Curricular Design - Physics and Astronomy - Colgate University Skip Navigation

Curricular Innovation in Physics and Astronomy

We take education in physics and astronomy to the highest level with a challenging and innovative curriculum. Our aim is to give you the best instruction and opportunities for exploration and learning as is possible.
We strive to maximize the educational and engagement value of our curriculum.

The First Year

We have structured a unique introductory sequence designed to quickly immerse students in topics of interest to contemporary physics. Additionally, the courses are team-taught using a combination of lecture, demonstration, problem solving, and lab, giving you the opportunity to learn physics in many contexts and to work in small groups.

Physics 131

Traditionally, an introduction to physics starts with 17th-century mechanics. Instead, we begin our introductory course with a question that is still relevant today: Does matter consist of particles or waves? This question leads us into many important and exciting themes of 20th-century and 21st-century physics, including relativity and quantum mechanics.

Physics 232

In our second course, we return to the study of mechanics, but with an astronomical approach: “Physics from Spaceship Earth.” Newton's development of the laws of motion was inspired by astronomy, and likewise astronomical topics — the rotation of galaxies and the missing "dark" matter, the search for new planets, orbital dynamics, rockets and space exploration — are introduced as examples of the inspiring predictive power of mechanical laws.

The Second Year

Second-year majors take Physics 233, Introduction to Electricity and Magnetism, which introduces the invisible fields which permeate the universe, and Physics 334, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity, which develops students' intuition for the fundamental ways in which Nature continually surprises us when we examine it at small scales or at high speeds. In addition:
  • Astronomy majors take either Astronomy 210 (Intermediate Astronomy and Astrophysics) or Astronomy 312 (Astronomical Techniques) in the fall.
  • Physics majors take Physics 336, Electronics, in the spring.

Mathematical Methods for Physics

We have developed two early courses to to teach the mathematics needed for advanced physics and astronomy classes:
  • Physics 201: A 0.25 credit course offered each spring, teaches scientific programming using Matlab.
  • Physics 205: A 1 credit course offered each fall, on the use of complex numbers to solve the oscillator differential equation; Fourier series and Fourier transforms; divergence, gradient, curl; line, surface and volume integrals; and series solutions to partial differential equations

Advanced courses

Our flexible upper-level course structure affords students the opportunity to tailor the curriculum to their interests, whether they intend to pursue advanced study after graduation or to prepare for other careers.  Physics 431-434, (Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Thermodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics) are offered once each year, and can be taken in any order.  We teach other elective courses (Optics, Biophysics, Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos, Computational Mechanics, Solid State Physics, Relativity and Cosmology, Astrophysics, Planetary Science, Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy) every second year, so that we can maintain a more diverse set of course offerings than most other colleges our size.

Undergraduate Research

You are encouraged to become involved in faculty research both in summer projects and during the academic year. Additionally, in the fall semester of the senior year, all students enroll in Physics 410, Advanced Topics and Experiments, in which you will complete an independent research project under the guidance of a faculty member.

As part of the course, you will give several presentations on your research and write a research paper. Faculty work closely with students to polish these presentations. Many students choose to continue their projects in the spring semester as an independent studies course. This research frequently results in publications in which undergraduates are co-authors.