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Physics

Physics students study the interaction of matter and energy on all size and time scales: from the smallest particles to the largest galaxy superclusters and from processes lasting a fraction of a nanosecond to billions of years. Physics helps explain the world. Westminster College offers a rigorous and active program in which students construct quantitative models of natural phenomena, study them by applying analytical or computational techniques, and test them by making measurements in a well-equipped laboratory. Students majoring in physics work closely with faculty on course-related work, and all students are engaged in individual research projects with faculty every semester starting in their sophomore year. Westminster physics majors might: observe one distant star eclipsing another, design and operate a remote-controlled environmental hazard probe, simulate the behavior of colliding galaxies, develop approaches for teaching physics to visually-impaired students, or analyze a spinning ball or a falling chain. Whether analyzing the motion of a water drop or discovering planets around distant suns, the universe and its particles become understandable with the application of the laws of physics. Learn how the world is both smaller and larger than one can imagine.

Requirements for the Major

Physics courses:

PHY 151 Principles of Physics I
PHY 152 Principles of Physics II
PHY 311 Thermal
PHY 313 Modern Physics
PHY 321, 322 Experiments in Physics I, II
PHY 331 Computational Physics I
PHY 332 Computational Physics II
PHY 351 Mechanics
PHY 352 Electromagnetic Theory
PHY 401 Quantum Mechanics
PHY 402 Astrophysics OR PHY 404 Biophysics
PHY 601 Physics Capstone I
PHY 602 Physics Capstone II

And five of the following supporting courses (at least three of which are mathematics courses):

BIO 201 Cell Biology and Genetics
BIO 202 Evolution, Form and Function
CHE 117 Principles of Chemistry
CHE 180 Inorganic Chemistry
CHE 230 Chemical Analysis
CS 151 Principles of Computer Science I
CS 152 Principles of Computer Science II
MTH 150 Calculus I
MTH 152 Calculus II
MTH 250 Calculus III
MTH 253 Differential Equations
MTH 261 Linear Algebra
MTH 321 Numerical Analysis

Requirements for the Secondary Education Teacher Certification

Students seeking secondary education teacher certification in physics must take the following courses and complete all of the requirements for a minor in Secondary Education.

Physics courses:

PHY 151 Principles of Physics I
PHY 152 Principles of Physics II
PHY 311 Thermal
PHY 313 Modern Physics
PHY 321, 322 Experiments in Physics I, II
PHY 331 Computational Physics I
PHY 332 Computational Physics II
PHY 351 Mechanics
PHY 352 Electromagnetic Theory
PHY 401 Quantum Mechanics
PHY 402 Astrophysics OR PHY 404 Biophysics
PHY 601 Physics Capstone I
PHY 602 Physics Capstone II

And five of the following supporting courses (at least three of which are mathematics courses):

BIO 201 Cell Biology and Genetics
BIO 202 Evolution, Form and Function
CHE 117 Principles of Chemistry
CHE 180 Inorganic Chemistry
CHE 230 Chemical Analysis
CS 151 Principles of Computer Science I
CS 152 Principles of Computer Science II
MTH 150 Calculus I
MTH 152 Calculus II
MTH 250 Calculus III
MTH 253 Differential Equations
MTH 261 Linear Algebra
MTH 321 Numerical Analysis

Requirements for the Minor

Physics Courses:

PHY 141 Foundations of Physics I OR PHY 151 Principles of Physics I
PHY 142 Foundations of Physics II OR PHY 152 Principles of Physics II
16 additional semester hours of Physics courses numbered 200 or higher

See Course Descriptions for a complete list of PHY courses.

Course Descriptions

Physics Courses:

PHY 101 Physical Science (4 SH). A study of the basic phenomena and science concepts of the physical world. The course makes use of an integrated lab-lecture period and relies on observation, reasoning, and an activity-based approach to understanding ideas and solving problems. Topics studied include motion, heat, electricity, magnetism, light, optics, and materials science.

PHY 121 Astronomy (4 SH). A primarily descriptive course treating the basic observations, phenomena, and understandings of the physical universe. A laboratory is included. Offered Spring Semester.

PHY 141 Foundations of Physics I (4 SH). The first semester of an introductory study of physics (mechanics, heat, electricity, magnetism, waves, light and modern physics) without calculus. Basic principles used in both semesters are introduced in the first semester. Some emphasis will be given to applications of physics to biological systems. A laboratory is included. Prerequisite: a good background in high school mathematics including algebra and trigonometry. Offered Fall Semester.

