Physics Major

See Also:

Physics Minor

Physics Major Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete a major in Physics are expected to

  • Demonstrate strong analytical and problem-solving skills and some degree of physical intuition;
  • Have a broad understanding of the fundamentals of physics, the connections between the different areas of physics and the limitations of each;
  • Be able to design and carry-out an independent research project;
  • Understand the societal impacts of science and technology;
  • Appreciate physics as a valuable human endeavor.

The Physics Major

A major in Physics leads to the Bachelor of Science degree and usually requires a minimum of 64 credit hours, including at least 40 credits in Physics as well as additional credits in mathematics and other sciences. Physics majors are required to have a GPA of at least 2.0 in Physics at graduation. All Physics courses taken at Allegheny on a letter-grade basis are included in the calculation, with the following exceptions: 1) courses below the 100-level (e.g. PHYS 020 and PHYS 065); 2) repeated courses for which only the most recent grade counts. Only the first Physics course taken at Allegheny (usually 101 or 110) may be taken on a Credit/No Credit basis. The following courses are required for the major:

Core Courses:


12 credits

MATH 160 - Calculus I
MATH 170 - Calculus II
PHYS 272 - Mathematics for Physical Science (or both MATH 210 - Calculus III: Multivariate Calculus and MATH 280 - Ordinary Differential Equations)

Core Physics Courses:

12 credits

With departmental approval, students may use PHYS 101 and PHYS 102 in place of PHYS 110 and PHYS 120.

PHYS 110 - Core Concepts in Physics I
PHYS 120 - Core Concepts in Physics II
PHYS 210 - Core Concepts in Physics III

Programming and Simulation:

PHYS 280 - Programming and Simulation

Investigative Approaches in Physics:

FSPHY 201 - Investigative Approaches in Physics

Basic Science Courses:

CHEM 120 - Chemical Concepts 1
PHYS 260 - Introduction to Thermal Physics OR
CHEM 122 - Chemical Concepts 2 At least 4 credits from the Natural Science Division that are at the 100-level or above and are not in Physics, Mathematics, or physical chemistry (physical chemistry courses include CHEM 242, CHEM 345, and CHEM 422-429).

Intermediate Courses:

  • A minimum of 12 credits in Physics at the 300-level is required

Advanced Courses:

  • At least 2 credits in Physics at the 400-level.
  • 2 credits of Junior Seminar (PHYS 580)
  • At least 4 credits of Senior Project (PHYS 620, or PHYS 600 and PHYS 610).


Physics has become rather broad, ranging from interdisciplinary subdisciplines in astrophysics, biophysics and chemical physics, to traditional subdisciplines in condensed matter physics and optical physics. In order to provide some focus for the student, each student who declares physics as a major must work with an advisor in the physics department to plan a course of study which may be either a standard physics emphasis or a major with an interdisciplinary emphasis. With the aid of his or her advisor, the student must prepare, for departmental approval, a written description and rationale for the course of study. This description must be submitted by the end of the fourth week of the junior year (typically fall semester). It must include a plan of courses to be taken and how those courses satisfy the student's goals.

The standard physics emphasis is for those students interested in pursuing a more traditional course of study. These students would consider taking PHYS 310, PHYS 340, PHYS 330 or PHYS 350, and PHYS 370 or PHYS 380. Any Physics course at the 400-level would be useful to this emphasis.

Examples of possible interdisciplinary emphases and possible courses beyond the core courses are described below:

  • Applied Physics: Students interested in applied physics or who plan to go on into engineering disciplines might construct an emphasis that includes both experimental physics courses, PHYS 330 and PHYS 350 along with PHYS 310, PHYS 340 or PHYS 370. CHEM 122 and an additional chemistry course should also be considered. Most physics courses at the 400-level would be useful for this emphasis.
  • Astrophysics: Students interested in physics and astronomy might construct an emphasis that includes PHYS 320; PHYS 310, PHYS 340 or PHYS 350; and PHYS 380. Courses at the 400-level most useful for this emphasis would be PHYS 420-429.
  • Biophysics: Students interested in the relationship between physics and biology might construct an emphasis that includes PHYS 330 or PHYS 350, PHYS 360, PHYS 380CHEM 122, and BIO 220. Courses at the 400-level most useful for this emphasis would be PHYS 430-439.
  • Chemical Physics: Students interested in the relationship between physics and chemistry might construct an emphasis that includes PHYS 330 or PHYS 350, PHYS 370, and PHYS 380, along with CHEM 122 and CHEM 231. Courses at the 400-level most useful for this emphasis would be PHYS 440-449.

Students are advised that if they are interested in pursuing graduate studies, there may be courses beyond the minimum requirements that they should consider. Such courses might include specific upper level physics courses as well as additional math, computer science, chemistry, or biology depending on the student's particular interest.

Academic Bulletin

Visit the Academic Bulletin for information on all majors, minors, and other programs at Allegheny college.

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