Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.
Chair, 2002-03: David Nitz, atomic physics
Faculty, 2002-03: James Cederberg, atomic
and molecular physics; David Dahl, condensed-matter theory; Jason
Engbrecht, positron physics; Robert Jacobel, geophysics, ice and
climate interactions; Amy Kolan, mathematical physics, statistical
Physics is the study of how and why
things work -- from the minute world of the atomic nucleus to the
universe itself -- within the context of a few fundamental laws.
The goal of the physics curriculum is to acquaint students with
basic natural phenomena and with the quantitative methods of experimentation
and theoretical analysis through which we come to understand them.
It provides an excellent preparation for students planning a technical
career in physics, engineering, astronomy or newly emerging interdisciplinary
programs (biophysics, geophysics, materials science, chemical physics,
etc.). In addition, physics supports the background training of
biologists, chemists and the concentrations of environmental studies
or computer science. Undertaking a liberal arts physics program
enables students to become technically literate scientists who have
a broad understanding of the world and can communicate well.
GENERAL EDUCATION CREDIT
Students planning to take a single physics course
should consider 112, 123, 124, 252 or 254. The two-semester sequence,
124-125, makes some use of calculus and is appropriate for students
needing physics to support work in another major (especially biology
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE MAJOR
Prospective physics majors should enroll in 126 and
a calculus course in the Fall Semester of their first year, although
advanced placement may be given after consultation with the department
chair. Requirements for the physics major include courses 126, 127,
228 and 229, 244 and 245, 374 and 384, 375 and 385, 376 and 386,
and one physics elective numbered above 120. (Note that the elective
requirement is waived for students obtaining teacher certification.)
In some cases it is possible to use the 124-125 sequence to transfer
into the major -- see the chair. Calculus, linear algebra, multivariable
calculus and differential equations are prerequisites for some of
the required courses.
Students planning to apply for graduate study in physics
are advised to take Physics 379 and to consider additional physics
electives, complex analysis, abstract algebra, probability, statistics,
numerical analysis and real analysis. A physics major is especially
suited as preparation for graduate study in electrical engineering
with the inclusion of Physics 246 and independent study in electronics
or computer interfacing.
Students who demonstrate excellence in physics coursework
and who complete and report on an additional outside project will
be considered for distinction in physics. The project may take the
form of a public presentation on research work or a topic of current
interest in physics or written work such as a published paper or
a paper submitted for Physics 398 (Independent Research). Other
activities may be eligible -- check with the department chair. In
seeking to honor outstanding coursework in the major, faculty members
do not rely solely on grades earned, but also consider factors such
as improvement and dedication. Faculty members nominate candidates
who have met the additional project criterion and a majority vote
is taken. Students who elect the S/U grading option for a Level
II or Level III physics course will not be eligible for distinction
To obtain certification as a teacher of physical science,
a physics major must take the appropriate education courses and
some additional science courses. The Education Department chair
should be consulted for details of the available options. The requirement
for a physics elective is waived.
The computer science concentration (consult Index)
can be designed to emphasize computer hardware by inclusion of Physics
246, computer interfacing (offered as an independent study) and
independent study in electronics.
Students interested in the engineering profession
may choose from two primary options. A cooperative five-year program
with either Washington University or the University of Minnesota
provides a B.A. degree from St. Olaf and a B.S. in engineering from
the university. Many students prefer instead to complete a St. Olaf
degree and then enter a master's degree program at an engineering
school of their choice. Such a route typically takes 1.5-2 years
beyond the B.A. Students contemplating either of these options should
consider taking the intensive Interim course in engineering offered
at Washington University.
Each summer, 10 to 15 research positions are generally
available on campus for students interested in working with faculty
on current research projects. These projects are supported by outside
funding agencies and provide a stipend for student participants.
Current active areas of faculty interest include: atomic spectroscopy
(Nitz), geophysics, ice and climate interactions (Jacobel), mathematical
physics (Kolan), molecular beam spectroscopy (Cederberg),
and positron physics (Engbrecht).
Students also may register during the year for 398
(Independent Research) or apply to the Oak Ridge Science Semester
Program (see Index). International programs which can include course
work in physics are the British University programs at Lancaster
and the University of East Anglia.
A basic introduction to astronomy, this course concentrates on "How
do we know what we know?" Students explore questions such as
"How do we measure the distance to a star?" and "How
do we know the universe is expanding?" In addition to studying
the solar system, stars, black holes, galaxies and the history of
the universe, students engage in rooftop viewing using the department's
telescopes. Prerequisite: proficiency in algebra and geometry. Offered
Spring Semester. Currently
offered both semesters. GE: NST-P.
Geophysics: Perspectives on the Dynamic Earth
This course considers a variety of topics in earth and environmental
science. Beginning with the origin of the earth and planetary system,
the course examines crustal evolution and plate tectonics, geologic
resources and hazards and the relationship of these surface phenomena
to processes occurring in the earth's interior. It concludes with
a study of the oceans, the atmosphere, the earth's climate system
and environmental change. Prerequisite: proficiency in algebra and
geometry. Offered Fall Semester. GE: NST-P.
125 Principles of Physics I, II
This two-semester in-depth course addresses topics in classical
and modern physics using algebra, geometry and some calculus. The
course is well-suited for students of biology or chemistry or for
those desiring a thorough introduction beyond the high-school level.
Physics 124 takes up the Newtonian mechanics of point
particles (motion, mass, force, torque, energy, momentum and gravitation),
Einstein's reexamination of space time (relativity) and nuclear
physics. One laboratory meeting per week. Prerequisite: Mathematics
120 or 122. GE: NST-P, NSL. Offered Fall Semester.