PHY 142 Foundations of Physics II (4 SH). The second semester of an introductory study of physics (mechanics, heat, electricity, magnetism, waves, light and modern physics) without calculus. Some emphasis will be given to applications of physics to biological systems. A laboratory is included. Prerequisite: PHY 141 or PHY 151. Offered Spring Semester.

PHY 151 Principles of Physics I (4 SH). The first semester of an introductory study of physics (mechanics, heat, electricity, magnetism, waves, light and modern physics). Basic principles used in both semesters are introduced in the first semester. Some basic concepts of calculus may be introduced as needed. A laboratory is included. Co-requisite: MTH 150 or higher. Offered Fall Semester.

PHY 152 Principles of Physics II (4 SH). The second semester of an introductory study of physics (mechanics, heat, electricity, magnetism, waves, light and modern physics). Calculus methods will be used. A laboratory is included. Prerequisite: PHY 151; Co-requisite: MTH 152 or higher. Offered Spring Semester.

PHY 221 Electronics (4 SH). An introductory course covering basic principles and applications of electrical engineering. Topics covered include steady-state and transient analysis of electrical networks, frequency response, op-amps, diodes, and transistors. A laboratory is included. Prerequisite: PHY 152. Offered on a rotating basis.

PHY 231 Optics (4 SH). A detailed study of the interaction of light and matter. Topics covered include the characteristics of electromagnetic waves, reflection, thin and thick lens systems, polarization, interference, and diffraction. Prerequisite: PHY 152. Offered on a rotating basis.

PHY 241 Nonlinear Dynamics (4 SH). In most physics classes, the meat of the course is in developing general laws (e.g. Newton’s laws) and then applying them to a physical process (e.g. a block sliding down an inclined plane) to create a mathematical model of that process. With these models, a bit of mathematical machinery, and a set of initial conditions, one can set out to predict the future. This is a different kind of class. The situations a student will analyze in this course are often not predictable even in principle. Here the student will frequently take the mathematical model as a given. The task is to develop tools to understand the kinds of behavior that are possible in that model, the kinds of behavior that are typical of that model, and how these various kinds of behavior relate to each other. This shift in approach is a necessary one when moving from linear to nonlinear systems. Prerequisite: PHY 152. Offered on a rotating basis.

PHY 311 Thermal (4 SH). A study of the behavior of systems containing large numbers of particles. The course emphasizes the analysis of model systems using statistical mechanics. From that analysis, the thermodynamic behavior of real systems can be understood. Prerequisite: PHY 152; Co-requisite: MTH 250. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

PHY 313 Modern Physics (4 SH). Modern Physics offers a broad introduction to the major developments in physics in the 20th century. Topics covered include special relativity, wave- particle duality, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, solid state physics, nuclear physics, elementary particle physics, and other specialized topics. Prerequisite: PHY 152. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

PHY 321, 322 Experiments in Physics I, II (2 SH each). Experiments from many fields such as optics, nuclear, and atomic physics. Fundamental experimental techniques will be introduced. Computer automation methods are emphasized. Prerequisite: PHY 152. Offered Fall/Spring semesters, alternate years.

PHY 331 Computational Physics I (2 SH). This course will stress the application of mathematics to physical processes. The emphasis will be on analytical approaches to problem solving. The topics discussed include: series expansions, complex numbers, linear algebra, partial derivatives, multiple integrals, vector analysis, Fourier series, ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations, special functions, and probability. Prerequisite: PHY 152; Co-requisite: MTH 250. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

PHY 332 Computational Physics II (2 SH). As not every problem of interest can be solved analytically, Computational Physics 2 will stress a numerical approach to analyzing physical processes. The topics discussed in this course include translating analytical expressions into expressions that can be calculated by a computer, representing the data from numerical calculations in meaningful ways, finding numerical solutions to physically relevant ordinary differential equations (ODEs) and partial differential equations (PDEs), and simulating random processes. Prerequisite: PHY 331. Offered Spring Semester, alternate years.

PHY 351 Mechanics (4 SH). Physics 151 provided students an introduction to mechanics using the formalism of either Newton’s laws or one of the conservation laws (momentum and energy). This course will deepen the sophistication with which students approach mechanics. Some of this will come from learning to apply mathematical tools such as series expansion, vector calculus, differential equations, symbolic solvers, and numerical integration while solving problems. This sophistication will also come from analyzing motion when an observer’s frame of reference is accelerating (non-inertial reference frames) and the motion of rotating objects. A student in this course will master an entirely different formulation of mechanics, one that will generalize into the framework for understanding quantum mechanics (Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics). Prerequisite: PHY 152; Co-requisite: MTH 250. Offered Spring Semester, alternate years.

