195 or 290 take math during the first semester. The department does not offer credit for AP algebra-based physics courses, Physics 1 and Physics 2 but interested students with scores of 5 may consult the department about placement into a higher level course. For more information see the AP credit policies.

The department offers a collection of classes that serve students who place into 195, but who want to begin studying physics right away. These classes include Physics 160 (Introduction to Astronomy), Physics 175 (Physics of Musical Sound), Physics 120 (How Things Work), Physics 135 (Spacetime and the Quantum World) and Physics 136 (Physics and Art). Normally one of these will be offered every fall semester.


At Hamilton, the astronomy program is part of the Physics Department. Students interested in the field can minor in astronomy or major in physics with an emphasis on astronomy. A minor starts with any introductory physics sequence (190-195, 200-205, or 100-105) and Introductory Astronomy (160) followed by Quantum physics (290).

100 F Survey of Physics I.
The first semester of a year-long sequence (100-105) 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. G Jones.

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 and magnetism, optics, atomic physics and nuclear physics. Emphasis on applications of physics in medicine and in other sciences. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 100 or 190. Three hours of class and three hours of laboratory. Knowledge of algebra and trigonometry required. The Department.

120 F 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. G Jones.

[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. K Brown.

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.) K Brown.

[175 F] 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.)

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 200; Math 116. C Collett.

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, 18. 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, 195 or 105 or 205, and Mathematics 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. V Horowitz.

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. Credit/No Credit only. Students may repeat 298 for credit, but only a maximum of one-half credit of Physics Research can count towards their concentration. Department.

320 S Topics in Mathematical Physics.
A study of mathematical methods and their use in investigating physical systems. Topics may include vector calculus, ordinary differential equations, special functions, partial differential equations, integral transforms, calculus of complex functions, numerical methods, tensor analysis, groups and other topics of current theoretical interest. (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. S Major.

[330] Topics in Astrophysics.
Topics may include fundamentals of stellar structure and evolution, the black hole and the curvature of space-time, the structure of galaxies and galactic dynamics, theories of the structure and evolution of the universe. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 290 or 295.

[340 S] Topics in Quantum Physics.
Exploration of topics in contemporary physics using the tools of quantum mechanics developed in 290. Topics may include multi-electron atoms, molecules, solid state physics, lasers and quantum optics, nuclear physics, nuclear magnetic resonance, surface physics and particle physics. (Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning.) Prerequisite, 290. Normally offered on alternate years.

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. C Collett.

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 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, 20. G Jones.

450 S Quantum Theory Seminar.
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. Offered in alternate years. Maximum enrollment, 12.

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 or consent of instructor. S Major.

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. Open to senior concentrators or to others with consent of instructor. S Major.

551 S Senior Research.
Research carried out in collaboration with a faculty member. Includes written and oral presentation. Prerequisite, 550. S Major.