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Information for Physics Majors & Minors

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How to Apply

Prospective Freshmen

Students interested in applying for admission to Cornell University can indicate their desire to major in physics on their application to the College of Arts and Sciences. Information on applying to Cornell can be found at the College of Arts and Science and the main Cornell Admissions site.

Current Cornell Students

Current students meeting the entrance requirements for the major [two physics courses (and the associated mathematics) with a grade of B- or better] can find the forms for joining the major at the Main Physics Office, 117 Clark Hall.

Students should then arrange to meet with the Physics Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), Professor Kyle Shen [physicsdus@cornell.edu, (607) 255-1952] to complete their application. Students can gain provisional acceptance into the major in the semester in which they expect to complete the requirements and thereby have the benefit of their major advisors help in course planning. Students are welcome to see Professor Shen early in their time at Cornell as well to discuss pre-major course selection.

Students who are not yet ready to join the major, but would like to find ways to become involved with Cornell Physics, are encouraged to join the Society of Physics Students.

Requirements

Course Requirements at a Glance (PDF)

The Physics Core – All physics majors must complete a core of physics and mathematics courses as follows:

Three-semester introductory physics sequence plus special relativity:

Either:
PHYS 1112 – Physics I: Mechanics
PHYS 2213 – Physics II: Heat/Electromagnetism
PHYS 2214 – Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics
PHYS 2216 – Introduction to Special Relativity

Or its more analytic “honors” version:
PHYS 1116 – Physics I: Mechanics and Special Relativity
PHYS 2217 – Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism
PHYS 2218 – Physics III: Waves and Thermal Physics

PHYS 2207 students with life/chemical/health science interests who decide to switch to the physics major may complete:

PHYS 2207 – Fundamentals of Physics I
PHYS 2213 – Physics II: Heat/Electromagnetism
PHYS 2214 – Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics
PHYS 2216 – Introduction to Special Relativity

*NOTE: A transition from PHYS 2208 to PHYS 2214 is also possible for students with very strong math backgrounds.

Mathematics courses covering single and multivariable calculus, linear algebra, series representations, and complex analysis:

*NOTE:  Inside concentrators should complete at least one additional year of applicable mathematics such as AEP 4210 and AEP 4220.

Five upper-level courses beyond the three-semester introductory sequence, consisting of:

(3) An intermediate course in classical mechanics:
PHYS 3314 – Intermediate Mechanics or
PHYS 3318 – Analytical Mechanics

(4) An intermediate course in electromagnetism:
PHYS 3323 – Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism or
PHYS 3327 – Advanced Electricity and Magnetism

*NOTE: Students who complete the PHYS 1112PHYS 2213PHYS 2214 orPHYS 2207PHYS 2213PHYS 2214 introductory sequence are advised to complete the 1-credit course PHYS 2216 before taking PHYS 3316.

Additional Requirements:

In addition to the core, each physics major must complete at least 15 semester hours of credit in an area of concentration that has been agreed upon by the student and major faculty advisor consistent with the guidelines found here.

Concentrations

Click here for more information on undergraduate physics concentrations.

Honors

A student may be granted honors in physics upon the recommendation of the Physics Advisors Committee of the physics faculty. There is no particular course structure or thesis requirement for honors.

Double Majors

Students are welcome to pursue a physics major concurrently with another major; either in the college of Arts and Sciences or in another college through the dual-degree program. Any course used to satisfy a requirement of another major may be used in satisfaction of physics major requirements only if the student’s concentration is within physics.

Courses

The concepts and methods of physics impact nearly all areas of human endeavor. The Department of Physics offers courses in physics for the entire Cornell community. There are general education courses for non-scientists, well-designed introductory sequences for science and engineering majors, more advanced courses for physics majors, and rigorous programs of graduate study, up to doctoral-level independent research.

Minor

Non-physics majors in all Cornell colleges are eligible to earn a Physics minor.  To apply to the Physics Minor, visit the Director of Undergraduate studies during office hours or contact physicsdus@cornell.edu to schedule an appointment.

Admission to the minor requires:

i) B- or better in two of the introductory physics courses [see introductory sequence below]
ii) B- or better in two of the mathematics courses which are listed as prerequisites for those courses.

To earn a minor in physics, a student must complete the following course sequences, with a minimum grade of C-:

Introductory sequence with special relativity. This requires one course out of each of the following four categories:

i) a calculus-based introductory mechanics course (Phys 2207, Phys 1112, or Phys 1116*)
ii) a special relativity course (Phys 2216* or Phys 1116*)
iii) a calculus-based introductory electromagnetism course (Phys 2208, Phys 2213, or Phys 2217)
iv) a course on waves (Phys 2214 or Phys 2218)

*Phys 1116 may be used to satisfy both requirements (i) and (ii).

Students are encouraged to talk with a physics advisor to discuss which sequence is most appropriate for them.

At least 3 physics courses, totaling 9 or more credit hours at the 3000 level or above. 

i) Quantum Mechanics (Phys 3316*) is required
ii) A lab course such as Phys 3310, 3330, 3360, 4410, Astro 4410 or experimental physics research conducted as Physics 4490 (3 credits) is required

*Students with credit for another quantum mechanics class (such as AEP 3610, CHEM 2870-2880 or ECE 4060) may substitute a different upper-level physics course for Phys 3316.

Additional Stipulations:

ii) With the exception of Astro 4410, all courses must be taken in the physics department.
iii) Students in majors that require physics courses at the 3000 level or higher, such as Applied and Engineering Physics, Astronomy, or Mathematics, may not use courses to satisfy both their major and minor requirement (2).
iv) No more than 3 credits of Phys 4490 may count toward the minor.

Undergraduate Awards

Each year the Department of Physics gives three awards to outstanding undergraduate students:

The Yennie Prize
An award to the outstanding senior student majoring in Physics who shows unusual promise for future contributions to physics research, and who intends to earn the doctorate.

Professor Yennie was a long-time member of the Cornell Physics faculty, internationally known for his work in theoretical physics, especially in quantum electrodynamics.  He was also known to his students and colleagues as a wise and dedicated teacher.  This prize is endowed in Professor Yennie’s memory by his family and colleagues.

Kieval Prize
Prize awarded to a senior Physics student who demonstrates unusual promise for future contributions to the physics research.

The funds for this award were given by the late Harry S. Kieval, Cornell ’36, a long-time professor of mathematics at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.

Hartman Prize
This prize honors Paul Hartman, who was a long-time professor in both departments and who played a crucial role in teaching experimental physics to students in both programs.  The prize is awarded to recognize outstanding work in experimental physics by an undergraduate in Physics and/or Applied and Engineering Physics.