Support WU
A-Z Index

2011-2012 CLA Catalog

Quick Links

Jump to a Discipline

Jump to a Specific Course

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 (12 Credits)

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

Core courses

Choose two courses from the following (2)

Additional requirements

  • One additional course in Physics numbered above 200 (1)
  • MATH 249 (QA*) Multivariable Calculus (1)
  • MATH 256 Differential Equations (1)
  • CS 141 (QA*) Introduction to Programming (1)

Graduate schools often require students take courses similar to PHYS 335 (Thermal Physics), PHYS 345 (Electromagnetism), and PHYS 453 (Quantum Mechanics). Students intending to do graduate study in Physics should consider further mathematical study in linear algebra and complex variables. Students preparing for careers in engineering or applied science should consider taking Wave Phenomena and Electromagnetism plus one other course beyond the basic six. Students with other goals in mind should consult the faculty concerning their choice of elective courses beyond the basic six.

Requirements for the Physics Minor (5 Credits)

  • PHYS 221 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics I (1)
  • PHYS 222 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics II (1)
  • PHYS 223 (W) Modern Physics (1)
  • Two additional Physics courses at 300- or 400-level (2)

Indicators of Achievement

The department seeks to meet its program mission through a curriculum that emphasizes the four skill sets.

Student Learning Outcomes for the Physics Major

  1. Theoretical and computational skills
    • Six of the required physics classes provide a broad theoretical foundation for understanding a physical description of the natural world. In addition, one of these classes (thermal physics) has a focus on using computer-based data-acquisition systems, while one of the elective physics classes (Wave phenomena) has a focus on mathematical methods used in physics. The math and computer programming classes provide the students with further theoretical and computational background.
  2. Laboratory skills
    • Three of the required physics classes (intro I, intro II, and modern) consist of both a classroom component and a complementary laboratory component. This allows students to supplement their theoretical knowledge with experience-based learning. In addition, students learn both how to use lab equipment to collect data and how to appropriately analyze and present the data. Two of the upper-level required physics classes (ATEP and SYE) are research based classes, and have been described in detail above.
  3. Writing and presentation skills
    • For all physics classes that contain a lab component, students are required to turn in a lab report in which they describe their methods of collecting data and analyze their results. In addition, two of the required upper-level physics classes (ATEP and SYE) are research based classes that culminate in both a written thesis and an oral presentation. In ATEP, students learn to present their results in writing of various styles, from a technical paper, to a publication-style paper and a thesis. They also learn how to effectively write proposals.
  4. General research skills
    • These skills are emphasized in all of our laboratory components due to the open-ended nature of most of our labs. However, the strongest exposure to research-like projects happens in ATEP and SYE as both courses mimic the full arc of research from the writing of a proposal, to the design and assembly of an experiment, the data taking and analysis, and the final report in form a paper or presentation. Students learn how to pose and solve physical problems on their own. Research skills are also acquired during summer research participation as part of SCRP or an external REU.


Course Listings

PHYS 110 (NW) Astronomy (1)

An introduction to modern theories of the universe and its evolution. Topics include naked eye observations, the solar system, stars, galaxies, and cosmology. Emphasis will be placed on the scientific method and how we understand the universe in terms of basic physical principles. Laboratory.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

  • Offering: Fall
  • Instructor: Watkins, Kleinert

PHYS 221 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics I (1)

An introduction to classical mechanics and thermodynamics. This course studies the concepts and techniques required to measure, describe and predict the motion of particles and extended objects. Topics include kinematics of linear motion, forces and Newton's laws, gravitation, momentum, work, energy, rotational motion, angular momentum, torque, fluids, oscillations, temperature, heat, and thermal energy.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning

  • Offering: Every semester
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 222 (QA; NW) Introductory Physics II (1)

An introduction to electricity, magnetism, and optics. This course studies the concepts and techniques required to understand interactions between charged particles as well as light as an electromagnetic wave. Topics include electrical force, electric field, electric potential, capacitance, electric current, circuits, magnetic field, inductance, Faraday's law, electromagnetic waves, reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction and polarization. Laboratory.

