Physics and Astronomy Department

Program

Samuel Amanuel

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy, as well as minors in Physics, Astrophysics, and Astronomy. The major sequences are ten courses each, plus several courses in mathematics and other sciences. The minor programs require six courses each. Brief descriptions of our majors and minors may be found at these links: PhysicsAstronomyAstrophysics. A complete listing of courses and requirements can be found in Union’s online course catalog (the Academic Register), including the Physics and Astronomy pages. For a less formal introduction to the courses offered within the department, select one of the following links:

A Guide

  • Physics Major

    The requirements for the bachelor’s degree in physics consist of 10 courses in physics, two advanced courses in mathematics, and two in other sciences. The physics classes can be broken into three groups, Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced. Sample Schedules for Physics Majors provides examples of student schedules. It is highly recommended that students also take Physics 100: First Year Physics Seminar in their first term.

    Introductory Courses
    There are four courses in the introductory physics sequence:

    • Physics 120: Matter in Motion
    • Physics 121: Principles of Electromagnetics
    • Physics 122: Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Their Applications
    • Physics 123: Heat and Light

    These classes provide a calculus-based introduction to the major areas of classical and modern physics. Physics 120, 121, and 123 are taught in a studio format, with the lab and lecture portions of the class integrated together. To facilitate active learning, and take full advantage of the opportunities available in a small liberal arts college setting, enrollment in all the introductory classes is capped at 18 students.

    Intermediate Courses
    There are three courses in the intermediate sequence:

    • Physics 220: Intermediate Modern Physics
    • Physics 230: Intermediate Classical Mechanics
    • Physics 270: Intermediate Electromagnetism

    These classes re-visit some of the material of Physics 120, 121, and 122, introducing new and more powerful mathematical techniques for solving problems in all areas of physics. At the end of this course sequence, students will be prepared to understand the essential elements of modern physics research, and to participate in ongoing research projects with faculty members.

    Advanced Courses
    Three advanced courses are required of all Physics majors:

    Physics 300: Methods of Modern Experimental Physics is an entirely lab-based course, introducing students to some of the essential techniques used in contemporary physics research. Students in Physics 300 will work directly with some of the most sophisticated equipment in the department, including the 1 MV Pelletron particle accelerator, and the solid-state, gas, and dye lasers in the Optics lab.

    The rotating course offerings in Physics 310/311: Advanced Topics in Physics are designed to give students a solid grounding in a specific area of physics, including an introduction to the current “hot topics” in contemporary research. Fields covered in Physics 310 courses include (but are not limited to): Solid State Physics, Nuclear and Particle Physics, Statistical Mechanics, Computational Physics, Modern Physical Optics, and Quantum Optics. We typically offer two different Physics 310/311 courses each year.

    Students are required to take one Physics 310 class for the Physics major. Students who may be interested in pursuing graduate study in physics or astronomy are encouraged to take as many Physics 310/311 classes as possible.

    The very best education a young scientist can receive takes place not in the classroom, but in the laboratory, and so the final requirement for the Physics major is Physics 490: Physics Research. Physics 490 gives students the opportunity to work directly in some of the most exciting areas in contemporary physics research. These research projects represent the culmination of a career as a physics student, and many of our students have presented their research results at national or international conferences, and in publications co-written with faculty members.

    All Physics majors are required to do at least one term of research under the direction of a faculty member. At least two terms of research are required for the degree with honors in physics, and students considering graduate study in physics or astronomy are encouraged to do research during the summer before their senior year as well.

    Additional Courses
    In addition to the required courses listed above, the Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a number of other elective courses that may be attractive to students interested in studying physics or astronomy:

    Physics 100: First-Year Seminar is a team-taught course aimed at introducing entering students to the range of activities in the department. Five faculty members each spend two weeks presenting a series of lectures on a topic related to their own research. Possible topics include (but are not limited to): the physics of lasers, laser cooling, quantum information and quantum computation, nuclear and particle physics, black holes, and dark matter. Students in Physics 100 may also get the opportunity to use Union’s particle accelerator and observatory as part of the class.

    IMP 120 and 121: Integrated Math and Physics. In addition to the introductory sequence described above, we also offer an introductory sequence combining introductory physics (the content of Physics 120 and 121) with introductory calculus (Math 113, Math 115, and Math 117). The class is team-taught by faculty members from Physics and Mathematics, integrating the two subject areas together, so that new mathematical tools and concepts are introduced just as they are needed to understand new areas of physics. The course is designed for science and engineering majors, and is open to students who qualify for Math 113.

