Introductory Physics Courses at Bryn Mawr College

Wondering which physics course to take? Click one or more of the following options:

I'm a freshman. Which physics course should I take?
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If you're still unsure, the physics undergraduate courses adviser is Dr. Mark Matlin and he is available to answer questions (mmatlin AT

The Physics Department offers a variety of introductory courses to fulfill the different needs and interests of our students. All courses (except Physics 157, 158, and 159) include a laboratory component.

Physics 101/102 follows a traditional presentation of physics topics, closely following a standard textbook sequence. The primary topic in the fall is mechanics; the primary topic in the spring is electromagnetism. These courses are designed for upper-class undergraduates and post-baccalaureate students. A typical student in these courses would be a biology or premedical student who does not anticipate taking further courses in physics. There are two sections of these courses. Section 1 is for post-baccalaureate students. Section 2 is for undergraduates. Undergraduates should not enroll in section 1.

Physics 121/122/201/214 is a four-semester introductory sequence designed for students interested in obtaining a strong background in physical science. Physics majors should take all four semesters of the sequence. Other students may be interested in taking one, two, three, or four semesters. The full sequence of courses is:

Semester 1:    Physics 121,  Modeling the physical world
Semester 2: Physics 122, Classical and relativistic mechanics
Semester 3: Physics 201, Electromagnetism
Semester 4: Physics 214, Introduction to quantum mechanics

Physics 121 develops physical intuition and problem-solving skills by exploring ideas and discoveries of twentieth and twenty-first century physics. Fundamental physical concepts such as energy, momentum, waves, and electromagnetic forces are introduced and used to gain insight into topics such as the quantum mechanical behavior of atoms, the wave-particle duality of matter, special relativity, and cosmology.

Physics 122 takes a rigorous approach to the study of classical mechanics and relativity. Topics include the Newtonian Mechanics of single particles, systems of particles, rigid bodies, continuous media, one-dimensional systems including forced and nonlinear oscillators, scattering, and orbit problems. Special relativity is treated in detail.

Physics 201 covers electrostatics, electric currents, magnetic fields, electromagnetic induction, electromagnetic waves, and electric and magnetic fields in matter. Students gain a solid conceptual understanding of each of these topics while mastering the mathematical framework of vector calculus used to model various electromagnetic interactions.

Physics 214 introduces the principles governing systems at the atomic scale and smaller. Topics include the experimental basis of quantum mechanics, wave-particle duality, Schrodinger's equation and its solutions, the time dependence of quantum states, angular momentum in the microscopic world, simple atoms, and atomic nuclei. Recent developments, such as paradoxes calling attention to the counter-intuitive aspects of quantum physics, are discussed.

Math 101, 102, 201, and 203 are co-requisites of the introductory physics sequence. For example, students taking Physics 121, must also be enrolled in Math 101, or must already have taken Math 101 or an equivalent course. Similarly, students taking Physics 122 must be enrolled in (or have completed) Math 102, and so on.

Not offered in 2010-11:

Physics 108 and 158: "Contemporary Physics: From Superstrings to the Multiverse."  The twentieth century brought two major revolutions in our understanding of the physical universe—the theories of relativity and quantum physics.  We will take a close look at each of these theories and their consequences.  Newer theories that might unify these, and reconcile our understanding of the very small and the very large, also will be touched on.  We also will explore the third major theory of the last century, commonly called "chaos theory," which applies to phenomena ranging from electrical activity in the brain during seizures to the stability of solar systems.  Physics 108 and 158 are identical; 108 incorporates a lab and 158 does not.

Physics 107 and 157: "Physics, Evolution, and Literature: Humans Modeling Their World."  This course addresses how human beings model physical systems far from the everyday realm, as well as how human senses work and the role of biological evolution. The course develops models for electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, special relativity, general relativity, cosmology, particle physics, and nuclear physics. No mathematics is used. Readings include Abbott's Flatland, Wells' The Country of the Blind, Borges' Library of Babel, Kafka's Metamorphosis, other short stories, and selected scientific articles. Lecture three hours, discussion session one hour, laboratory three hours.

Physics 109 and 159: "How Things Work."  This course gives students the opportunity to explore the physical principles that govern the objects and activities familiar in their everyday lives. For example, objects such a roller coasters, rockets, light bulbs and Xerographic copiers will be used to explore motion, fluids, heat, and electricity.

(Updated on August 29, 2013 by X.M. Cheng)

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