PHY 352 Electromagnetic Theory (4 SH). A study of the foundations of classical electromagnetic theory, including electric and magnetic fields, potential theory, Maxwell’s equations, and electromagnetic waves. Vector methods are used extensively. Prerequisites: PHY 152, MTH 250. Offered Spring Semester, alternate years.

PHY 401 Quantum Mechanics (4 SH). The theory of quantum mechanics is discussed and studied in detail. Applications are made primarily to atomic structure. Prerequisite: PHY 313. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

PHY 402 Astrophysics (4 SH). Astrophysics is an all-purpose overview of astronomy and cosmology at a quantitative level accessible to the junior or senior undergraduate science major. The student will be introduced to advanced topics at the forefront of current research. This may include extrasolar planets and low-massstars, the interstellar medium, galactic evolution, gravitational waves, and the expansion of the universe. In preparation for these advanced topics, introductory and intermediate astrophysical foundations will also be established. This may include the study of celestial coordinate systems, planetary mechanics and geology, radiative processes, stellar structure and evolution, and general relativity. Prerequisites: PHY 142 or PHY 152; MTH 152; and junior or senior standing. Offered Fall Semester, alternate years.

PHY 404 Biophysics (4 SH). An introduction to several key elements in soft condensed matter physics, focusing on the application of the principles of statistical mechanics to analyzing a range of biological processes at the molecular and cellular levels. This course explores the richness of biological molecules and cell-level processes from the framework of the physical scientist. Prerequisites: PHY 311 or permission of instructor. Offered Fall Semester, as needed.

PHY 590-594 Field Experience/Internship (1-4 SH).

PHY 601 Physics Capstone I (2 SH). A study of selected topics or problems that require the integration of previous physics and related experiences. The seminar will involve individual and/orgroup work culminating in an appropriate presentation. Additionally, each student will do preliminary background research to develop a proposal for his/her senior capstone project. Offered Fall Semester.

PHY 602 Physics Capstone II (2 SH). Afocused student project which has been approved by the physics faculty. The project culminates in written and oral presentations. Offered Spring Semester.

PHY 610, 611 Advanced Topics (4 SH). Interests of students are considered in selecting particular topics. Prerequisite: consent of instructor. Offered on demand.

PHY 620-624 Independent Study (1-4 SH).

PHY 660, 670, 680, 690 Honors Project (1-4 SH).

Supporting Courses:

BIO 101 Concepts of Biology (4 SH). A general survey course designed for education majors and students making a transition to the biology, molecular biology, or environmental science curriculum. (Students from other non-sciencemajors seeking to fulfill their Scientific Discovery IP should consider other 100-level courses.) Students explore ways of observing and thinking about fundamental biological processes common to many living organisms. The goal of this class is to help students become better citizens and teachers of science by increasing their ability to make informed decisions regarding current and future scientific discoveries. Emphasis is placed upon identifying and studying topics of a biological nature that are relevant to modern society. A laboratory is included, during which time students will apply the scientific method and develop critical thinking and inductive reasoning skills. Offered every semester.

BIO 102 Understanding Evolution (4 SH). A course for the non-science major. Biological evolution is examined from a historical perspective, from inception to our current understanding of this unifying theory of biology. Natural selection and the modern genetic theory of evolution as continuing processes are emphasized, as are the ways that evolution as a theory is testable by the scientific method. A laboratory is included. If this course is offered as a cluster, students must also register for ENG 106.

CHE 117 Principles of Chemistry (4 SH). Acourse emphasizing stoichiometry, chemical equilibria, acids and bases, chemical kinetics, thermodynamics, electrochemistry, nuclear phenomena, and interactions of science and society. In the laboratory program students will investigate chemical systems, analyze observations and data, devise explanations, and communicate results. Prerequisites: High school chemistry and an acceptable score on a placement test or completion of CHE 111 or ES 160 with a grade of C- or better. Offered Fall and Spring semesters.

CHE 180 Inorganic Chemistry (4 SH). A study of the energetics of the bonding and reactions of inorganic compounds. Emphasis is given to the periodicity of the chemical and physical properties of the elements. Major themes of the course include effective nuclear charge, lattice energy, charge density, acid/base theories, and the descriptive chemistry of all of the elements. The laboratory includes the investigation of the energetics of reactions, the synthesis and analysis of coordination compounds, qualitative chemistry, and the communication of results. Prerequisite: CHE 117 with a grade of C- or better. Offered Fall and Spring semesters.

