Nov 30, 2023  
2019 - 2020 Academic Catalog 
2019 - 2020 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics, B.A.

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   Member of the Division of Science


Charles Cunningham


Barbara Breen
Charlotte Christensen
Keisuke Hasegawa
Eliza Kempton
Leo Rodriguez
Shanshan Rodriguez
Paul Tjossem
Joshua Weber
Jacob Willig-Onwuachi

Physics develops an understanding of physical phenomena through study of classical and modern theory in conjunction with laboratory and computational 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 take part in departmental activities such as the weekly physics seminar. As they develop expertise with laboratory equipment, computational modeling, and data acquisition, and mathematical techniques, students are urged to pursue their own interests within the discipline through the core curriculum, upper level elective 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, and solid state physics.  Excellent laboratory facilities support the physics program. The Grant O. Gale Observatory features a 24-inch research-quality telescope with CCD-based imaging and spectroscopic capabilities. The solid-state physics lab offers a single crystal growth suite and spin glasses in magnetic fields up to 9 Tesla and at temperatures from near absolute zero to above room temperature. 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. The biophysics laboratory uses a sCMOS-equipped fluorescence microscope and photon counting spectrofluorimeter for investigating biomolecular self-assembly below the diffraction limit of light.

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

Additional Recommendations

  • PHY 314  and PHY 456  are recommended for students planning graduate work in physics and astronomy.
  • CSC 161  is 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 either PHY 314  or PHY 456 , and conduct and present independent research in physics or a related area.

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