    Physics 210: The Physics of Modern Medicine: Applications in Imaging, Surgery and Therapy introduces the technologies used in modern medicine and the basic physical principles that underlie them. The class is well suited for pre-meds and other interested students majoring in Chemistry or Biochemistry.

    ESC 224: Frontiers of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials is a part of Union’s Converging Technologies initiative, introducing students to the latest developments in the science of the very small. The class is an interdisciplinary team-taught class, looking at subjects in nanotechnology from many different perspectives, including physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering.

    Physics 350: Quantum Mechanics provides an introduction to the methods, interpretation, and mathematical formalism of the modern theory of quantum mechanics, one of the most powerful and puzzling theories in science. Physics 350 is not required for the major, but students considering graduate study in physics are strongly encouraged to take it.

    Interested students are also encouraged to select elective courses from the courses making up the Astronomy major.

  • Astronomy Major

    The department offers a bachelor of arts degree in Astronomy as well as minors in Astronomy and in Astrophysics. The astronomy major is appropriate for students interested in careers such as teacher of earth science, planetarium director, science museum educator, science writing, and historian of science. Physics courses are described in the Guide to the Physics Major; those that are unique to Astronomy and Astrophysics are listed below. Sample Schedules for Astronomy Majors and Physics Majors with Astrophysics Minors provides some example schedules for students. It is highly recommended that students also take Physics 100: First Year Physics Seminar in their first term.

    Introductory Courses

    • Astronomy 50 (or 105):  The Solar System (Introduction to Planetary Sciences)
    • Astronomy 51 (or 100):  Introduction to Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Astronomy 52:  Relativity, Black Holes, and Quasars
    • Astronomy 58: Astrobiology (cross-listed with Biology 58)

    Courses numbered in the 50s provide an introduction without calculus to assorted topics in astronomy and astrophysics at a level accessible to non-science majors. Astronomy 50 and 51 contain labs. Astronomy 100 provides an introduction to astronomy and astrophysics and Astronomy 105 an introduction to planetary sciences to students with a background in first-year physics.

    Intermediate and Advanced Courses

    • Astronomy 200: Stars
    • Astronomy 210: Galaxies
    • Astronomy 220: Cosmology
    • Astronomy 230: Observational Astronomy
    • Astronomy 240: Radio Astronomy

    Astronomy 200, 210, and 220 provide discussion of upper level astrophysics at a level suitable for all science and engineering majors. Astronomy 230 and 240 are observation-based courses in which students use the Union College 20-inch telescope (Astronomy 230) and the 2-meter radio telescope (Astronomy 240) and learn how to process and analyze professional-level astronomical data.

    In addition Astronomy 290/291/292: Astronomy Practicum is available to interested students to obtain experience relevant to astronomy careers.

    Student Research

    The Astronomy major also requires the completion of a senior thesis project. All astronomy/astrophysics students are encouraged to participate in summer research. Astronomy students gain the experience of professional level astronomical research. A number have traveled to national facilities such as Arecibo ObservatoryCerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, and Kitt Peak National Observatory. Several have presented at meetings of the American Astronomical Society.

    Major Requirements

    The requirements for the Astronomy major consist of:

    1. Two introductory physics courses: Physics 110 & 111 OR Physics 120 & 121
    2. Physics 122 & 123 OR two introductory Biology, Chemistry, or Geology courses:  Biology 110 and 112 OR Chemistry 101 and 102 OR Geology 110 and 120
    3. At least one observation-based astronomy course: Astronomy 230 or 240
    4. One introductory course in astronomy: Astronomy 51 or 100
    5. One introductory course in planetary science: Astronomy 50 or 105 or Geology 303
    6. Any three courses among:
      • Astronomy 58 (cross-listed with Biology 58)
      • Astronomy 52
      • Astronomy 200
      • Astronomy 210
      • Astronomy 220
      • Astronomy 230 or 240 (whichever was not used in requirement #3)
      • Astronomy 290/291/292 (Practicum)
      • Physics 230
    7. A senior research course (Physics 490) culminating in a written senior thesis;
    8. One course in mathematics (Math 113), and
    9. One science course outside the department (if above requirements were satisfied in Physics and Astronomy Department)

