May 29, 2023  
2012-2013 Academic Catalog 
2012-2013 Academic Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics, B.A.

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   Member of the Division of Science


Paul Tjossem


Robert Cadmus
William Case
Charles Cunningham
Charles Duke
Eliza Kempton 
Leo Rodriquez
Mark Schneider
Sujeev Wickramasekara
Jacob Willig-Onwuachi

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 ) 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. 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.

Major Requirements: A minimum of 32 credits

Elective credits: 6 credits

  • Prospective majors should consult early with the department about suitable additional courses.
  • PHY 109 , PHY 116 , and PHY 180  do not satisfy major requirements.

Additional requirements and recommendations

  • Mathematics courses through MAT 220  are required for all physics majors.
  • Additional courses in mathematics, such as MAT 321  or MAT 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.
  • PHY 314  and PHY 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 PHY 456 .

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