Mode of Inquiry: Understanding the Natural World

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Quantitative and Analytical Reasoning

Prerequisite: PHYS 221

  • Offering: Every semester
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 223 Modern Physics (1)

A survey of the major developments in physics of the 20th century, as well as an introduction to more sophisticated mathematical and laboratory techniques. Topics include special relativity, the quantum nature of light, the wave nature of particles, the Schrödinger equation, atomic physics, molecules, quantum statistical physics, nuclear physics, particle physics and cosmology. Laboratory.

Prerequisite: PHYS 222 and MATH 142

  • Offering: Fall
  • Instructor: Watkins, Bigelow

PHYS 250 Physical Biology of the Cell (1)

This course will explore how the insights of physics and mathematics have illuminated the complex phenomena of the cell. We will study the use of quantitative and predictive models to describe biological systems, and discuss the experimental methods that provide the quantitative data required to create and test these models. The course will be structured around a series of case studies involving some of the key players in molecular and cell biology

Prerequisite: Calculus or consent of instructor. 

  • Offering: Alternate springs
  • Instructor: Altman

PHYS 335 Thermal Physics (1)

A study of systems with a large number of particles through the methods of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Topics include temperature, heat, thermal equilibrium, equipartition theorem, ideal gas, simple two state systems, entropy, heat engines, free energies, phase transformations, kinetic theory, partition functions, quantum statistics, and blackbody radiation. Laboratory.

Prerequisite: PHYS 223 and MATH 142

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Bigelow

PHYS 339 Mechanics (1)

A study of classical mechanics developed by Newton and reformulated by Lagrange and Hamilton. Topics include vector kinematics and dynamics in Cartesian, cylindrical, and spherical form, two-body problem, oscillations, Lagrangian mechanics, non-inertial reference frames, coupled oscillation, rigid body motion.

Prerequisite: PHYS 222 and MATH 249

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Bigelow

PHYS 342 Wave Phenomena (1)

A study of the mathematical theory of vibrations and waves as illustrated by mechanical and electromagnetic oscillations. Topics include: simple harmonic motion, forced vibrations and resonance, couple oscillators, wave equation for continuous systems, normal modes, and the superposition, reflection, refraction, interference, diffraction and polarization of waves. Mathematical techniques such complex analysis and Fourier analysis will be discussed. Laboratory.

Prerequisite: PHYS 222

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Beilby, Watkins

PHYS 345 Electromagnetism (1)

A study of electromagnetism using vector calculus. Topics include static electric and magnetic fields in vacuum and matter, electrodynamics, Maxwell's equations, and electromagnetic waves. Mathematical techniques using vector calculus, and other techniques such as solving boundary value partial differential equations will be discussed.

Prerequisite: PHYS 222 and MATH 249

  • Offering: Alternate years
  • Instructor: Kleinert, Watkins

PHYS 396 (W) Advanced Techniques in Experimental Physics (1)

This course focuses on the methods of conducting research in experimental physics. Important research skills covered are literature searches, experiment design and theory, laboratory techniques, communication of research through oral presentations and written material. The integration of basic physics concepts learned in pervious courses will be emphasized. The first part of the course focuses on electronics, computer data acquisition, use of advanced equipment and data analysis. The second part of the course focuses on completing several advanced experiments, which are related to current research in the department. The final part of the course focuses on the proposing and designing an independent project. Laboratory.

General Education Requirement Fulfillment: Writing centered

Prerequisite: PHYS 223

  • Offering: Spring
  • Instructor: Bigelow, Kleinert

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 223 and MATH 249

  • Offering: Alternate springs
  • Instructor: Watkins

PHYS 470 Advanced Topics in Physics (1)

This course focuses on a currently active research field in physics. Integration of fundamental concepts of physics will be applied to a specific topic such as astrophysics and cosmology, condensed matter physics, general relativity, and computational physics.

Prerequisite: PHYS 223

  • 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 495 Research Seminar ( (.5)

Required Senior Year Experience for all resident Physics majors. Students design and carry out individual research projects under the mentorship of a departmental faculty member. Weekly meetings include seminars, discussions of research methods, peer teaching, and opportunities to practice scientific communication skills.

Prerequisite: PHYS 396

  • Offering: Fall
  • Instructor: Staff

PHYS 496 Research Seminar II (.5)

Required Senior Year Experience for all resident Physics majors. Students continue individual research projects begun in Fall semester in PHYS 495. The course culminates in a written senior thesis and a formal oral presentation.

Prerequisite: PHYS 495

  • Offering: Spring
  • Instructor: Staff