Physics develops an understanding of physical phenomena through study of classical and modern theory in conjunction with laboratory experience. The intellectual curiosity and disciplined study promoted by work in physics are important to such diverse fields as the natural sciences, the social sciences, engineering, medicine, and law. Grinnell students may begin their study of physics at several different points. Those currently registered in calculus (Mathematics 131) normally start with Physics 131, while those with advanced standing may start in 132 or even in 232. The department also offers courses (109, 116, 117, and 180) specifically designed for students who do not plan to major in one of the sciences. Students who plan to major in physics are encouraged to immediately take part in departmental activities such as the weekly physics seminar. As they develop expertise with laboratory equipment, computers, and mathematical techniques, students are urged to pursue their own interests within the discipline. Most physics majors do some sort of independent project or research, either on or off campus. The physics facilities include the Grant O. Gale Observatory, which features a 24-inch research-quality telescope that is fully computer controlled and has CCD-based imaging and spectroscopic capabilities. The solid-state physics lab offers a single crystal growth suite, a powder X-ray diffractometer, and instruments to measure the magnetic, electrical, and thermodynamic properties of superconductors and spin glasses in magnetic fields up to 9 Tesla and at temperatures from near absolute zero to above room temperature. The gamma ray astronomy lab uses networked workstations for analyzing TeV gamma rays from supernova remnants and active galactic nuclei. The nuclear physics lab features computerized multiparameter data acquisition systems and high-purity germanium detectors. The laser lab has two high-power tunable lasers for molecular spectroscopy: a Nd:YAG pulsed dye system and a continuous-wave Argon ion/Ti Sapphire system. Grinnell participates with four universities in joint 3-2 engineering programs that enable students to earn two bachelors’ degrees in physics and engineering. Students preparing for professional engineering should consult the departmental engineering adviser.
A minimum of 32 credits. Required are Physics 131, 132, 232, 234, 335, 337, and 462. (Physics 109, 116, and 180 do not satisfy major requirements.) Mathematics courses through Mathematics 220 are required for all physics majors. Additional courses in mathematics, such as Mathematics 321 or 338, are advised for students planning graduate work in physics; other courses in the division are appropriate for those who plan to continue in a science or engineering field. Prospective majors should consult early with the department about suitable additional courses. Physics 314 and 456 are recommended for all majors.
To be considered for honors in physics, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors, must complete Physics 456.
An investigation of a variety of physical principles that have interesting applications to musical acoustics and the visual arts. Topics include simple vibrating systems, musical instruments, Fourier analysis, light and color, optics, and photography. Intended primarily for nonscience majors. Laboratory work allows students to investigate phenomena firsthand. Three lectures, one laboratory each week.
Descriptive astronomy, covering the tools and methods of astronomy, the solar system, the stars, and the structure of the galaxy and the universe.
This course is the first part of a yearlong, calculus-based introductory physics sequence, focusing on the application of physical principles, logical reasoning, and mathematical analysis to understand a broad range of natural phenomena related to force and motion. Topics include Newtonian mechanics, conservation principles, gravity, and oscillation. This course meets for six hours each week and involves both classroom and laboratory work.
This course is the second part of a yearlong, calculus-based introductory physics sequence, focusing on the application of physical principles, logical reasoning, and mathematical analysis to understand a broad range of electromagnetic phenomena. Topics include electricity, magnetism, light, and early atomic theory. This course meets for six hours each week and involves both classroom and laboratory work.
An investigation of large man-made structures (e.g., Brooklyn Bridge, Eiffel Tower, and Hancock Tower/Chicago), considering structural, social, and aesthetic aspects. The relationship between a structure’s form and its function is examined. Concepts from physics necessary for the quantitative analysis are presented.
A course in modern electronics, emphasizing the use of integrated circuits. Topics include analog electronics, primarily the design of circuits based on operational amplifiers; digital electronics, including logic circuits, counters, and timers; and microcontroller interfacing using software written in low-level languages and C. Two lectures, two laboratories each week.
For students with an introductory physics background who wish to extend their knowledge of atomic, nuclear, and solid-state physics. Emphasis on the basic phenomena and fundamental physics principles involved in special relativity and quantum mechanics and their subsequent application to atomic, nuclear, and solid state models. Three classes, one laboratory each week.
A study of analytical mechanics, including Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalisms of particle dynamics, rigid body motion, and harmonic oscillations.
An active-learning introduction to computing in physics. Class is taught in the laboratory, with each class session dedicated to a particular topic. These topics include investigations of numerical algorithms for integration, matrix manipulations, Fourier transforms, data fitting, and Monte Carlo methods.
A study of thermodynamics from classical and statistical points of view. Applications of Maxwell-Boltzmann, Fermi-Dirac, and Bose-Einstein distributions are used to provide an introduction to solid-state physics and quantum optics.
An advanced treatment of electric and magnetic fields and potentials, including the laws of Coulomb, Ampere, and Faraday, Maxwell’s equations, and electromagnetic waves.
A wide variety of physical problems — including one- and two-dimensional mechanical oscillating systems, sound, and optical phenomena — are examined using the theory of waves. The primary emphasis is on physical optics (interference and diffraction phenomena). Three lectures, one laboratory each week.
An introduction to topics in theoretical and observational astrophysics, including stellar structure and evolution, the physics of interstellar material, galactic structure and dynamics, cosmology and observational technology and techniques. The course also includes a very brief survey of other topics, including the solar system and areas of current research interest.
An introduction to the physics of crystalline solids, such as metals, semiconductors, and insulators. This course presents models of the crystal lattice, lattice vibrations, and electronic band structures, as well as a brief survey of selected topics of current research interest.
Introduction to the physical and mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics with application to simple physical systems.
Application and implications of the quantum theory. Perturbation theory and other approximation techniques are used to examine various quantum systems. Fundamental questions of interpretation of the quantum theory will also be considered.
Experiments bear a closer resemblance to research than do the experiments in more elementary courses. There is a wide range of activities to meet individual needs and interests. Two afternoons of laboratory or reading each week.
- College Catalog