2016-2017 Pitzer Catalog 
    Oct 22, 2018  
2016-2017 Pitzer Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics Major

Physics explores the fundamental principles governing the behavior of our universe, from the subatomic scale to the cosmological scale.  These principles underlie most modern technologies, and have direct applications to biology, chemistry, neuroscience, engineering, environmental analysis, etc., making physics a highly versatile undergraduate major.  Physics majors work closely with faculty as they develop a broad range of highly flexible analytical and quantitative model-building and problem-solving skills.  Our program places particular curricular emphasis on computational/numerical modeling techniques, so that our majors are well versed in tackling complex problems which are not readily solved by traditional methods.  Physics alumni go on to a variety of positions, including industrial and academic research, biophysics, engineering, finance, law, medicine, mathematics.  Course requirements for the physics major are kept relatively modest, allowing students with multiple interests to pursue double and dual majors and minors.

Requirements for the Major

Learning Outcomes of the Program in Physics

When confronted with an unfamiliar physical or dynamical system or situation, our students should be able to:


  1. Develop a conceptual framework for understanding the system by identifying the key physical principles and relationships underlying the system.
  2. Translate that conceptual framework into a quantitative/mathematical format suitable for analysis.
  3. Investigate the model via a variety of analytical and/or numerical methods.
  4. Intelligently analyze, interpret, and assess the reasonableness of the answers obtained and/or the model’s predictions.
  5. Effectively communicate their findings (either verbally and/or via written expression) to diverse audiences.

In a laboratory setting, students should be able to:

  1. Design an appropriate experiment to test out a hypothesis of interest.
  2. Make basic order-of-magnitude estimates; identify and address the sources of error and uncertainty in an experiment.
  3. Demonstrate a working familiarity with standard laboratory equipment (e.g., oscilloscopes, DMMs, signal generators, etc.).
  4. Demonstrate proficiency with standard methods of data analysis (e.g., graphing, curve-fitting, statistical analysis, Fourier analysis, etc.).
  5. Intelligently analyze, interpret, and assess the reasonableness of their experimental results.
  6. Effectively communicate their findings (either verbally and/or via written expression) to diverse audiences.

Courses required for the Physics major:

      Recommended: An advanced physics laboratory course is highly recommended.  Although students need only take Differential Equations or Linear Algebra for the major, taking both courses is useful.

      NOTE: Physics majors normally complete PHYS 033L KS  , PHYS 034L KS  , or AISS in their first year and PHYS 035 KS  in fall of sophomore year.  The calculus sequence (through Math 32) is normally completed in fall of sophomore year or earlier.  Students can then take (in any order) PHYS 100 KS  , PHYS 102 KS  , PHYS 115 KS  , PHYS 108 KS  or equivalent, differential equations and/or linear algebra.  Physics 101 and PHYS 114 should only be taken after completing differential equations or linear algebra.  Majors interested in potentially pursuing experimental work should also take an advanced physics laboratory course.