Physics Major/Minor

The study of physics includes fundamental principles that describe the behavior of the physical elements of life on earth—from mechanics, waves, electricity, and magnetism to atomic and nuclear physics.

The physics department endeavors to help students see the impact of scientific thought, methods, and discoveries on contemporary society. Through a strong emphasis on laboratory work, students develop the ability to interpret phenomena in light of existing theories. 

Career Options

Graduates with a degree in physics may go on to careers in the fields of physics, astronomy, meteorology, the health sciences, law, or teaching.

High School Preparation

Students considering majoring in physics will benefit from high school exposure to Algebra, Trigonometry, Calculus, Computer Science, Physics, Chemistry, and other lab sciences.

Enhance Your Experience

Students who major in physics sometimes pursue a second major or minor in the areas of mathematics, computer science, biochemistry, other natural sciences, or the multidisciplinary scientific computing minor.

Physics Minor

The fundamental ideas of physics underlie all basic science, making the physics minor a great addition to any of Saint Mary's science majors.

Degree Requirements

A. All of the following:

M151 Calculus I (4 cr.)

This course provides an introduction to the differential and integral calculus. Topics include: the concepts of function, limit, continuity, derivative, definite and indefinite integrals, and an introduction to transcendental functions. Credit is not granted for this course and M148 and M149.

M152 Calculus II (4 cr.)

This course is a continuation of M151. Some of the topics of M151 are revisited at a higher mathematical level. Topics include: applications of the definite integral, techniques of integration, improper integrals, introduction to differential equations, numerical methods for integration and approximation, curves in the plane given parametrically, polar coordinates, and vectors in 2-space and 3-space.

P201 Introductory Physics I (3 cr.)

This course is the first half of a two-semester introductory, calculus-based, physics course for all students planning to enter one of the scientific professions. It covers the fundamental principles of mechanics, oscillations, and fluid mechanics.

P202 Introductory Physics I Laboratory (1 cr.)

One three-hour laboratory is held each week covering topics studied in the lectures.

P211 Introductory Physics II (3 cr.)

This course is the second half of a two-semester introductory, calculus-based, physics course for all students planning to enter one of the scientific professions. It covers the fundamental principles of waves, physical and geometrical optics, and electricity and magnetism.

P212 Introductory Physics II Laboratory (1 cr.)

One three-hour laboratory is held each week covering topics studied in the lectures.

P304 Introduction to Modern Physics with Laboratory (4 cr.)

This course considers atomic and nuclear physics and studies the experimental evidence that led to the development of the theories of quantum mechanics. The special theory of relativity, wave particle duality, and atomic structure are also examined.

B. Two additional upper-division physics courses.

A. All of the following courses

Please note: Students may take either M148 and M149, or M151

C131 General Chemistry I (3 cr.)

This course covers the fundamental principles upon which the study of chemistry is based. Stoichiometry, atomic structure, molecular structure, chemical bonding, behavior of gases, kinetic molecular theory, properties of solutions, chemical reactivity and thermochemistry are included.

C133 General Chemistry I Laboratory (1 cr.)

This laboratory is an inquiry-based approach to understanding the process of doing chemistry. Each week, as a team member with a specific role working for a consulting company, the student receives a letter from a "chemical client" requesting the solution to a chemical problem. It is the responsibility of the team to design a solution, collect data, and report the results to the client in report form.

C142 General Chemistry II (3 cr.)

This course includes the study of the chemistry of molecular forces, redox reactions, chemical kinetics, chemical equilibrium theory, electrochemistry, chemical dynamics, organic chemistry, phase behavior and solution chemistry.

C144 General Chemistry II Laboratory (1 cr.)

This laboratory is an inquiry-based approach to understanding the process of doing chemistry. Each week, as a team member with a specific role working for a consulting company, the student receives a letter from a "chemical client" requesting the solution to a chemical problem. It is the responsibility of the team to design a solution, collect data, and report the results to the client in report form.

M148 Calculus I with Precalculus (part 1) (4 cr.)

This course, followed by M149, provides a two-semester sequence that covers the material of M151 along with built-in coverage of precalculus topics. Topics in M148 include: solving equations, functions, classes of functions (polynomial, rational, algebraic, exponential, logarithmic), right triangle trigonometry, angle measure, limits and continuity, derivatives, rules for derivatives. Credit is not granted for this course and M151 or courses equivalent to college algebra and college trigonometry.

M149 Calculus I with Precalculus (part 2) (4 cr.)

This course completes the two-semester sequence that begins with M148, and together with M148 provides a two-semester sequence that covers the material of M151 along with built-in coverage of precalculus topics. Topics in M149 include: trigonometric and inverse trigonometric functions, rules for derivatives, applications of derivatives, and definite and indefinite integrals. Credit is not granted for this course and M151.

