Physics and Astronomy

Dale A. Syphers, Department Chair
Emily C. Briley, Department Coordinator

Professors: Thomas Baumgarte, Elizabeth F. McCormack, Madeleine E. Msall†, Stephen G. Naculich, Dale A. Syphers
Associate Professor: Mark O. Battle
Senior Lecturer: Karen Topp
Visiting Faculty: Juan R. Burciaga
Laboratory Instructors: Kenneth Dennison, Gary L. Miers

Requirements for the Major in Physics

The major requires nine courses.
Required courses:

  • Mathematics through 1700, or placement above 1700
  • Physics 1130, or placement above 1130
  • Physics 1140
  • Physics 2130
  • Physics 2140
  • Physics 2150
  • one advanced methods course (Physics 3000, 3010, or 3020)
  • two additional approved courses higher than 1140 (one may be Mathematics 1800 or higher; or Computer Science 1101)

In addition to the requirements listed above, students pursuing honors are expected to take: Mathematics 1800, Physics 3000, and Physics 4050.

  • At least three courses taken for the major must be at the advanced level, 3000–3999.

Requirements for the Minor in Physics

The minor consists of at least four physics courses (completed at Bowdoin) numbered 1130 or higher, one of which must be Physics 1140.

Interdisciplinary Majors

The department participates in interdisciplinary programs in chemical physics and physics and education. See Interdisciplinary Majors. The department does not participate in a formal interdisciplinary program with the Department of Earth and Oceanographic Science. However, the Departments of Physics and Earth and Oceanographic Science have identified major/minor pathways for students majoring in physics with an interest in earth and oceanographic science (physics major/earth and oceanographic science minor) and students majoring in earth and oceanographic science with an interest in physics (earth and oceanographic science major/physics minor).

Students pursuing the physics major/earth and oceanographic science minor with interests in the solid earth discipline would be best served by selecting Earth and Oceanographic Science 1105, 2005 (same as Environmental Studies 2221), and two of the following earth and oceanographic science courses: 2125, 2145, 2165, or 3115.

Those with interests in the surface earth discipline should select Earth and Oceanographic Science 1305 (same as Environmental Studies 1104), 2005 (same as Environmental Studies 2221); and two from 2315 (same as Environmental Studies 2277), 2325, 2345 (same as Environmental Studies 2270), or 2355.

Those with interests in the oceanography discipline should choose Earth and Oceanographic Science 1505, 2005 (same as Environmental Studies 2221); and two from 2525, 2530, 2540, 2585 (same as Environmental Studies 2282), 2635 (same as Environmental Studies 2267), or 3515.

Students planning to pursue one of the 3-2 engineering options and graduating with a physics degree must take Physics 1140, 2130, 2150, and 3000 or Mathematics 2208; Chemistry 1102 or 1109; Mathematics through 1800; and Computer Science 1101. Other courses are expected by the engineering institution and students should contact the advisor in the department.

Additional Information

  • Students must earn a grade of C- or above in any prerequisite physics course. Up to two courses with a grade of D are allowed to be counted toward the major if they are not prerequisites.
  • Majors must complete at least five physics courses at Bowdoin.
  • Courses that count toward the major or minor must be taken for regular letter grades (not Credit/D/Fail).
  • Students interested in applying course work taken at another college or university to the major or minor should consult the department.
  • Independent studies, including honors projects, may count toward the major or minor.
  • Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate (AP/IB):
    • Students who receive a minimum score of four on the Physics 1 AP exam are eligible to receive one credit toward the major, are exempt from taking Physics 1130, and do not need to take an additional course to replace it.
    • Students who receive a minimum score of four on the Physics C: Mechanics AP exam or a minimum score of six on the Physics without Optics IB exam are eligible to receive one credit toward the major, are exempt from taking Physics 1130, and are placed in Physics 1140. To earn the credit, a minimum grade of C- (not taken Credit/D/Fail) must be received in Physics 1140 by the end of their junior year or no credit is awarded. Students who receive a minimum score of six on the Physics with Optics IB exam are eligible to receive one credit toward the major, and have the option of being placed in either Physics 1140 or Physics 2130. To receive the credit, the student must earn a minimum grade of C- (not taken Credit/D/Fail) in the course in which they choose to be placed, and it must be completed by the end of their junior year.
    • Minors meeting either of the criteria above are exempt from taking Physics 1130, but must take at least four Bowdoin physics courses.
    • No credit is awarded for the Physics 2 or Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism AP exams.
    • in order to receive credit for AP/IB work, students must have their scores officially reported to the Office of the Registrar by the end of their sophomore year at Bowdoin.
  • The major program depends to some extent on the student’s goals, which should be discussed with the department. Those who intend to do graduate work in physics or an allied field should plan to do an honors project.
  • Students considering a program in engineering should consult Special Areas of Study.
  • A major with an interest in an interdisciplinary area such as geophysics, biophysics, or oceanography should choose appropriate courses in related departments.
  • Secondary school teaching requires a broad base in science courses, as well as the necessary courses for teacher certification. Students who know they want to do this should consider the physics and education interdisciplinary major.
  • For a career in industrial management, some courses in economics and government should be included.included. 

(Department/Program website)