    The requirements for the Astrophysics minor are:

    Any six of the following courses:

    • Astronomy 105 or Geology 303,
    • Astronomy 100,
    • Astronomy 200,
    • Astronomy 210,
    • Astronomy 220,
    • Astronomy 230,
    • Astronomy 240

    The requirements for the Astronomy minor are:

    1. Introductory physics courses: Physics 110 & 111 OR Physics 120 & 121
    2. One introductory course in astronomy: Astronomy 51 or 100
    3. One introductory course in planetary science: Astronomy 50 or 105 or Geology 303
    4. Any two courses among:
      • Astronomy 52
      • Astronomy 58 (cross-listed with Biology 58)
      • Astronomy 200
      • Astronomy 210
      • Astronomy 220
      • Astronomy 230 or 240 (whichever was not used in requirement #3)
      • Astronomy 290/291/292 (Practicum)
      • Physics 122
      • Physics 123
      • Physics 495
  • Non-Major Courses

    In addition to the courses satisfying the requirements for a major in Physics or Astronomy, the department offers a wide variety of courses aimed at students majoring in other fields.

    Courses for Science and Engineering Majors

    We offer a two-course sequence of Physics for Life Sciences:

    • Physics 110: Classical and Modern Physics for the Life Sciences I
    • Physics 111: Classical and Modern Physics for the Life Sciences II

    These classes provide an algebra-based introduction to the full range of physics topics from classical mechanics to modern nuclear physics, with an emphasis on their applications in biology and medicine. These classes are generally offered at least twice a year, and include a three-hour lab once a week.

    Physics 210: The Physics of Modern Medicine: Applications in Imaging, Surgery and Therapy introduces the technologies used in modern medicine and the basic physical principles that underlie them.

    ESC 224: Frontiers of Nanotechnology and Nanomaterials is a part of Union’s Converging Technologies initiative, introducing students to the latest developments in the science of the very small. The class is an interdisciplinary team-taught class, looking at subjects in nanotechnology from many different perspectives, including physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering.

    Courses for Non-Science Majors

    Astronomy 50: The Solar System provides an introductory but detailed discussion of the solar system with special emphasis on the application of physics and the measurement of fundamental properties. Includes laboratory.

    Astronomy 51: Introduction to Astronomy reviews current knowledge regarding stars, galaxies, and the Universe, including methods of measurement and the applications of physics to astronomy. Includes laboratory.

    Astronomy 52: Relativity, Black Holes, and Quasars is a descriptive introduction to Einstein’s theories of Special and General Relativity, with applications to the astrophysical phenomena of black holes and quasars.

    Astronomy 58: Astrobiology examines the current state of our scientific knowledge concerning the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe using an interdisciplinary approach rooted in biology and astronomy. Crosslisted with Biology 058.

    Physics 51: Seeing the Light: Concepts of Vision (also listed as Biology 51) is a team-taught class involving faculty from both Physics and Biology, introducing students to the important concepts involved in vision, from the physics of light to the biology of image processing in the brain. The course is closed to Physics and Biology majors, and does not require any background in science or math.

    Physics 53: Physics and Politics (also listed as History 253) is a team-taught course involving faculty from Physics and History, describing the most important scientific developments of the 20th Century, and placing them in their full historical context. Along with an explanation of relativity, quantum mechanics, and nuclear physics, this class examines how politics and ideology influence science and scientists. No background in mathematics or physics is required.

    Physics 54: Lasers and Modern Optics gives students an introduction to the special properties of laser light, and its many applications in the modern world. An associated laboratory will allow students to work directly with different types of lasers and laser experiments. The class is closed to Physics majors, and does not require an background in science or mathematics.

We also offer two sets of sample schedules for students interested in how the required courses fit into their four years:

Sample Schedules for Physics Majors
Sample Schedules for Astronomy Majors and Physics Majors with Astrophysics Minors

Some of the best education a young scientist can obtain occurs outside the classroom, and the department provides a variety of extracurricular opportunities with this in mind. Independent research with a faculty colleague is required for the degree in physics, and many of our majors go well beyond the minimum requirements, spending summers at Union or at national laboratories doing research. The results of these student research projects have been presented at national and international conferences, and in student-coauthored articles for scientific journals. The department also maintains an active colloquium series to help keep students and faculty in touch with exciting developments elsewhere.