Courses Offered

Undergraduate Catalog Course Listing

For many of our courses, information is available on the Blackboard system; you may need a W&M username and password to access those pages.  

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Please note that not every course is offered every semester. You can view current course offerings through the College's Dynamic Schedule.

101-102. General Physics (101 and 102 each satisfies GER 2A)

Corequisites: MATH 111-112 recommended.
 This calculus-based course is designed to develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts of physics. Emphasis is placed upon Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, current research and applications are discussed. Designed for students who are considering majoring in one of the sciences or mathematics. Students may not obtain credit for both Physics 101 and either 101H  or 107, or both Physics 102 and either 102H or 108. Physcis 101 or 101H is a prerequisite for Physics 102. There is a fee associated with the laboratory. 

101H-102H. General Physics-Honors (101 and 102 each satisfies GER 2A)

Prerequisites: Instructor Permission Corequisites: Math 111-112 recommended. Honors sections  of Physics 101 and Physics 102 are open to students who have a good preparation for and a strong interest in physics. Physics 101H-102H offers more in-depth treatment of topics covered in a Physics 101-102, and will include more sophisticated examples. Prior to exposure to calculus will be assumed. Students may not obtain credit for both Physics 101H and either 101 or 107, or for both Physics 102H and either 102 or 108.

101L-102L. General Physics Laboratory (101L and 102L each satisfies the lab requirement for GER 2A)

Corequisites: PHYS 101/101H, 102/102H. Laboratory techniques in general physics. Two and one half laboratory hours.

105. Great Ideas of Physics (GER 2A)     Offered in Fall.

Introduction to the fundamental laws and dominant themes of modern physics, illustrated with selections from the classics of science writing. The course is intellectually sophisticated, but requires no math beyond ratios. (Not appropriate for science and math majors.) Students may not receive credit for Physics 105 if taken after passing Physics 101 or 107.

107-108. Physics for the Life Sciences 
(107 and 108 each satisfies GER 2A,)

Covers the fundamental concepts of physics. Newtonian mechanics, wave motion, electric and magnetic fields, simple circuits, and some modern physics are discussed. Designed for students in the life-sciences, including pre-meds. High school science as well as algebra and trigonometry are assumed. Students may not obtain credit for both Physics 101 and 107, or for both Physics 102 and 108. Physics 107 is a prerequisite for Physics 108.
 There is a fee associated  with the laboratory.

107L-108L. General Physics Laboratory (107L and 108L each satisfies the lab requirement for GER 2A)

Corequisites: PHYS 107, 108. Laboratory techniques in physics for the life sciences. Two and one half laboratory hours.

 109. Practical Physics
 (GER 2A)   Offered in Spring.

Bicycles, guitars, cameras and other ordinary objects are studied and explained to obtain an appreciation of the underlying laws of nature. Mechanics, wave motion, optics, acoustics, thermodynamics and some electromagnetism and nuclear/particle physics are discussed and demonstrated by understanding the functioning of objects of everyday experience. The required mathematics is limited to algebra. The associated laboratory is strongly encouraged but not required. Students may not receive credit for Physics 109 if taken after passing Physics 101 or 107. 

110. Experimental Practical Physics 
(Lab)    Offered in Spring.

Corequisite: PHYS 109. 
A series of experiments employing common objects of general, everyday experience is undertaken with the goal of understanding both the scientific method of measurement and the laws of nature. Student-generated projects will be encouraged. 

121. Physics of Music
 (GER 2A)

Basic concepts of physics, particularly acoustics, needed for an understanding of the properties of sound and music. The course will be in the form of a workshop and students will participate in the performance of experiments which illustrate the ideas. 

150/150W. Freshman Seminar

A course that introduces freshmen to topics in the study of Physics. 150W satisfies the freshman writing requirement.

155. Freshman Research

Prerequisite: Instructor permission. Research opportunity for Freshmen having an unusually strong background in Physics. Students will work with an individual faculty member on a research project.

175. Cosmology and the History of Wonder (4 credits, GER2A)

The evolution of ideas about the structure and nature of the universe from the ancient world to the present. The rise of science, and its eventual separation from religion and philosophy, is explored through case studies of important astronomical discoveries.

176. Introductory Astronomy 
(GER 2A)

Descriptive study of the solar system; theories of the origin of the solar system. Star classification; descriptive studies of star clusters and galaxies. Recent developments such as quasars, pulsars, neutrino astronomy and radio astronomy. Current theories of the origin of the universe. Course includes observation of the sky.

177. Astronomy Laboratory 

Prerequisite or Corequisite: PHYS 176.
A series of experiments is undertaken with the goal of understanding both the scientific method of measurement and the laws of nature as they apply to astronomy. Two and one-half laboratory hours.

201. Modern Physics

Prerequisites: PHYS 101, PHYS 102 or PHYS 107, PHYS 108. 
20th-century developments in physics. Relativity theory; the nature of space and time, the paradox of the twins, the equivalence of mass and energy. Introductory quantum theory; the particle nature of light, the wave nature of electrons, atomic and molecular structure, the structure of the nucleus and the discovery of new particles. This course is appropriate for all those majoring in science or mathematics.

208. Classical Mechanics of Particles and Waves I

Newton's laws, the simple harmonic oscillator, nonlinear oscillations and chaos, variational methods, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics. Overview of relevant mathematical methods. 

