Information for Physics Majors & Minors
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How to Apply
Students in the College of Arts & Sciences do not declare a major until their sophomore year. Nevertheless, students can indicate their interest in majoring in physics on their application for admission to Cornell University. Information on applying to Cornell can be found at the College of Arts and Science and the main Cornell Admissions site. Click the Cornell Days Physics 2018 schedule for classes you can sit in on, faculty office hours, and informational sessions conducted by our Society of Physics Students.
Freshmen Interested in Majoring in Physics
Incoming freshmen interested in majoring in physics should attend our Orientation for Prospective Physics Majors on Sunday, August 19th at 2:00 pm in 120 Physical Sciences Building (NOTE: New day, time, and location due to changes in orientation schedule). Freshmen can also request a current junior or senior majoring in physics to serve as an informal peer advisor. Prospective majors are encouraged to join the student-run Society of Physics Students, and are also welcome to discuss pre-major course selection with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Sophomores Declaring the Physics Major
Sophomores meeting the entrance requirements for the major (at least 2 physics and 2 math courses taken at Cornell with an average grade of B- or higher in the aforementioned courses) may apply to the major by following these steps:
1) Download and fill out both sides of the Physics Major Form here: After completing as much of the form as possible, print the form and bring it to the meeting with the DUS, Prof. Kyle Shen to complete their physics major form and admission to the major.
2) Choose one or two possible physics major advisors from this list: If students do not have any preferences, a major advisor will be assigned to them by the DUS.
3) After meeting with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, new majors will meet with their major advisors to go over their Physics Major Course Plan (2nd page of Physics Major Form).
4) After having their Course Plan approved by their advisor, students will return the Major Form to Sue Sullivan (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the main Physics Office (Clark 117).
Requirements at a Glance
The minimum grade for a course to count towards the physics major is a C-.
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:
PHYS 2207 students with life/chemical/health science interests who decide to switch to the physics major may complete:
Mathematics courses covering single and multivariable calculus, linear algebra, series representations, and complex analysis:
MATH 2220 – Multivariable Calculus or
MATH 2240 – Theoretical Linear Algebra and Calculus
Five upper-level courses beyond the three-semester introductory sequence, consisting of:
(2) At least three semester hours of laboratory work selected from:
PHYS 3310 – Intermediate Experimental Physics
PHYS 3330 – Modern Experimental Optics (crosslisted)
PHYS 3360 – Electronic Circuits (crosslisted)
PHYS 4410 – Advanced Experimental Physics
AEP 2640 – Computer-Instrumentation Design (crosslisted)
ASTRO 4410 – Experimental Astronomy
BEE 4500 – Bioinstrumentation
(4) An intermediate course in electromagnetism:
PHYS 3323 – Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism or
PHYS 3327 – Advanced Electricity and Magnetism
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.
Click here for more information on undergraduate physics concentrations.
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.
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 concurrent degree option. 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.
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.
- Current Course Offerings
- Undergraduate Major Plan
- Courses of Interest in Other Departments
- Courses of Study
- Class Roster
- Evening Prelim Schedule
- Final Exam Schedule
- CoursEnroll (online course registration)
- Cornell Academic Calendar
- Summer Session
- Undergraduate Tutoring Center
- Independent Study 4490
Non-physics majors in all Cornell colleges are eligible to earn a Physics minor. To apply to the Physics Minor, stop by 117 Clark Hall and pick up the green minor form or email email@example.com for a copy, and then visit the Director of Undergraduate Studies during office hours or contact firstname.lastname@example.org 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 additional physics courses, totaling 9 or more credit hours from the following:
i) Quantum Mechanics (Phys 3316*) is required
ii) A lab course such as Phys 3310, 3330, 3360, 4410, AEP 2640, BEE 4500, Astro 4410 or experimental physics research conducted as Physics 4490 (3 credits) is required
iii) A third physics class at the 3000 level or higher
*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.
i) With the exception of Astro 4410, AEP 2640, and BEE 4500 all courses must be taken in the physics department.
ii) No more than 3 credits of Phys 4490 may count toward the minor.
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. The 2018 Yennie Prize was awarded to Jixun (Katherine) Ding.
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. The 2018 Kieval Prize was awarded to Zachary Mayle and Kenneth Vetter.
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. The 2018 Hartman Prize was awarded to Sean McBride in Physics and Mustafa Ansari and Christian Leefmans in Applied and Engineering Physics.
Erik Cassel '90 Prize
An award to an undergraduate majoring in physics who has demonstrated exceptional creativity and promise in applying computer programming to a project in physics or related fields. This award was established in memory of Erik Cassel, Cornell '90.
As a physics major, Erik developed the first data analysis software used in the department's introductory physics laboratory experiments. This accomplishment, and an innovative course project integrating physics content with computer graphics, laid the foundation for his successful career as a software engineer in two startups that made extensive use of physics and computer graphics. Erik's family provided the funds for the award.
DUS Office Hours
DUS office hours are Wednesdays from 2:00-4:00 pm in room 532A Clark Hall.