Please note: The information displayed here is current as of Friday, May 24, 2019, but the official Course Catalog should be used for all official planning.

2014-2015 Course Catalog


This catalog was created on Friday, May 24, 2019.


Physics represents an inquiry, both theoretical and experimental, into the nature of the physical universe. The theoretical approach involves constructing and exploring abstract models of nature, while the experimental approach involves investigations of physical systems that provide avenues for evaluating theories and for suggesting new theories. Taken together, theory and experiment aim at the construction of a single, compact, and far-reaching conceptual framework that accounts for all properties of the physical universe.

The physics curriculum at Lawrence is structured to help the student develop a firm grasp of the important theories and a secure competence in contemporary experimental techniques. Requirements for the major reflect this structure. On the theoretical side, the major moves from a general survey to more detailed intermediate courses to advanced electives, culminating in a theoretical Senior Experience project. On the experimental side, the major moves from a study of standard techniques of data analysis to an intermediate laboratory in electronics to a project-oriented advanced laboratory, possibly culminating in an experimental Senior Experience project. Throughout the curriculum, contemporary computational approaches to problems in physics play a significant role alongside the traditional approaches.

Prospective engineers will find that a major in physics automatically fulfills nearly all of the requirements for Lawrence’s 3-2 engineering program.

Students who have strong secondary interests in biology, chemistry, or geology may construct majors involving physics and one of the other three natural sciences, using the interdisciplinary major in the natural sciences.

In addition, a minor in physics offers an opportunity for those who wish to supplement a major in another discipline with a significant exposure to physics.

Required for the physics major

PHYS 220, 225, 230, 310, 320, 330, and two additional six-unit courses chosen from PHYS 340 and above, excluding directed study, tutorial, and independent study courses taken as part of the Senior Experience or for other reasons. Physics majors without advanced placement should start with PHYS 141, 151 and 160. Majors who do not intend to pursue graduate study in physics may petition the department to substitute appropriate upper-level offerings in other departments for up to two of the required physics electives. The following program is typical:

  • Freshman: PHYS 151, 160; MATH 140, 150, 160
  • Sophomore: PHYS 220, 225, 230; MATH 210
  • Junior: PHYS 310, 320, 330; physics electives
  • Senior: PHYS 599 or 699, Senior Experience; physics electives

Additional courses in mathematics, chemistry, computer science biology, and geology are often elected. The prospective major should consult early and regularly with the faculty in the department.

Required for the interdisciplinary major in the natural sciences in physics and a secondary discipline

  1. PHYS 151 and 160
  2. Any two of
    1. BIOL 130, 150, and 170
    2. CHEM 115 and 116 or equivalent
    3. GEOL 110 (any section) and GEOL 210
    chosen to include the secondary discipline.
  3. At least 10 six-unit courses in the sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, physics) numbered 200 or above, with at least five in physics and at least three in the secondary discipline. The five courses in physics must include PHYS 225, 230, 310, and 330.

Required for the physics minor

  1. PHYS 151 and 160
  2. PHYS 225
  3. Three additional six-unit courses in physics, at least two of which must be chosen from physics courses numbered 220 and above, excluding independent studies and capstone courses, and no more than one of which can be chosen from PHYS 103-115 and PHYS 205.
  4. C average in the minor

A student pursuing a minor in physics must consult with a member of the department early and often to plan and monitor progress in the minor.

Opportunities for non-majors

The physics curriculum offers non-majors the opportunity to take one or more terms of physics as part of their liberal education. Although every course is open to all suitably prepared students, PHYS 103, 107, 110, 112, 115, 141, 151, 160, and 220 have traditionally attracted non-majors.

The laboratory science General Education Requirement

The following courses in the physics department satisfy the university‘s degree requirement of one laboratory course in natural science: PHYS 103, 107, 110, 141, 151, 160, 220, 330.

Graduate School

Majors preparing for graduate school in physics will probably take more courses in physics than the required minimum. PHYS 430, 440, and 460 are recommended for all such students. Other departmental offerings (PHYS 340, 410, 500-570) are appropriate for students with particular interests in the topics of those courses. All students contemplating graduate studies in physics should undertake at least one term of independent study/ research in the senior year and/or seek opportunities at Lawrence or elsewhere for full-time research during the summer after the junior year. Students contemplating graduate studies in physics should discuss their plans early and often with members of the department.

Certification for secondary teaching in physics

Majors seeking certification to teach physics at the secondary level should read the section of this catalog on teacher certification and consult early and often with members of the Department of Education. Physics majors who plan to teach physics at the secondary level may petition the department to substitute physics courses numbered below 199 for the two required physics electives.

Recommended courses outside the department

Courses in mathematics, chemistry, and computer science are frequently elected to support a major in physics, but courses in geology, biology, economics, philosophy, anthropology, and other areas have occasionally been chosen by physics majors whose post-graduation objectives have an interdisciplinary dimension. With departmental approval, up to two upper-level courses in other departments may be substituted for required physics electives.

Advanced Placement

Students with strong backgrounds should seek advanced placement and credit, normally by submitting scores on the Physics Advanced Placement Examination of the Educational Testing Service. Advanced placement without credit is awarded to students who submit satisfactory evidence that they both understand most of PHYS 141 or 151 and are able to remedy weaknesses on their own initiative.

International and off-campus study

International and off-campus study The Associated Colleges of the Midwest program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is available to majors in physics. Further, with careful advance planning, physics majors at Lawrence can arrange to be off campus for a term — typically the Winter or Spring Term of the junior year — without jeopardizing progress in the major. Thus, physics majors can participate in off-campus programs, even if those programs contain no scientific components. The Lawrence London Centre, among others, has been a popular destination for physics majors.

Course Numbering

Courses of general interest requiring minimal or no prerequisite are numbered 103-115. The introductory courses, 141, 151, and 160, require elementary calculus. PHYS 141 introduces ideas in calculus together with concepts in physics. The calculus introduced in PHYS 141 will not replace any mathematics prerequisites in courses numbered 160 and higher. Intermediate courses are numbered between 200 and 300 and typically list calculus and differential equations as prerequisites. Advanced courses, many of which list one or more intermediate courses as prerequisites, are intended for juniors and seniors and are numbered above 300. Tutorial studies in physics and independent study in physics also are offered.

Senior Experience in Physics

The Senior Experience in the Department of Physics consists of an independent investigation tailored to the individual student’s goals in physics. The process consists of a formal project proposal to the Department followed by one or two six-unit independent study courses under faculty supervision and culminating in a capstone thesis paper.
All seniors will participate in a two-unit senior seminar in which they present their work orally. Students with double majors or degrees may propose initiatives that span multiple departments but both departments must approve such proposals before the project goes forward.