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Willamette University

900 State Street
Salem, Oregon 97301

503-370-6300 voice

Physics View this department's website

Students curious about how the world works will find that the physics curriculum offers them the opportunity to learn not only about the principal phenomena of the physical world but also how physical theory helps us understand these phenomena. The curriculum emphasizes laboratory work in which students become independent workers formulating and solving their own problems. Students gain the intellectual skill of moving freely to and from the concrete and the abstract. Students assess evidence, follow complex arguments to their logical conclusions, and practice speaking and writing clearly and effectively. The major program may serve as a basis for further study in physics and allied sciences and in engineering and for study leading to professions in education, health sciences and law.

Many careers are open to those who understand some physics. Graduates work as astronomers, engineers, material scientists and physicists in government, industry and universities as well as in geophysics, oceanography, computer science, medical and health physics and in patent law.

The physics department is located in Collins Hall. Individual research space is available and all laboratories are equipped with a wide variety of instrumentation. Students at all levels use computers with sophisticated data acquisition and analysis software. A set of spectrometers are available for studies from the ultraviolet to the far infrared. An X-ray diffractometer is available for materials studies.

Requirements for the Physics Major (11 Credits)

8 credits in Physics, 2 in Mathematics, 1 in Computer Science

Core courses

  • PHYS 215 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics I (1)
  • PHYS 236 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics II (1)
  • PHYS 331 (W) Modern Physics (1)
  • PHYS 335 Thermal Physics (1)
  • PHYS 339 Mechanics (1)
  • PHYS 496 Research Seminar (resident seniors only) (1)
  • MATH 249 (QA*) Multivariable Calculus (1)
  • MATH 256 Differential Equations (1)
  • One course in Computer Science
  • Two additional courses in Physics

PHYS 496, Research Seminar, satisfies the senior year experience which must be completed by all resident seniors. Students intending to do graduate study in Physics should also take PHYS 342 (Wave Phenomena), PHYS 345 (Electromagnetism), and PHYS 453 (Quantum Mechanics). Such students should also consider further mathematical study in linear algebra and complex variables.

Students preparing for careers in engineering or applied science should also take Wave Phenomena and Electromagnetism plus one other course beyond the basic five. Students with other goals in mind may choose their additional three courses from among any of the other physics courses outside the basic five.

Requirements for the Physics Minor (5 Credits)

  • PHYS 215 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics I (1)
  • PHYS 236 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics II (1)
  • Three additional Physics courses at 300- or 400-level (3)

Faculty

  • Richard W. Watkins, Assistant Professor, Chair
  • Mark A. Beilby, Assistant Professor
  • Roberta A. Bigelow, Associate Professor

Course Listings

PHYS 210 (NW) Astronomy (1)

Descriptive astronomy of the celestial sphere. Megalithic astronomy. Astronomy of classical antiquity. The Copernican revolution. Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. Spectroscopic methods of astronomy. Stellar physics and stellar evolution. The interstellar medium, star clusters and our galaxy. Other galaxies, the expanding universe, quasars and cosmology.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

  • Offering: Fall
  • Instructor: Watkins

PHYS 215 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics I (1)

Acceleration, mass, force, work, energy, momentum, angular momentum, temperature
and heat, as applied to the Newtonian kinematics and dynamics of a particle
and of the plane motion of a rigid body and to thermodynamics.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning

Prerequisite: Calculus

  • Offering: Every Semester
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 236 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics II (1)

The electric field, Coulomb’s Law, Gauss’ Law, electric potential, capacitance, electric current, electromotive force, Kirchoff ’s Rules, the magnetic field, Ampere’s Law, Faraday’s Law, inductance, alternating current, electromagnetic waves, light, reflection and refraction, lenses, Huygen’s principle, interference, diffraction and polarization.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning

Prerequisite: PHYS 215 and Calculus

  • Offering: Every Semester
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 331 (W) Modern Physics (1)

Theory of special relativity, quantum effects, atomic structure and spectra, molecular structure and spectra, x-rays, solid state physics, nuclear physics, elementary particles.