M151 Calculus I (4 cr.)

This course provides an introduction to the differential and integral calculus. Topics include: the concepts of function, limit, continuity, derivative, definite and indefinite integrals, and an introduction to transcendental functions. Credit is not granted for this course and M148 and M149.

M152 Calculus II (4 cr.)

This course is a continuation of M151. Some of the topics of M151 are revisited at a higher mathematical level. Topics include: applications of the definite integral, techniques of integration, improper integrals, introduction to differential equations, numerical methods for integration and approximation, curves in the plane given parametrically, polar coordinates, and vectors in 2-space and 3-space.

M251 Calculus III (4 cr.)

This course continues the development of Calculus from M151 and M152. Topics include: sequences and series, and differentiation and integration of vector-valued functions and functions of several variables.

P201 Introductory Physics I (3 cr.)

This course is the first half of a two-semester introductory, calculus-based, physics course for all students planning to enter one of the scientific professions. It covers the fundamental principles of mechanics, oscillations, and fluid mechanics.

P202 Introductory Physics I Laboratory (1 cr.)

One three-hour laboratory is held each week covering topics studied in the lectures.

P211 Introductory Physics II (3 cr.)

This course is the second half of a two-semester introductory, calculus-based, physics course for all students planning to enter one of the scientific professions. It covers the fundamental principles of waves, physical and geometrical optics, and electricity and magnetism.

P212 Introductory Physics II Laboratory (1 cr.)

One three-hour laboratory is held each week covering topics studied in the lectures.

P304 Introduction to Modern Physics with Laboratory (4 cr.)

This course considers atomic and nuclear physics and studies the experimental evidence that led to the development of the theories of quantum mechanics. The special theory of relativity, wave particle duality, and atomic structure are also examined.

B. All of the following:

C331 Physical Chemistry I with Laboratory (4 cr.)

This course involves chemical thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, and their applications. The following thermodynamic topics are considered: properties of gases, kinetic molecular theory, the laws of thermodynamics, thermochemistry, and chemical equilibrium. The following kinetic topics are considered: chemical reaction rates, determination of rate laws, reaction mechanisms, and theories of reaction rates.

M252 Linear Algebra (4 cr.)

This course provides an introduction to techniques and applications of linear algebra. Topics include: systems of linear equations, matrices, determinants, Euclidean n-space, real vector spaces, basis and dimension, linear transformations, inner products, and eigenvalues and eigenvectors.

P314 Digital Systems with Laboratory (4 cr.)

This is a course on digital electronics and its applications in modern electronic instrumentation. Emphasis is placed on gaining experience with the use of individual digital integrated circuits and programmable arrays. The course covers Boolean algebra, simple gates, combinational and sequential logic circuits, counters, shift registers, state machines, astable multivibrators, encoding, decoding, multiplexing, and conversion between analog and digital representations. Coursework involves both circuit simulation and actual hardware implementations. The course targets applications in the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science.

P340 Classical Mechanics (3 cr.)

This course is an analytical study of Newtonian mechanics, including the harmonic oscillator, central force motion, nonlinear oscillators, and an introduction to the Lagrangian formulation.

P344 Mathematical Methods for Science (3 cr.)

This course serves physics majors as well as those mathematics majors whose area of interest is analysis. Topics include: Fourier series, complex numbers, analytic functions, and derivatives and integrals of complex functions.

P360 Electricity and Magnetism I (3 cr.)

This course is an introduction to the physics of electricity and magnetism at the intermediate undergraduate level. It examines the experimental evidence that led to the development of the theories of electromagnetism (electrostatics, polarization and dielectrics, magnetostatics and magnetization, electrodynamics, electromagnetic waves, potentials and fields, and radiation) and the development of Maxwell's laws. The mathematical analysis of electromagnetic situations uses vector calculus to a great degree, so students also are exposed to working with a variety of vector operators.

P380 Quantum Mechanics I (3 cr.)

This course expands on the ideas of quantum mechanics introduced in P304, and develops the necessary formalisms and tools for further work. Topics include the Schrödinger equation in its time independent and time-dependent forms, an introduction to operators, square-well and harmonic oscillator potentials, scattering, the hydrogen atom, angular momentum, and perturbation theory.

P410 Physics Directed Research (2 cr.)

This course is intended for all physics majors; it is recommended for majors in physics science education. It may be taken in addition to or in place of P390/391 Advanced Laboratory. Its purpose is to provide students an opportunity to explore a topic in physics in depth over a period of at least one semester under the guidance of a member of the physics faculty, and thereby demonstrate understanding of a particular concept or focused set of concepts at the advanced undergraduate level. It is also intended to give students project-based experience in experimental design, recordkeeping, and scientific writing.