Department Requirements

The Physics Major

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 interested in engineering should investigate the Engineering Programs available through Bowdoin. A major student with an interest in an interdisciplinary area such as geophysics, biophysics, or oceanography will 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. For a career in industrial management, some courses in economics and government should be included. All students are held to the major requirements in the catalog at the time that they declare the major.

Requirements for the Major in Physics

A student majoring in physics is expected to complete Mathematics 1600, 1700, Physics 1130 , 1140, 2130, 2140, 2150, one 3000-level methods course (Physics 3000, 3010, or 3020), and two additional approved courses above 1140 (one of which may be Mathematics 1800 or above, or Computer Science 1101 or above). At least five physics courses must be taken at Bowdoin.

For honors work, a student is expected to complete Mathematics 1600, 1700, 1800, and Physics 1130, 1140, 2130, 2140, 2150, 3000, 4050, and four additional courses, three of which must be at the 3000 level or above.

Requirements for the Minor in Physics

The minor consists of at least four Bowdoin physics courses numbered 1130 or higher, one of which must be Physics 1140. Four physics courses must be taken at Bowdoin for the minor.

Interdisciplinary Majors

The department participates in interdisciplinary programs in chemical physics and earth and oceanographic science and physics. See the Interdisciplinary Majors Section of the College Catalogue.

Transfer of Credit for Physics Courses

Students planning on taking introductory physics courses elsewhere need to obtain approval for transfer of credit prior to taking the course.  If the student has already enrolled in or completed a course elsewhere, College policy states the student must petition the Recording Committee in order to have credit transferred.  In order to transfer credit for physics courses, the course needs to be calculus-based and must have a significant lab component.   For more details, please contact the Physics Department Chair.

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Credit Information

Individual academic departments at Bowdoin vary widely in how they award credit for students who have taken Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. For full details, please click here to be redirected to the IB and AP website maintained by the Office of the Registrar.

Departmental Learning Goals

Physics is one of the most reductive of the sciences, with one of the clearest relationships between physical theory (laws) and experimental realizations.  Its purview extends from the smallest distance scales one can imagine to the largest distance scales, from sub-atomic to cosmological. It deals with simple isolated systems, such as charged particles and atoms, all the way through complex collective systems, such as crystalline materials or neutron stars and black holes. It has an underlying simplicity in its basic structure (four basic interactions dealt with separately at the undergraduate level: electromagnetic, gravitational, weak nuclear and strong nuclear interactions), and an amazing complexity in the ways in which the four basic interactions in nature lead to physical reality (Newtonian mechanics, electromagnetic theory, optics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, special relativity, nuclear theory and general relativity).  

Our curriculum reflects both of these.  An undergraduate major in physics should give a graduating student a basic understanding of these four interactions, and provide them with an array of mathematical tools and experimental tools to explore physical phenomena involving those interactions.  Our curriculum is set up to continually test the student’s ability to use these tools to analyze physical situations.   The complexity of the material builds, with analysis at any level (1000, 200, 3000) relying on the material at a lower level as a base starting point.   The graduating student who majors in physics at Bowdoin will find their problem-solving abilities well honed, and find their problem-solving techniques applicable in a wide range of fields outside of physics.

Learning Goals for Majors:

  • 1) demonstrate the ability to use basic mathematical tools (algebra, basic differential  and/or integral calculus, trigonometry, geometry) to describe physical situations, whether experimental or theoretical (all sub-1100 courses focus on this)
  • 2) explore the relationship between physical theory and experiment, through mathematical descriptions and instrument-based verification
  • 3) improve understanding of physical law through the ability to solve increasingly complex problems in physics, with more complex mathematical tools (multivariate calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, and more complex math tools)
  • 4) demonstrate the ability to use sophisticated instrumentation to explore physical phenomena (including computation)
  • 5) throughout the various levels of the curriculum, students will improve their understanding of uncertainty, and its key role in defining how we know what we know.
  • 6) focus on expanding tools and techniques in either theoretical physics or experimental physics (or both!) at the 3000 level.


Courses Associated with Learning Goals

Physics 1130 -- 1, 2, 5 (core course) - Introductory Phys I

Physics 1140 -- 1, 2, 5 (core course) - Introductory Phys II

Physics 1510 -- 1, 2 - Introductory Astronomy

Physics 2130 -- 1, 2, 3, 5 (core course) - Electric Fields and Circuits

Physics 2140 -- 1, 3, 5 (core course) - Quantum Physics and Relativity

Physics 2150 -- 1, 3, 5 - Statistical Physics

Physics 2220 -- 1, 3 - Engineering Physics

Physics 2230 -- 4, 5 - Modern Electronics

Physics 2240 -- 1, 2, 3 - Acoustics

Physics 2250 -- 1, 3 - Physics of Solids

Physics 2260 -- 1, 3 - Nuclear and Particle Physics

Physics 2410 -- 1, 3 - Accident Reconstruction

Physics 2510 -- 1, 3 - Astrophysics

Physics 2810 -- 1, 3 - Atmospheric and Ocean Dynamics

Physics 3000 -- 3, 6 (one of 3000, 3010, 3020 a core course) - Methods of Theoretical Physics

Physics 3010 -- 4, 5, 6 (one of 3000, 3010, 3020 a core course) - Methods of Experimental Physics

Physics 3020 -- 3, 4, 6 (one of 3000, 3010, 3020 a core course) - Methods of Computational Physics

Physics 3120 -- 3, 6 - Advanced Mechanics

Physics 3130 -- 3, 6 - Electromagnetic Theory

Physics 3140 -- 3, 5, 6 - Quantum Mechanics

Physics 3200 -- 3, 6 - Fields, Particles and Symmetries

Physics 3500 -- 3, 6 - General Relativity