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing-Centered

Prerequisite: PHYS 236 and Calculus

  • Offering: Spring
  • Instructor: Bigelow

PHYS 335 Thermal Physics (1)

Temperature and its measurement, simple thermodynamic systems, heat, conductivity, convection, radiation, ideal gases, kinetic theory, entropy, enthalpy, Helmholtz and Gibbs functions, Maxwell’s Equations, statistical mechanics, low temperature physics, superfluidity, superconductivity and applications of heat and thermodynamics to other areas of physics and engineering.

Prerequisite: PHYS 215 and Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 339 Mechanics (1)

Vector kinematics of plane motion in Cartesian and polar form. Newtonian particle mechanics. Projectile motion in resisting media. Work, energy and conservative forces. The force of gravity, Kepler’s Laws and planetary motion. Free and forced harmonic oscillations. Lagrange’s Equations.

Prerequisite: PHYS 215, 236 and and two courses in Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 342 Wave Phenomena (1)

Superposition, reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction and polarization of waves, illustrated with physical optics.

Prerequisite: PHYS 236 and two courses in Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 345 Electromagnetism (1)

Classical electricity and magnetism including electric and magnetic fields, capacitance, inductance, dielectrics, induced electromotive force and the development of Maxwell’s Equations and electromagnetic waves.

Prerequisite: PHYS 215 and PHYS 236 and two courses in Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 348 Electronics (1)

DC and AC circuits, electrons in solids, transistors, power supplies, voltage and power amplifiers, oscillators, digital electronics, integrated circuits and application of electronics.

Prerequisite: PHYS 236 and Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Bigelow

PHYS 439 (W) Nuclear and Particle Physics (1)

Study of basic nuclear structure, nuclear decay and radioactivity, nuclear reactions and particle physics.

Prerequisite: PHYS 331 and Calculus

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing-centered

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Bigelow

PHYS 442 Condensed Matter Physics (1)

Treatment of crystal structure on an atomic scale including bulk, thermal, electric, magnetic, semiconducting and superconducting properties of matter.

Prerequisite: PHYS 331 and Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 444 Astrophysics and Cosmology (1)

This course examines how the evolution of the Universe can be understood in terms of fundamental physical laws. Specific topics covered will be the Big Bang, particle physics in the early Universe, nucleosynthesis in stars, black holes, and the future fate of the Universe. Recent important discoveries in Astronomy will be discussed along with how they are challenging some well established theories.

Prerequisite: PHYS 331 and Calculus

  • Offering: Alternate Springs
  • Instructor: Watkins

PHYS 446 Introduction to General Relativity (1)

This course will explore the development of ideas regarding gravity from a conceptual, mathematical, and historical perspective beginning with a review of Newton’s theory of gravity and then introducing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Current exciting topics including black holes and the search for gravitational radiation will be discussed. Mathematical techniques, such as four-vectors and tensors will be introduced.

Prerequisite: PHYS 331 (or concurrent enrollment), and MATH 142

  • Offering: Alternate Springs
  • Instructor: Beilby

PHYS 453 Quantum Mechanics (1)

A mathematical development of quantum theory. The first part of the course focuses on solving the Schr-dinger equation in one, two and three dimensions. Further topics include the theory of angular momentum, the hydrogen atom, identical particles and quantum statistics, and time-independent perturbation theory.

Prerequisite: PHYS 331 and MATH 256

  • Offering: Alternate springs
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 490 Independent Study (.25 or .5 or 1)

Individual programs of independent study of topics selected in consultation with faculty.

  • Offering: Every semester
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 496 Research Seminar (1)

Required Senior Year Experience for all resident Physics majors. Students prepare and carry out individual research projects under the direction of a departmental faculty member. The final product of the course is a written senior thesis and a formal oral presentation.

  • Offering: Fall
  • Instructor: Staff