Physics
Offered by the Physics and Astronomy department.

As physicists, we use our creativity and a diverse array of problem-solving skills to probe the nature of the universe.

Dynamics cart lab in Introductory PhysicsWheaton physics students enjoy the advantages of small classes, close contact with faculty, and camaraderie with fellow students. We offer an outstanding and individualized hands-on curriculum that challenges students to become involved in every stage of the problem-solving process. The mark of a Wheaton physics education at all levels is to complement rigorous coursework with experiences that call students to experiment and confront uncertainty.

By the time they graduate, all of our students have worked on original scientific research. Research in our department is concentrated in the areas of optics, lasers, astronomy, climate physics, and planetary science. Students have co-authored papers published in top journals, and presented their research at national scientific meetings.

Major in Physics

Physics major worksheet

The major in physics consists of a minimum of 11 semester physics courses, as outlined below, chosen in consultation with members of the department so as to form a coherent program in support of the student’s interests and goals.

Required courses

PHYS 170 OR PHYS 180 Enhanced Introductory Physics I
PHYS 171 OR PHYS 181 Introductory Physics II (Enhanced)
PHYS 225 Modern Physics
PHYS 311 Classical Mechanics
PHYS 350 Experimental Physics

The following three core physics courses. With department approval, another 300-level physics course may replace ONE of these courses, but students considering graduate school in physics or astronomy should take all three.

PHYS 310 Statistical and Thermal Physics
PHYS 314 Electric and Magnetic Fields
PHYS 370 Quantum Mechanics

Two or more of the following courses:

PHYS 110 Electronic Circuits
PHYS 226 Optics
PHYS 227 Remote Sensing
PHYS 228 Scientific Computing
AST 272 Introduction to Astrophysics
PHYS 298 Meteorology and Oceanography
AST 302 Advanced Astrophysics
PHYS 360 Geophysics

Mathematics requirement

MATH 236 Multivariable Calculus

CAPSTONE EXPERIENCE:
 All majors in their junior and senior year are required to participate in a research project for one semester or for a summer. Each student is required to write a report and give an oral presentation about the project.

Recommended courses outside the department

MATH 221 Linear Algebra and MATH 212 Differential Equations are highly recommended for students planning on pursuing graduate school in astronomy, engineering, physics or related fields. Computer Programming (COMP 115 is also highly recommended.

Physics and Engineering: Dual Degree

Students who are interested in using physics as a base to pursue an engineering career should consider participating in a Wheaton dual-degree program in engineering. This program allows students completing three years at Wheaton and two or more additional years at another institution to earn a bachelor of arts degree from Wheaton and a bachelor’s degree in Engineering.

Departmental honors

Departmental honors will be awarded to students who successfully complete the Senior Honors Thesis and have an average of B+ or better in the major and an average of B or better overall.

 

Minor in Physics

Physics minor worksheet

The minor in Physics consists of a minimum of five courses, including PHYS 225 and PHYS 350, chosen in consultation with members of the department.

  • Physics

    PHYS 098 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Physics

    PHYS 099 – Independent Study

    Independent study on topics in physics, astronomy or geology not covered by the regular course offerings. Content varies with the interest of students and instructors.

  • Physics

    PHYS 107 – The Physics of Music and Sound

    For students of music and others. What sound is, how sounds combine, the distinctions between musical and nonmusical sound, the characteristics of sounds produced by different instruments, sound recording and reproduction, and human perception of sound. Includes lecture demonstration.

  • Physics

    PHYS 110 – Electronic Circuits

    A laboratory-oriented introduction to modern electronics, which progresses from simple circuits using discrete solid-state components to those using integrated circuits common to computers and control devices. Students will gain insight into the way computers work and learn how to use microcomputers to control simple devices. No previous work in physics or electronics is required.

  • Physics

    PHYS 160 – Geology

    The origin, evolution and behavior of the Earth, the processes that shape the Earth today and investigation of the geologic record to see how these processes have operated in the past. Topics include earthquakes, volcanoes, erosion, rocks and minerals, the interior of the Earth, Earth history and plate tectonics. Laboratories and field trips to investigate local geology are included.

  • Physics

    PHYS 165 – Climate Change, Past and Present

    A detailed survey of the physical processes which control the long-term state of the Earth’s atmosphere and ocean, including discussion of how climate has changed over the Earth’s history, and how it might change in the future. Emphasis on feedback processes and interactions between physical climate, biology and human society.

  • Physics

    PHYS 170 – Introductory Physics I

    The principles of Newtonian mechanics as applied to solids, liquids and gases. Introduction to heat and thermodynamics. Recommended for students in science, mathematics and engineering dual-degree programs. No previous work in physics is assumed.

  • Physics

    PHYS 171 – Introductory Physics II

    The fundamentals of electric and magnetic phenomena including circuit theory. The theory of oscillations and waves. Introduction to geometrical and physical optics. Recommended for students in science, mathematics and engineering dual-degree programs.

