Physics and Astronomy are the sciences that study why and how the universe works.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a major and minor in Physics and a minor in Astronomy. In addition, the Department offers on a regular basis at least ten different courses a year appropriate to fulfill Dickinson graduation requirements.

The Physics program is designed to meet the needs of several types of students: those preparing for graduate school in Physics, Astronomy, Engineering, or related fields; those preparing for careers in fields in that require some technical expertise and background, but not planning on attending graduate school; those preparing for medical school or a career in the biological sciences; and those who wish to study Physics or Astronomy out of interest, but have no professional aspirations in the field.

Information for students not planning to major or minor in Physics or minor in Astronomy: It is strongly advised that students who are not planning to major in Physics but who are interested in Physics or Astronomy take ASTR 109/110, PHYS 131/132, or SCIE 101 as First-Year students when they will have the best chance of being admitted to an introductory class. Upper-class students have greatly diminished chances of being admitted to these classes, due to the priorities the Department has set.

PHYS 141 and PHYS 142 are especially designed for students who are interested in health-related careers.

Courses appropriate for prospective majors

Information for potential Physics majors, Physics minors, and Astronomy minors:
The introductory course for those students planning to major or minor in Physics or to minor in astronomy is PHYS 131, Introductory Physics, which is always offered in the fall. Students are strongly advised to take this course preferably as First-Year students and definitely no later than the sophomore year. The student will take PHYS 132 the following spring semester. Students intending to pursue the College’s 3-2 Pre-Engineering program must take PHYS 131 and PHYS 132 during their first year.

In unusual circumstances, a prospective major may take PHYS 141 as the introductory course; the student should consult the Physics and Astronomy chair.

Students starting the Physics major in their sophomore year (or who plan to go abroad): While the ideal mode of completing the Physics major is over four years, many students have either started the major at the beginning of their sophomore year or spent a year abroad (in either case, taking three years to complete the major). However, this takes careful planning in close consultation with the student’s academic advisor and should be done as soon as the student decides to major or go abroad.

For course descriptions and requirements for the major, refer to the Academic Bulletin: Physics and Astronomy.

Courses that fulfill distribution requirements

The following courses help satisfy either the Lab Sciences (Division III) or the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) requirements (i.e., one course cannot satisfy both at the same time):

Astronomy courses 
ASTR 109, Mysteries of the Solar System and ASTR 110, Stars, Galaxies, and Beyond! (either course may be taken first)

Physics courses 
PHYS 131 and PHYS 132, Introductory Physics (calculus-based course)
PHYS 141 and PHYS 142, Physics for the Life Sciences (algebra-based course)

Course offered by the Physics faculty
SCIE 101, Scientific Investigations (a.k.a. Explorations in Physics)

Suggested curricular flow through the major

Physics Major
The Physics major is designed to allow students to start in either the first year or the sophomore year.

The following are suggested courses for a student starting the first year:

First Year
PHYS 131/132
MATH 151/170 or 170/171

Sophomore Year
PHYS 211, 212, 282
MATH 270 or 171/270

Junior Year
Four 300-level or above Physics courses, including 311, 331 or 431 (depending on course offerings)
PHYS 392 (half-credit junior seminar)

Senior Year
PHYS 491, 492 OR two semesters of Independent Research 550 (usually with a common theme); 312, 331 or 431

First-years: Students should be advised to take PHYS 131/132 and MATH 151/170 or 170/171

Physics-Engineering Track

First year
PHYS 131/132
MATH 170/171

Sophomore Year 
PHYS 211, 212, 282
MATH 270
CHEM 131 or 141

Sophomore or Junior Year
PHYS 213

Junior Year
PHYS 311, PHYS 331 or PHYS 314
COMP 131

Senior Year
PHYS 312, 491, 492

Students planning to do graduate study in physics, astronomy or engineering need to include 311 and 312 (potentially 331 and/or 431 as well, depending on field of study). For students not planning to do graduate study in physics or engineering, options include 313, 314, 315 and 361 as offered. Students planning to do graduate study in astronomy need to additionally take 208, 306 or 406 as offered.

Astronomy Minor

First Year
PHYS 131/132
ASTR 109

Sophomore Year
PHYS 212

Junior Year

Senior Year
1 additional course

First-years: Students should be advised to take PHYS 131, PHYS 132, and ASTR 109


Students in the Advanced Capstone Laboratory (PHYS 491/492) or students participating in two semesters of Independent Research (PHYS 550) may choose to turn their project into an honors project with an in-depth paper and an oral defense before the physics faculty.  For more detailed requirements, go to the department's web site.

Independent study and independent research

Independent study or research is strongly encouraged by the department. Independent research projects are readily available in the many areas, including pattern formation, solar air heaters, non-linear dynamics, molecular and laser physics, and astrophysics. Independent research students have often published papers and/or given talks at physics and astronomy meetings. Students planning on graduate study are encouraged to discuss with faculty the independent research opportunities available.

Additional Remarks

Careers:  About 60% o our graduates in the last 10 years have graduated from, or are currently enrolled in, graduate or professional schools. Twenty percent have received Ph.D. degrees or are in a Ph.D. program; 33% hve received an M.S. or are in an M.S. program; and 6% ae enrolled in or have completed medical or dental programs. Our graduates have attended over 20 different graduate schools including Cornell, Purdue, MIT, Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, University of Texas, and Bryn Mawr. Some occupations of our recent graduates (with or without advanced degrees) include university or college professors, research associate in private industry, assistant planetarium director, Army and Navy researcher, design engineer, and medical physicist.

It has been found that Physics majors have the highest acceptance rate into medical school and law school.

Engineering:  In conjunction with Case Western Reserve University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and Columbia University, a student can enter the field of engineering through the 3/2 binary engineering program.  After three years at Dickinson and two years at one of these engineering schools, a graduate will receive a B.S. degree from Dickinson and a B.S. degree from the engineering school. For more information, see the Pre-Engineering section of this handbook.