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Department of Physics and Astronomy

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Physics and Astronomy Majors

Note: the rules for the major and minor in Physics have been changed from those explained below, with the changes effective for students entering Vanderbilt in Fall 2017.  Students who have already matriculated at Vanderbilt effective March 31, 2017, will still follow the pre-2017 rules for Physics.  Any questions or concerns may be addressed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor David Weintraub.  This page will be updated, soon, to reflect the new rules for these programs.

  The rules below are in effect for students who matriculated at Vanderbilt in Fall 2016 or earlier (Classes of 2018, 2019 and 2010).  

The Departmental offers a single major that provides a thorough grounding in the core areas of physics. It is suitable either as a preparation for careers in science and engineering, or as a spring-board for applying technical knowledge in such fields as business, medicine, law, public policy and education. All physics majors are required to complete a set of core physics courses, nine hours of optional physics and/or astronomy courses, and the general education requirements for the College of Arts & Science (AXLE). Suggested courses and schedules for different 'tracks' within the Physics major are listed below in detail.Though not formally required for the major, students majoring in physics will also need to take calculus (Math 1300 and 1301), multivariable calculus (Math 2300), linear algebra (Math 2410 or 2600), differential equations (Math 2420 or 2610) (or the sequence Math 2500, 2501, and 2610) as co- or pre-requisites for selected physics courses. Physics majors are also strongly advised to take an introductory course in computer science (CS 1101, not CS 1103) and to strongly consider additional, computationally oriented courses (e.g., Phys 3207, Phys 2237, Astr 3700, Astr 3800), and other courses that count toward the Scientific Computing minor.

Students planning to major in physics may choose or will be assigned an advisor from the designated faculty advisors. Students are encouraged to seek advice about physics and astronomy and about careers and be mentored by any faculty member. The official advisors listed here are particularly knowledgeable on curricular matters and support systems at Vanderbilt University. They are also the ones who have the authority to sign official paperwork.

  • Core Courses - Required courses for all Physics and Astronomy majors as well as a list of recommended math courses. 
  • Professional Physics Track - This track is not a separate major.  It is advising for how to select electives for the physics major and for additional technical electives beyond the major that is designed to prepare students to undertake graduate work in physics and other technical fields. The complete program is best begun in the first year; however, under students who decide in the sophomore year to undertake graduate work in physics can complete sufficient work to succeed. 
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics Track - This track is not a separate major.  It is advising for how to select electives for the physics major and for technical electives beyond the major that prepares students to undertake graduate work in astronomy, astrophysics or related earth and planetary sciences. 
  • Medical Physics Track - This track is not a separate major.  It is advising for how to select electives for the physics major and for technical electives beyond the major that prepares students for medical school and for graduate study and careers in the health sciences. Because of the additional requirements for pre-medical students in the biological and chemical sciences, this major is best started in the sophomore year, after students have started on their pre-medical requirements in chemistry and biology.
  • General Physics Track - This track is not a separate major.  It offers advising that prepares students for applying technical knowledge in such fields as business, law, public policy and education. It is designed to be completed in three years, thus meeting the needs of a student who discovers in the first year that physics is an attractive major option. 
  • Honors Program - Students majoring in physics may apply for admission to the deparatmental Honors Program which involves completing a research project of high merit in the senior year, including writing a senior thesis and defending that thesis in an oral examination before a faculty committee.
  • Directed and Independent Study - All majors are encouraged to participate in research projects under the direction of faculty and research staff.  Almost all research projects involve students participating in faculty designed and led projects.  Initially, when students require more supervision, they will enroll in Directed Study.  Later, when students are able to work more independently, they will enroll in Independent Study.
  • Scientific Computing minor.