Majors & Minors

Physics Major | Physics Minor

General Distribution Requirement

All courses in the physics and astronomy department except some topics courses and those numbered PHYS 614, PHYS 624, PHYS 634 and PHYS 644 count toward the general distribution requirement in mathematics and natural science.

General Education Requirements

Courses that meet the general education requirements in writing, quantitative thinking, internationalism and multiculturalism will be posted on the Registrar’s web page in advance of registration for each semester.

Additional information regarding the general distribution requirement and the general education requirements can be found in the graduation requirements section of this catalog.

Honors Program

The physics and astronomy department participates in the honors program. Eligibility requirements, application procedures and specific project expectations for the physics and astronomy department are available from either the department office or the Director of Academic Programs.

Topics Courses

PHYS 194, PHYS 294, PHYS 394, PHYS 494

These temporary courses are offered by instructors at their own initiative or in response to student requests. The following are examples of recent offerings: Cosmology, Condensed Matter Physics, Nanoscience, Particle Physics, Biomechanics, Chemical Physics, and General Relativity. To be announced at registration. (2–4 credits)

Independent Study

The department offers independent study options in the form of independent projects, internships, preceptorships and Honors independent projects. For more information contact the department and review the Curriculum section of the catalog.

Physics Major

Major Requirements

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, PHYS 227, PHYS 331, PHYS 348, PHYS 443, PHYS 461, PHYS 468, PHYS 481, and PHYS 489, 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 334, PHYS 444 and mathematics at least through multi-variable calculus, differential equations and linear algebra. Note that many graduate programs require proficiency in a foreign language and/or a computer language.

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 will be expected to give a formal talk on their capstone project as part of the Physics Seminar.

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:

First Year

Fall Term

Spring Term

Sophomore Year

Fall Term

Spring Term

The Oak Ridge Program

This program is jointly sponsored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest and the Great Lakes Colleges Association. It affords students a one-term period of study and research participation at Oak Ridge. The department makes every effort to support applications by qualified students for participation in this program. Sixteen credits in physics are granted to physics majors who complete the program.

Engineering

Macalester does not offer engineering courses. However, students who desire to pursue engineering as a career may earn a graduate degree in an engineering field after graduation from Macalester or they may complete a cooperative 3-2 engineering program at the University of Minnesota or Washington University.

Physics Major with Astronomy Emphasis

This option is designed for students with a strong interest in astronomy and astrophysics who may be contemplating post-graduate work in these areas. The physics major with astronomy emphasis includes the following courses required for the physics major: PHYS 226, PHYS 227, PHYS 331, PHYS 443, PHYS 461, PHYS 468 and PHYS 489 (1 credit). In addition, students must take PHYS 460 - Astrophysics and PHYS 440 - Observational Astronomy. The capstone requirements for a physics major with astronomy emphasis are identical to those for a physics major. For students with little or no astronomy background we strongly recommend starting with PHYS 113 and PHYS 120. Students considering graduate work in astronomy or astrophysics should also consider taking PHYS 468 and PHYS 481, mathematics through MATH 312, and having some computer programming experience (e.g. COMP 120 or higher). Those students choosing a major with an astronomy emphasis will have this noted on their transcripts (e.g. Physics Major with Astronomy Emphasis).

Physics Minor

Minor Requirements

The minor in physics consists of PHYS 226, PHYS 227, PHYS 331 and two electives in physics numbered above PHYS 331.