Physics 125 explores the character of electric and
magnetic forces and fields, then takes up the extended description
of matter (vibrations, waves -- sound and light). Finally, both
particle and wave descriptions are shown to be necessary for discussing
quantum mechanics and its application to atomic physics. One laboratory
meeting per week. Prerequisites: Mathematics 120 or 122 and Physics
124. GE: NST-P, NSL. Offered Spring Semester.
127, 228 Analytical Physics, I, II, and III
This three-semester calculus-based sequence leads the student through
the quarter millennium of the basic principles that account for
the processes involved in baseballs, car engines, electrical power
distribution systems, stereos and black holes. It is the starting
point for a major in physics and is also appropriate for majors
in fields such as chemistry or mathematics who desire more mathematical
depth than would be used in the two-semester 124-125 sequence.
Physics 126 is a study of Newtonian mechanics -- motion,
forces, energy, gravity and rotation. There is one 2.5-hour laboratory
meeting per week. Prerequisite: concurrent registration in (or previous
completion of) Mathematics 120 or 122. GE: NST-P, NSL. Offered Fall
Physics 127 explores vibrational motion, waves, fluids,
heat and geometric optics. There is one 2.5-hour laboratory meeting
per week. Prerequisites: Physics 126 or permission of instructor,
and concurrent registration in (or previous completion of) Mathematics
126 or 128. GE: NST-P, NSL. Offered Spring Semester.
Physics 228 treats electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic
waves and relativity. Students taking this course must also register
for the 0.25-credit lab course Physics 229. Prerequisites: Physics
127 and concurrent registration in (or previous completion of) Mathematics
220 or 222. Offered Fall
Physics Laboratory (0.25)
This integrated program of laboratory exercises accompanies Physics
228. One laboratory period each week. Offered Fall Semester.
Quantum mechanics has changed the conceptual framework and revolutionized
our understanding of atoms and molecules, both isolated and in condensed
states of matter. It also guides our understanding of the nucleus
and elementary particles. This course examines these discoveries
and several applications they produced. Prerequisites: Physics 228
and concurrent registration in Physics 245 and Math 230. Offered
Modern Physics Laboratory (0.25)
This course, meeting once a week, uses both historical experiments
and open-ended investigations with modern instrumentation to examine
in detail the important developments covered in Physics 244.
Electronic Circuits, Components and AC Circuit Theory
This introduction to fundamentals of DC and AC circuit theory and
the principles of semiconductor electronics includes detailed studies
of bipolar and field-effect transistors and operational amplifiers.
Students attend one laboratory period each week. Prerequisite: Physics
125 or 228.
This course offers an introduction to the physics of sound waves,
the biological, physical and psychological origins of sound perception
and the synthesis of sounds and sound production in different instruments.
Students explore these topics, as well as sound recording and reproduction
systems, through lectures, discussions, laboratory experiments and
student presentations. Prerequisite: proficiency in algebra and
geometry. No musical experience necessary. Interim only. GE: NST-P,
Origins of Nuclear Weapons
In 1945, bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
forever changed the nature of warfare. What were the scientific
developments, who were the people and what was the political, social,
military and psychological environment that produced these terrible
devices? Assigned readings, daily discussions and papers deal with
these questions. Lectures, demonstrations and regular laboratory
experiments concentrate primarily on the scientific background.
Prerequisite: high school algebra. Interim only. GE: NST-P, NSL.
298 Independent Study
This course is an analytical study of Newtonian mechanics, including
the harmonic oscillator, central force motion, non-linear oscillators,
chaos and an introduction to the Lagrangian formulation. Students
use computers extensively. Prerequisites: Physics 127, Mathematics
230, and concurrent registration in Physics 384. Offered Fall Semester.
This course utilizes integral and vector calculus in a thorough
and analytic examination of classical electromagnetic theory and
the physical laws on which it is based. Topics include electric
and magnetic fields, macroscopic interaction of electromagnetism
with matter and the propagation of electromagnetic waves in various
media. Concurrent registration for a 0.25-course lab (Physics 385)
is required. Prerequisites: Physics 228 and 229, Mathematics 226
or 228, and 230. Offered Spring Semester.
Students analytically investigate Quantum Theory, in which a particle's
behavior is described through a statistically-interpreted wave function
rather than through the concepts of Newtonian mechanics. Topics
include an examination of the conceptual framework, solution of
the Schrodinger Equation for systems such as the harmonic oscillator
and the hydrogen atom and approximation methods for treating more
complex systems and the interaction of radiation with matter. Prerequisites:
Physics 244 and 374, and concurrent registration in Physics 386.
Offered Fall Semester.
How do macroscopic variables (e.g. energy, pressure) develop through
the collision or interaction of microscopic objects? Why is the
spread of disease in an orchard similar to a piece of iron becoming
magnetized? Students study classical and quantum gases, followed
by magnets and phase transitions (Ising Model, percolation, renormalization)
and employ both analytical and computer methods (Monte-Carlo sampling,
simulations, molecular dynamics). Prerequisite: Physics 244.
385, 386 Advanced Physics Laboratory (0.25)
Experiments are selected from the areas of physics covered by Physics
374, 375 and 376 respectively. Emphasis is on the development of
good laboratory techniques and the ability to work independently.
Each 0.25-course registration will average one afternoon of work
In-depth study of particular topics in physics. Topics are based
on student interest and available staff. Recently taught courses
include image processing and cosmology.
398 Independent Research
399 Senior Seminar
Seniors study topics of current interest, based upon presentations
by staff, participants and visitors, library research and assigned
readings. Prerequisites: Physics 374, 375 and 376. P/N only. Available