Traditionally, the Department of Physics and Astronomy has only offered calculus-based introductory physics courses. Each of the classes in the two-semester PHYS226+PHYS227 sequence, with associated labs, enrolls roughly 50-60 students per year.  This sequence serves physics, chemistry, and biology majors emphasizing in biochemistry well.  It works less well for other students, the vast majority of whom are pre-health biology and neuroscience majors.

During the summer of 2021, the Department of Physics and Astronomy undertook two surveys designed to probe the efficacy of the introductory physics sequence.  One survey was sent to all individuals that took PHYS226 or PHYS227 since fall 2015, while the other survey was sent to Macalester students who elected to take non-calculus-based physics during the same time period (e.g., via ACTC).  A prominent and recurring theme among pre-health students that responded to these surveys is that they would prefer non-calculus-based classes, since calculus-based physics is no longer required for admission to most medical schools.  After careful consideration of these survey results, the Department of Physics and Astronomy next engaged the “Health Professions Advising” group to discern the level of support for a sequence of non-calculus-based introductory physics classes.  This group (which included faculty members Aanonsen, Chatterjea, Jansen, Montgomery, Rogers, Shields-Cutler, Splan, and Strauss) was unanimously in favor of offering a non-calculus-based option.

Therefore, starting in the 2022-2023 academic year, the Department of Physics and Astronomy will offer the following introductory courses:

  • PHYS126, “Introductory Physics I”:  non-calculus-based course with labs
  • PHYS226, “Principles of Physics I”:  calculus-based course with labs

Spring semester introductory courses:

  • PHYS127, “Introductory Physics II”:  non-calculus-based course with labs
  • PHYS227, “Principles of Physics II”:  calculus-based course with labs

The official course descriptions of the new classes are as follows:

PHYS 126: Introductory Physics I

Mechanics, heat and sound, including laboratory experiments and demonstrations. This course does not use calculus, has no prerequisites, and is appropriate for students pursuing pre-med or for students looking to satisfy a science distribution requirement. This course does not count toward the physics major or minor. This course is not appropriate for students who intend to major in physics, chemistry, or biology with the biochemistry emphasis. Fall semesters. (4 credits)

PHYS 127: Introductory Physics II

Electricity and magnetism, light and optics, including laboratory experiments and demonstrations. This course does not use calculus, and is appropriate for students pursuing pre-med or for students looking to satisfy a distribution requirement. This course is not appropriate for students who intend to major in physics, chemistry, or biology with the biochemistry emphasis. Spring semesters. Prerequisite: successful completion of PHYS 126 or PHYS 226. (4 credits)

In the 2022-2023 academic year, PHYS126 and PHYS127 will be taught by Professor Saki Khan.  The laboratory sections will be taught by Brian Adams.  In the fall 2022 semester, the lecture component of PHYS126 will meet MWF 9:40-10:40.  Students must enroll in one of the two laboratory sections (M 2:20-4:20 or M 7:00-9:00 PM).

Students who intend to major in physics, chemistry, or biology with a biochemistry emphasis should complete the calculus-based introductory sequence (PHYS226 and PHYS227).

Questions or reactions can be directed to Professor John M. Cannon, Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy (jcannon@macalester.edu).