The major in physics provides a rigorous study of many topics in the field of physics that are fundamental for every scientific and technological discipline. The physics major is particularly appropriate for students wishing to pursue graduate study in physics, astronomy, engineering, medicine and related areas, as well as for those seeking positions in technology-oriented business and industry. For example, a double major in physics and computer science would be excellent preparation for graduate study in computer engineering.
The minimum requirements for the physics major are 33 physics credits. These include the nine courses numbered PHYS 226 - Principles of Physics I , PHYS 227 - Principles of Physics II , PHYS 331 - Modern Physics , PHYS 348 - Laboratory Instrumentation , PHYS 443 - Electromagnetic Theory , PHYS 461 - Mechanics , PHYS 468 - Statistical Mechanics , PHYS 481 - Quantum Mechanics , and PHYS 489 - Physics Seminar , and completion of an independent project to satisfy the senior capstone requirement (see below). All physics majors are expected to develop the computer skills necessary to obtain solutions for meaningful problems.
Students intending to pursue graduate study in physics, astronomy, engineering or other closely related disciplines should consult with a department faculty advisor to consider which advanced elective courses would be most appropriate for their career goals. For example, preparation for graduate study in physics should include PHYS 444 - Electromagnetic Radiation , Electromagnetic Radiation and PHYS 482 - Advanced Quantum Mechanics . These advanced electives are offered in alternate years.
The senior capstone requirement in physics and astronomy is satisfied by participation as a senior in the PHYS 489 - Physics Seminar , and completion of an approved research experience, an approved independent project, or a senior honors thesis. Students are expected to give a formal talk on their capstone project as part of the Physics Seminar, and to submit a capstone paper subject that is subject to a peer review process. Papers meeting appropriate standards are publshed in the Macalester Journal of Physics.
Starting with the class graduating in 2020, three semesters of PHYS 489 - Physics Seminar taken during the junior and senior year are required. One of these semesters must be the spring semester of the senior year.
The Physics Plus program was created based on feedback from alumni enrolled in premier graduate physics programs. Its purpose is to provide further preparation to those majors who intend to enroll in graduate school after graduation. The program requires majors to complete at least two out of three second semester courses in Quantum Mechanics (PHYS 482 ), Electrodynamics (PHYS 444 ), and Astrophysics, and at least one additional special topics course or elective, numbered above 331, beyond the core physics curriculum. The department provides majors who complete the Physics Plus program with an official letter, explaining the program and confirming that the student has met its requirements.
Students expecting to complete a major in physics are urged to make early contact with the department for help in evaluating advanced placement options and for assistance in planning course selections. A typical schedule for the first two years for a student without advanced placement follows: