Selecting Your First Physics Course

Lower-level Courses for the Major

Students who major in physics usually start by taking two of our half-term introductory physics courses, PHYS 131 or 132 or 141 or 142, and PHYS 151, and two or three terms of calculus. PHYS 131/2 deal with Newtonian mechanics, PHYS 141 applies Newtonian mechanics to gravitation and the cosmos, PHYS 142 takes a bottom-up atomic perspective to Newtonian mechanics, and PHYS 151 concentrates on special relativity and particles. Students with a particularly good high school introduction to mechanics are encouraged to take PHYS 141 (Gravity and the Cosmos) or PHYS 142 (Matter and Interactions).

Every spring term, both prospective and declared majors are encouraged to take PHYS 123 (What Physicists Do). This one-credit course brings to campus alums and others who are making active use of their background in physics or astronomy. Each visitor gives a talk on his or her work and students have ample opportunity for more personal interaction, at lunch and over cookies after the talk.

Most prospective majors take PHYS 131/2 or P141/2, and P151 in the fall or winter of their first year at Carleton and PHYS 228 and PHYS 229/230 as sophomores. If they declare a physics major, it will be while continuing in PHYS 235 in spring term. Some students enter the major having delayed PHYS 131/151 until as late as winter term sophomore year. It is still easily possible to complete the major after a late start, though most students in this situation will not be able to take some of the upper-level elective courses. (See below for possible course sequences.) Still wondering what intro physics course is right for you? Check out our Introductory Physics Decision Tree. If you have questions, e-mail or come and see us and we'd be happy to help you decide what course is right for you.