251. Experimental Atomic Physics

Corequisite: PHYS 201. 
Fundamental experiments in atomic physics. Modern scientific methods and instruments are used in such classic experiments as the measurement of the speed of light, the Millikan oil drop experiment, the photo-electric effect and optical spectroscopy. 

252. Electronics I

Prerequisite: PHYS 102 or PHYS 108. 
Introduction to analog electronics. Theory, design, and application of circuits using passive and active components. 

255. Sophomore Research

Prerequisite: Instructor Permission. Research opportunity for Sophomores having an unusually strong background in Physics. Students will work with an individual faculty member on a research project.

256. Practical Computing for Scientists

This course will focus on breaking scientific problems into algorithmic pieces that can be solved using using computational methods in MATLAB. Root finding, linear and non-linear equations, numerical modeling, optimization, random processes, graphical data presentation and fitting, scientific documentation preparation.

275W. University Seminar

University seminars are modeled after our freshman seminars but are reserved for transfer students and for co-enrolled students from Virginia community colleges with whom the College has signed a guaranteed admissions agreement. The objective of the seminars is to help students improve their writing skills and to develop their ability to engage in critical thinking and independent learning. All university seminars are reading-, writing-, and discussion-intensive and introduce students to research methods and strategies.  With a maximum enrollment of 15 students, university seminars provide a small group learning experience and the opportunity to interact closely with faculty. All university seminars will be four credit courses and carry the "W" designation. Students receiving a grade of "C-" or better in the seminar will have satisfied the lower-division writing requirement.

301. Introduction to Mathematical Physics

Vector analysis, complex variables, matrices, series solutions of differential equations, orthogonal functions and partial differential equations. (Cross listed with APSC 446)

303. Classical Mechanics of Particles and Waves II

Prerequisite: PHYS 208. 
Central force motion, scattering, systems of particles, coupled oscillations and normal modes, rigid body rotation, inertia tensor, continuum mechanics and wave motion, special relativity.

309. Undergraduate Seminar

Discussion of contemporary research in physics. Faculty members give survey talks during the first part of the semester. During the second part, students give talks based on their reading and research. May be repeated for credit. 

313-314. Introduction to Quantum Physics

Prerequisites: PHYS 201, PHYS 208.
Introduction to non-relativistic quantum mechanics, emphasizing basic principles with illustrations from atomic, solid state and nuclear physics. 

351. Electronics II

Design and construction of digital circuits. Computer-based control of digital devices used in experimental research. 

352. Experimental Modern Physics

Experiments in atomic, nuclear, solid state and elementary particle physics. 

355. Junior Research

Prerequisite: Instructor permission. Research Opportunity for juniors having an unusually strong background in Physics. Students will work with an individual faculty member on a research project.

401-402. Electricity and Magnetism

Prerequisite: PHYS 208. 
Development of the theory of electricity and magnetism from fundamental principles. Maxwell's equations, electromagnetic waves and radiation. 

403. Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

Prerequisite: PHYS 201. 
Introduction to quantum statistical mechanics and thermal physics. Definitions of accessible quantum states, entropy, free energy, temperature and partition function for noninteracting systems. Derivation and interpretation of the physical and thermodynamic properties of classical and quantum gases, solids, thermal radiation and diffusive equilibrium. 

404. Quantum Physics: Research Applications

Prerequisites: PHYS 313, PHYS 314. 
Applications of quantum physics to modern research topics. The course will focus on areas (to be determined by the instructor) such as : electronic and magnetic properties of solids, atomic and optical physics, or nuclear and particle physics. May be repeated for credit when the instructor determines that there will not be a duplication of material.

451-452. Physics Research

Independent study including bibliographic and experimental or theoretical research and a research paper. The student will be required to submit a preliminary draft of the research paper during the first semester and will be expected to work closely with an advisor both in the actual research and in preparation of an acceptable report. If satisfactorily completed, this course will meet the departmental writing requirement.

476. Modern Astrophysics

Prerequisites: PHYS 303, PHYS 313. Corequisite: PHYS 401. 
An introduction of modern astrophysics. Topics may include stellar characteristics and evolution, galactic structure, cosmology, general relativity and the tools and techniques of astronomy and astrophysics.

481-482 Topics in Physics

Prerequisite: Consent of instructor.
 May be repeated for credit when the instructor determines that there will not be a duplication of material. 

495-496. Honors

Students admitted to Honors study in physics will be enrolled in this course during both semesters of their senior year. Each candidate will be responsible for (a) reading and discussion of a selected list of books in some specific area of the literature of physics; (b) the preparation and presentation by April 15 of an Honors essay based on the student's own research, or part of a major research project; (c) satisfactory completion of a comprehensive oral examination on essay and related topics. If successfully completed this course will satisfy the College writing requirement. In addition to the major course requirements, the department requirements for Honors specify Physics 303 and 351, as well as either Physics 314 or 402. In applying for Honors, students must submit a proposal to the undergraduate committee during the semester preceding enrollment. For college provisions governing the Admission to Honors, see catalog section titled Honors and Special Programs.

Graduate Program

The department offers the degrees of Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy. Degree requirements and a full description of graduate courses in physics can be obtained at or you may request application forms by email at or by writing to the Chair of the Graduate Admission Committee in Physics.