Advice for students interested in Physics

This is an attempt to answer some of the common student questions about studying physics at Hamilton. You can read though this document as a whole or you can click on the questions you are interested in.

  1. Will I get any credit for AP Physics?
  2. How should I begin studying physics at Hamilton?
  3. What courses follow the core courses?
  4. What about Engineering?


Will I get any credit for AP Physics?
It depends. If you earned 4's or 5's on your AP exams then you will be eligible for some credit or placement. Credit means that you can count an AP result as a course towards your degree. Placement means that you can get into a course with a prerequisite that would otherwise keep you out. Learn the full details of AP policy.


How should I begin studying physics at Hamilton?
We have recently revised the introductory physics sequence intended for students interested in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other sciences. Our goal is to provide a broad ranging, smoothly graduated, exciting study of the major ideas in physics. Since this departmental site is more up-to-date than the catalogue (published once a year) you won't be able to find the following details described in other college publications.
The first year of the introductory sequence (190 & 195) is self-contained in that it will provide important material to students whose interests include physics but who may wish to major in another science or in mathematics. Among the topics included in the first term are conservation laws in particle mechanics, special relativity, the Bohr atom, general relativity, and gravity. The second term turns from particles to concentrate on waves and wave phenomena and includes topics such as mechanical waves, electromagnetic waves, matter waves, and the wave-particle duality.
The second year allows you to broaden and deepen your knowledge of quantum ideas and the physics of fields. The first term (290) is mostly about the world of the atom as described by quantum mechanics, a theory that has been supremely successful and yet about which much continues to be learned. This semester has a standard labd which is a set of carefully designed (and only occasionally out of control!) laboratory investigations designed to allow the student to examine nature in the light of the theories and models studied in class. The spring term (295 and 245) is devoted to an exploration of electromagnetism, the most coherent and successful field theory we have. This completes the introductory core of the concentration. The lab for this course is separate course that provides a thorough hands-on introduction to the practice of electronics (applied E&M) and a low-level introduction to programming coputers.
A word about mathematics: In general, those interested in the mathematical sciences should be studying math along with their other courses. In your first year you should enroll in introductory calculus unless the Mathematics department suggests a higher level (in which case you should follow their advice). After calculus, many physics students take linear algebra and then differential equations.
In any event, it is always an excellent idea to come and find one of the physics faculty and talk to them before you sign up for courses if you think you might be interested in studying physics. After talking with you we can help you develop goals and give you advice about the best mix of courses to help you advance toward them.


What courses follow the core courses?
Here there are many choices to be made and they usually depend on your interests in the near and long term. Some have said that the study of physics is an ideal liberal arts education for the highly technological 21st century. Students with this view may well go on to the high-tech business world or law school, for example. Other career choices include teaching, or engineering, while still others may wish to go to physics graduate school.
We do have certain upper level requirements that all must satisfy. All are expected to take our advanced Research Seminar course and all must complete a term-long research study in the senior year. Of the four remaining courses for the major (there are a total of ten courses required) we expect at least two to be drawn from the physics department offerings. Normally all four will be physics courses but we also allow for courses taken outside the department that support interdisciplinary interests such as psychophysics, chemical physics, mathematical physics, computational physics, geophysics, teacher preparation, etc.


What about Engineering?
Students interested in the 3-2 or 4-2 engineering programs affiliating Hamilton with engineering schools should take the first year of calculus based introductory physics, and calculus (or beyond if mathematics placement so warrants) in their first year. There are many possible options in engineering programs, and because of their complexity beyond the first year, interested students should consult the engineering advisor. This is also the case for those who have taken algebra based introductory physics and then have become interested in engineering. The engineering advisor is Professor Millet.

Physics Pages