Mar 31, 2023  
2016-2017 Academic Catalog 
2016-2017 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics, B.A.

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Departments, Majors, Concentratons

Department Home Page

Search Current Schedule of Courses


   Member of the Division of Science


Jacob Willig-Onwuachi


Barbara Breen
Robert Cadmus - Senior Faculty Status
William Case - Senior Faculty Status
Charlotte Christensen
Charles Cunningham
Keisuke Hasegawa
Eliza Kempton
Mark Schneider - Senior Faculty Status
Paul Tjossem
Eugenio Ursino

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 (MAT 131  or MAT 124 ) normally start with PHY 131 , while those with advanced standing may start in PHY 132  or even in PHY 232 . The department also offers courses (PHY 109 , PHY 116 , and PHY 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 through the core curriculum, upper level special topics courses in a variety of fields, and research opportunities. Most physics majors do some sort of independent project or research, either on or off campus.

Faculty in the department maintain active research programs with undergraduate students in a variety of areas, including applied physics, astronomy/astrophysics, biophysics, non-linear dynamics, medical physics, optics, quantum mechanics, and solid state physics.  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.

Students pursuing an interest in astronomy should consult with a faculty member.  The department offers elective coursework in astrophysics and opportunities to participate in independent and course-based astronomy projects.

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.

Major Requirements: A minimum of 32 credits

Elective credits: 6 credits

  • Prospective majors should consult early with the department about suitable additional courses.
  • Elective credits must be numbered 200 or higher to satisfy major requirements.

Additional requirements and recommendations


To be considered for honors in physics, graduating seniors, in addition to meeting the College’s general requirements for honors, must: complete either PHY 314  or PHY 456 , and conduct and present independent research in physics or a related area.

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Departments, Majors, Concentratons