Stephen A. FitzGerald, Professor; Department Chair
Yumi Ijiri, Professor
Melinda Keller, Lecturer; Laboratory Instructor
Robert Owen, Assistant Professor
John H. Scofield, Professor
Jillian M. Scudder, Assistant Professor
Jason E. Stalnaker, Associate Professor
Daniel R. Stinebring, Francis D. Federighi Professor
Daniel F. Styer, John and Marianne Schiffer Professor
The word physics originates from the Greek word for nature. Physicists attempt to understand the basic principles that govern the behavior of the natural world in which we live. The courses in physics and astronomy are designed to serve both students interested in science as an important part of a general education and those desiring intensive training in physical science. Students may major in physics as preparation for further professional training in physics, astronomy, or engineering, or as excellent background for careers in other fields such as medicine, law, biology, geology, and secondary-school science teaching. Those interested in careers in engineering may also consider the Combined Liberal Arts and Engineering Program described under “Engineering” in this catalog. Students with special interests are encouraged to include physics and astronomy courses in an individual major, or to plan a double major. Physics and Astronomy students at Oberlin have opportunities to work closely with faculty members on research projects during academic terms, winter terms, and summers.
Students who earn sufficiently high scores on advanced placement examinations in physics will be given credit for all or part of Physics 103 and 104 or Physics 110 and 111 according to the following schedule:
- Physics B examination: Students earning a score of 4 will receive 1 full course for Physics 103; students earning a score of 5 will receive 2 full courses for Physics 103 and 104.
- Physics 1 examination: Students earning a score of 4 or 5 will receive 1 full course for Physics 103.
- Physics 2 examination: Students earning a score of 4 or 5 will receive 1 full course for Physics 104.
- Physics C examination (Mechanics): Students earning a score of 4 or 5 will receive 1 full course for Physics 110.
- Physics C examination (Electricity and Magnetism): Students earning a score of 5 will receive 1 full course for Physics 111.
High-school students who might wish to major in physics should take the calculus-based Physics C courses and examinations, if possible.
Students who complete a higher-level course in physics in the International Baccalaureate program with a score of 5 will be given 1 full course of introductory physics at Oberlin; those achieving a score of 6 or 7 will receive 2 full courses.
A student will have to relinquish Advanced Placement or IB credit initially earned if the corresponding work is repeated at Oberlin.
Students who have received advanced standing in either physics or mathematics and who are considering physics as a possible major should consult the chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department upon arrival in Oberlin regarding course selection and major requirements. Although Physics 103 and 104 are not the normal prerequisites for Physics 212 and upper-level courses, the department is prepared to arrange a transition to these courses for those who have earned credit through the Physics B (or 1 and 2) examination(s), have good backgrounds in mathematics, and are interested in majoring in physics.
Entry-Level Course Sequence Suggestions
Students considering a major in physics who qualify for Mathematics 134, 231 or 234 as first-year students should take those courses and Physics 110, 111. Those without advanced standing in mathematics should take Mathematics 133, 134 as first-year students and Physics 110, 111 as sophomores; such students may take the full graduate study preparation program with the exception of Physics 411 and 412 in preparation for graduate work in physics.
Physics 110, 111, and 212 provide training useful to students of any of the physical sciences or mathematics. These courses have calculus prerequisites. Students majoring in the life and earth sciences are also encouraged to take these courses if they have the necessary mathematical background.
The algebra-based sequence Physics 103, 104 is primarily for students majoring in the life and earth sciences. A student who has taken all or part of Physics 103, 104 and is interested in further work in physics should consult the department about an appropriate pathway to more advanced courses.
Physics courses numbered 050-070 are designed for College and Conservatory students whose primary interests may not lie in the natural sciences but who wish to have a first hand acquaintance with the techniques and results of physical science.
A Physics major is required to pass Physics 110, 111, 212, 310, and choose one of three concentrations:
Concentration in Physics. Students selecting this concentration must pass Physics 314, 414, at least one course chosen from Physics 311, 312, and 410, and at least 1 more course chosen from Physics 311, 312, 316, 340, 410, 411, 412, and Astronomy 301, 302. This minimum program is appropriate for students using physics as preparation for careers in fields such as medicine, law, business, or secondary-school teaching. (Such students will also find courses in chemistry, biology, and computer science to be valuable.) Students who wish to pursue physics as a career in research or in college or university teaching should take the graduate study preparation program, which consists of the five courses: Physics 311, 312, 410, 412 and 316 or 411. A graduate of this program could pursue undelayed, full-time, graduate study in physics or could enter certain positions in industrial or governmental laboratories.
Concentration in Astrophysics. Students selecting this concentration must pass Astronomy 301, 302, Physics 311, 314 and either Physics 414 or 242. Students who wish to become professional astronomers should consult Mr. Stinebring to discuss additional coursework that will permit admission to graduate study in astronomy.
Concentration in Materials Physics. Students selecting this concentration must pass Chemistry 101, 102 or Chemistry 103, Physics 314, 340, and either Physics 312 or Chemistry 339. Students who plan to pursue materials physics work at the graduate level should consult Mr. FitzGerald, Ms. Ijiri, Mr. Scofield, or Mr. Styer to discuss additional coursework that might be recommended. Chemistry 323 (and associated prerequisites) and Physics 410, 414 are all particularly relevant to materials physics.
Prerequisites for the courses in all concentrations include Mathematics 133, 134, 231, and 234. Computer applications are important in all branches of physics and astronomy. All majors are urged to consult their advisors about obtaining the appropriate background.
Students must earn minimum grades of C- or P for all courses that apply toward the major.
The minor in physics consists of Physics 110, 111, 212, and two additional courses numbered between 200 and 450. At least three of these courses must be taken at Oberlin.
The Honors Program is open to outstanding senior-year major students at the invitation
of the department. Students in this program will normally be expected to complete the graduate
study preparation program of courses described above and must carry out a special project in
experimental or theoretical physics or astrophysics under the direction of a member of the
department. Honors students write a thesis based on their work and take comprehensive
examinations. The physics major requirement of Physics 414 may be waived upon request for an
Honors student whose project is in experimental physics.
Physics and Astronomy faculty will consider sponsoring student-initiated experimental or theoretical (reading) projects in areas of physics or astronomy. Staff members have special interests in the areas shown below.
Mr. FitzGerald: infrared spectroscopy, hydrogen storage. Ms. Ijiri: magnetic materials, x-ray and neutron scattering, experimental condensed matter physics. Ms. Keller: optics, physics education. Mr. Owen: general relativity, numerical relativity, computation, theroretical physics. Mr. Scofield: experimental solid state physics, photovoltaic and wind energy, energy use in buildings. Mr. Stalnaker: atomic and molecular physics, nonlinear optics, laser physics. Mr. Stinebring: radio astronomy, pulsars, cosmology, instrumentation, image processing. Mr. Styer: relativity for non-scientists, mini-research projects in theoretical physics.
Students who wish to become professional astronomers should consult Mr. Stinebring to arrange a program of courses (within the framework of a physics major) that will permit admission to graduate study in astronomy.
Courses for a General Audience
College and Conservatory students whose primary interests
may not lie in the natural sciences but who wish to have a first-hand acquaintance with the
techniques and results of astronomy should consider ASTR 100.
Courses for the Major/Astrophysics Concentration
Courses for a General Audience
Courses Primarily for Students Intending to Major in a Science