CHE 230 Chemical Analysis (4 SH). A study of the theoretical foundation and skills necessary for the solution of problems encountered in the area of quantitative chemical analysis, including classical and modern methods. Emphasis is given to the evaluation and presentation of data, sampling, equilibrium dynamics of analytically important reactions, experimental design, volumetric techniques, absorption and emission spectroscopy, electrochemical methods, and analytical separations. Examples and laboratory exercises will include environmental air, soil and water systems. Prerequisites: CHE 117, and MTH 135, MTH 150 or BIO 206 (may be co-requisite) with grades of C- or better. Offered Fall and Spring semesters. (Also listed as ES 230.)

CS 151 Principles of Computer Science I (4 SH). A broad introduction to the discipline of computer science, with attention given to many components of the field. Topics include an examination of subfields of computer science, computer representation of data, an introduction to hardware structure, and fundamentals of programming languages. Special emphasis is given to techniques for problem solving and algorithm development, designing and implementing computer programs, and software analysis and verification methods. Prerequisite: prior programming experience recommended.

CS 152 Principles of Computer Science II (4 SH). A continuation of the study of the discipline of computer science. This course includes an introduction to data structures, simulation, and scientific uses of computing. Programming for searching and sorting data is covered, as well as an introduction to recursion. Prerequisite: CS 151.

MTH 150 Calculus I (4 SH). This course will focus on the fundamentals of differential calculus. Topics considered include functions, limits, continuous functions, differentiation and integration of functions with one real variable, applications of differentiation and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. Students will be introduced to some basic calculus proofs. This course is suggested for all students who expect to continue for any advanced degree including finance, law, and medicine.

MTH 152 Calculus II (4 SH). This course will focus on the fundamentals of integral calculus, including techniques and applications of integration. Other topics include infinite series and introductory topics from differential equations. Prerequisite: MTH 150.

MTH 250 Calculus III (4 SH). An introduction to the calculus of several variables. Topics include the geometry of three-dimensionalspace, partial derivatives, multiple integrals, and vector calculus. Prerequisite: MTH 152.

MTH 253 Differential Equations (4 SH). The study of differential equations and their applications in the natural sciences. Topics include linear differential equations, series solutions, Laplace transformations, systems of equations, an introduction to partial differential equations, boundary value problems and application of differential equations. Prerequisite: MTH 250.

MTH 261 Linear Algebra (4 SH). An introduction to matrix algebra and general vector spaces. Topics include systems of linear equations, matrix operations and properties, determinants, vector spaces and subspaces, linear transformations, linear independence and span, bases, coordinate systems, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, inner product spaces, and orthogonality. Prerequisite: MTH 250.

MTH 321 Numerical Analysis (4 SH). This course explores the development of methods to approximate the solutions to differential equations, zeros of functions, solutions to linear systems of equations, as well as analysis of errors involved in using these methods. Prerequisites : MTH 250 and CS 151.

Dr. and Mrs. John G. Albright Scholarship

Dr. John G Albright

The Department of Physics at Westminster College will award several scholarships of between $2000.00 and $4000.00 each (renewable for four years*) to outstanding incoming first-year students who plan a career in physics or engineering. Awards are not based on need, but on academic achievement and potential. These awards are made from an endowed fund established in memory of Dr. and Mrs. John G. Albright. Dr. Albright came to Westminster College in 1955 and stayed until the Spring of 1965. He achieved a national reputation in meteorology, authored textbooks, and was an expert on lightning.

Students who wish to apply for the Albright Scholarship should complete the on-line form. Alternatively, essays may be mailed to Dr. Craig Caylor, Box 12, 319 S Market Street, New Wilmington, PA 16172-0001. Essays should describe the factors which have led you to study physics or engineering at Westminster College. Students who wish to receive full consideration for this scholarship for the 2015-2016 adademic year need to have their essays to us no later than February 28, 2015.

*For scholarship renewal, students must maintain at least a 3.0 all-college average (and at least a 3.0 average in all science and mathematics courses) and continue to make adequate progress in the physics major.

 

What can you do with a Physics degree?

Imagine yourself a physicist, an engineer, a science writer, an astronomer, a teacher, and more.

Quick Facts


Physics

Degree Offered

Bachelor of Science


 

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