Major and Minors
Explore and Discover. Students in our undergraduate program have the opportunity to take part in the discoveries of new elements, exoplanets, and materials; to develop revolutionary models; and to push the limits of theories. As a physicist you will attack the scientific and technological challenges of the next millennium. With the experience our undergraduates gain in problem-solving, both in the classroom and in research, they are in high demand from a range of employers and top-ranked Ph.D. programs.
Major in Physics
The physics major provides a thorough grounding in the core areas of physics. It is suitable either as preparation for careers in science and engineering, or as a springboard for applying technical knowledge in such fields as business, medicine, law, public policy, and education. The major consists of 31-32 credit hours of coursework, distributed as below. Students considering majoring in physics are strongly encouraged to consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies before registering for classes.
1. Core courses covering the primary sub-disciplines of physics. Students must complete four of the following (12 credit hours):
- PHYS 2255: Modern Physics and the Quantum World
- PHYS 2275: Classical Mechanics
- PHYS 2290: Electricity, Magnetism, and Electrodynamics I
- PHYS 3200: Statistical Physics
- PHYS 3651: Quantum Mechanics
2. Laboratory work (3-4 credit hours)
- A: PHYS 1912L: Laboratory Principles I, PHYS 2255L: Laboratory Principles II, and PHYS 2953L: Introduction to Experimental Research
- B: PHYS 1501L or PHYS 1601L, PHYS 1502L or PHYS 1602L, PHYS 2255L, and PHYS 2953L
(The latter sequence if the student has entered the major by taking PHYS 1501 or PHYS 1601, PHYS 1501L or 1601L, PHYS 1502 or PHYS 1602, and PHYS 1502L or PHYS 1602L.)
Students considering majoring in physics who begin in 1501 or 1601 and 1501L or 1601L in the fall semester are encouraged to take the combination PHYS 1502 + PHYS 1912L or PHYS 1602 + PHYS 1912L in the spring semester. Students may not use AP credit for PHYS 1601L and PHYS 1602L to satisfy any portion of the laboratory sequence requirement.
3. Electives (9 credit hours)
Pedagogical coursework in physics and/or astronomy. Research hours (PHYS 3850, PHYS 3851, PHYS 4998) do not count toward this requirement. The course electives may be taken from any 2000-level or higher PHYS or ASTR courses not used to satisfy any other requirement of the major. Other courses may count as electives, such as courses offered by the School of Engineering or other departments and schools that are particularly relevant, such as a course in environmental studies, health physics, optics, or materials science. Such exceptions must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
4. Capstone (7 credit hours):
- PHYS 3790: Computational Physics
- Three credit hours of research (PHYS 3850, PHYS 3851, or PHYS 4998) taken across one or more semesters
- PHYS 3600: Seminar in Presenting Physics Research
- Physics-related research done in other departments and programs, supervised by Vanderbilt faculty and pre-approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, is also permitted in satisfaction of the research requirement.
Minor in Physics
The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a minor for students who wish to combine some study of physics with other majors. You do not have to be bound for a career in the physical sciences to benefit from a minor in physics. In addition to the option for graduate study in a scientific field, physics minors build on their problem solving, mathematical, and computational skills to pursue careers in law, medicine, pharmacology, business, consulting, teaching, military leadership, and (increasingly) computer programming. The minor in physics requires the completion of 17-19 credit hours, as distributed below.
- Any first-semester physics class – PHYS 1501, PHYS 1601, PHYS 1911, or PHYS 2051 (3-4 hours)
- Any first-semester physics laboratory – PHYS 1501L, PHYS 1601L, PHYS 1912L, or PHYS 2052 (1 hour)
- Any second-semester physics class – PHYS 1502, PHYS 1602, PHYS 1912, or PHYS 2053 (3-4 hours)
- Any second-semester physics laboratory – PHYS 1502L, PHYS 1602L, PHYS 2255L, or PHYS 2054 (1 hour)
- PHYS 2255 or PHYS 3651 (3 hours)
- Six credit hours of electives. These may be selected from any 2000-level or higher-level PHYS courses not used to satisfy the above requirements, or from 3 credit hour non-PHYS courses. The latter must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and may include up to three credit hours of research – PHYS 3850, PHYS 3851, or PHYS 4998.
Minor in Astronomy
The minor in astronomy is designed for non-physics majors who wish to pursue their interest in astronomy. Students interested in scientific careers in astronomy should pursue a major in physics, supplemented with advanced astrophysics courses. The minor in astronomy requires the completion of 16 credit hours, as distributed below.
- ASTR 1010 and either ASTR1010L or ASTR 1020L; or ASTR 1210 (4 hours)
- ASTR 2110 (3 hours)
- ASTR 3000 (3 hours)
- Two other astronomy courses, one of which may be a 3 credit hour, one-semester research project: ASTR 3850, ASTR 3851 or ASTR 4998. Note that only physics majors pursuing Honors in astronomy are eligible to enroll in ASTR 4998. (6 hours)
Declaring a Major or Minor
A student wishing to declare a major or minor should download and complete the Major/Minor Declaration/Change Form. The Director of Undergraduate Studies will assign an adviser to you. Email your signed form, with your new adviser’s name and signatures/emailed approvals, in one email to the Arts and Science Office of Academic Services. For students with multiple majors/minors, the email and form sent to the OAS must have the signatures/email permissions of all major/minor advisers.