  • Physics

    PHYS 180 – Enhanced Introductory Physics I

    An enhanced version of Physics 170 – Introductory Physics I (PHYS 170), offering students an opportunity to work at a faster pace and/or with more advanced materials.

  • Physics

    PHYS 181 – Introductory Physics II (Enhanced)

    An enhanced version of Physics 171 – Introductory Physics II (PHYS 171), offering students an opportunity to work at a faster pace and/or with more advanced materials. Typically these courses award an additional half credit for the extra work and time required of them.

  • Physics

    PHYS 198 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Physics

    PHYS 199 – Independent Study

    Independent study on topics in physics, astronomy or geology not covered by the regular course offerings. Content varies with the interest of students and instructors.

  • Physics

    PHYS 225 – Modern Physics

    Introduction to the special theory of relativity, atomic physics, nuclear physics and elementary quantum theory. This course may be considered to be a third semester of introductory physics.

  • Physics

    PHYS 226 – Optics

    Geometric and wave optics, including reflection, refraction, scattering, diffraction, interference, polarization and nonlinear phenomena. Applications to microscopes, telescopes, spectroscopy, lasers, fiber optics, holography and a variety of modern optical materials. The course includes a significant amount of laboratory work outside of class.

  • Physics

    PHYS 227 – Remote Sensing

    A great deal can be learned about the Earth by studying the different wavelengths of light reflected or emitted from its surface. Students will learn the theory, collection and interpretation of remotely sensed data from aircraft and satellites, through hands-on projects related to geology, ecology, human land use and environmental monitoring.

  • Physics

    PHYS 228 – Scientific Computing

    Computational techniques for solving problems in the physical sciences. Topics include time series analysis, root-finding, and numerical techniques for ordinary and partial differential equations: these techniques are used to solve problems in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, geophysics, climatology, chemistry, and ecology. Appropriate for students with calculus experience, plus some further coursework in either math, physics, chemistry, or computer science.

  • Physics

    PHYS 298 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Physics

    PHYS 299 – Independent Study

    Independent study on topics in physics, astronomy or geology not covered by the regular course offerings. Content varies with the interest of students and instructors.

  • Physics

    PHYS 310 – Statistical and Thermal Physics

    The principles of the physics of systems having many particles. A statistical (microscopic) approach to the thermodynamic (macroscopic) properties of many-particle systems, such as pressure, volume, temperature, entropy, free energy and heat capacity.

  • Physics

    PHYS 311 – Classical Mechanics

    Advanced topics dealing with classical mechanical systems. Small oscillations and waves. The calculus of variations, Fourier analysis and series solutions of differential equations are some of the mathematical methods developed and used.

  • Physics

    PHYS 314 – Electric and Magnetic Fields

    Classical electricity and magnetism, electromagnetic fields and waves. Vector calculus and much of potential theory will be developed and used throughout the course.

  • Physics

    PHYS 350 – Experimental Physics

    Advanced laboratory. Students will perform a variety of experiments from the various branches of physics and astronomy chosen to suit their individual needs and interests.

  • Physics

    PHYS 360 – Geophysics

    Use of the principles of physics to understand current geologic phenomena and the evolution of the Earth and planets. Topics include the structure and evolution of the interiors of the Earth and other planets, deformation of solid material, seismology, heat generation and transport, dynamics of the ocean and atmosphere, hydrology, gravity anomalies, geomagnetism and impact cratering.

  • Physics

    PHYS 370 – Quantum Mechanics

    The principles of quantum mechanics. Schroedinger’s equation and applications to some physical systems. Observables, operators and expectation values. Operator algebra. Angular momentum and spin. Approximation methods.

  • Physics

    PHYS 398 – Experimental Course

    From time to time, departments design a new course to be offered either on a one-time basis or an experimental basis before deciding whether to make it a regular part of the curriculum. Refer to the course schedule for current listings.

  • Physics

    PHYS 399 – Selected Topics

    Independent study on topics in physics, astronomy or geology not covered by the regular course offerings. Content varies with the interest of students and instructors.

  • Physics

    PHYS 499 – Independent Research

    A research project in physics, astronomy or geology supervised by a faculty member of the department.

  • Physics

    PHYS 500 – Individual Research

    Investigation of a problem in physics, astronomy or geology under the guidance of a faculty member. Need to write a thesis and take an oral examination. Open to junior and senior majors who are candidates for departmental honors.

Timothy Barker

Professor of Astronomy

Xuesheng Chen

Professor of Physics; Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Geoffrey Collins

Professor of Geology

John Michael Collins

Professor of Physics

Jason C. Goodman

Associate Professor of Physics

Anthony Houser

Instructor of Physics

Dipankar Maitra

Assistant Professor of Physics/Astronomy

Brooke Osborne

Brown/Wheaton Faculty Fellow