BA in Physics

The undergraduate Physics major at Boston University gives students a foundation of knowledge and problem-solving ability on which they can build a variety of careers. The Physics Department prides itself on the quality of its teaching while also maintaining a vigorous research program. The diverse faculty ensures majors an opportunity for close interaction with their instructors and mentors. Students are encouraged to participate in ongoing research projects; many students get involved as early as their sophomore year. Qualified students can enroll as seniors in independent projects leading to a degree with honors (CAS PY 401/402).

In addition to on-campus research, in the spring semester of their junior year, students may participate in the Geneva Physics Program. The Geneva Program, in cooperation with the University of Geneva, brings students directly to the cutting edge of modern physics. With classes at the University of Geneva and directed research at CERN, students work with the world’s leading physicists to explore the universe on the level of its most basic constituent particles. For more information, visit the Geneva Physics Program website.

Although many of our graduates continue their careers in physics or astronomy, a BA in physics also prepares students for careers in areas such as industrial research and development, engineering, environmental science, medical physics, geophysics, oceanography, computer science, and energy resource management. It is also ideal preparation for entering professional schools, such as medicine, law, teaching, engineering, or management.

Reflecting the diversity of careers available to our students, the department offers two curricular track options: the Interdisciplinary Option, which gives students the flexibility to combine physics with another focus area in an interdisciplinary program, and the Graduate Option, which is intended to prepare students for the study of physics or a closely related subject in graduate school.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate understanding and mastery of techniques for solving problems in electro- and magnetostatics.
  • Demonstrate a thorough and advanced understanding of the core areas of physics, including mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermal and statistical physics, and quantum mechanics, along with the mathematics necessary for qualitative and quantitative analyses in these areas.
  • Show evidence of the capability of acquiring, analyzing, and interpreting quantitative data in the core areas of physics.

Requirements

All students entering as freshmen in Fall 2018 and after will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, a general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements are flexible and can be satisfied in many different ways, through coursework in and beyond the major, and, in some cases, through co-curricular activities. Students majoring in physics will ordinarily, through coursework in the major, satisfy BU Hub requirements in Quantitative Reasoning and Scientific Inquiry, as well as some of the requirements in Communication and the Intellectual Toolkit. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied by selecting from a wide range of available courses outside the major or, in some cases, co-curricular experiences.

Physics majors will also satisfy College of Arts & Sciences requirements, described here.

Interdisciplinary Option

This option provides students with a strong physics preparation, but also provides them the flexibility to pursue an interdisciplinary academic program combining physics with training in a related science or engineering program. It is well suited for students planning to pursue graduate studies in a discipline other than physics or to enter a career in a related field upon graduation. Students pursuing the Interdisciplinary Option must consult with their physics advisor and file a formal plan of study with the department. Full details can be found on the department website.

Unless otherwise indicated, all courses are 4-credit hours.

Prerequisites

  • CAS MA 123 and 124, or 127
  • CAS PY 251, 252, 351, 355 (or PY 211, 212, 313, 355)

Both mathematics and physics should normally be started in the freshman year.

Principal Courses

  • CAS PY 405, 408, and 451.
  • Two additional physics courses at the 300 level or above (but not including CAS PY 313, 351, 355, 401, 402, 482, 491, or 492) are also required.
  • In addition, three coordinated courses from a participating science or engineering department are required. If the participating department is in CAS, at least one of these courses must be at the 300 level or higher, and the other two must be at the 200 level or higher. If these are mathematics (MA) courses, they must be different from the required courses mentioned below. If the participating department is in the College of Engineering (ENG), all three courses must be at the junior level or above. CAS PY 581 may be used to satisfy the requirement of a 300-level course from a participating department in CAS or a course from a participating department in ENG.
  • A grade of C or higher must be attained in all principal courses.

Required Related Courses

  • CAS MA 225 and one other mathematics course at the 200 level or higher chosen in consultation with the student’s physics advisor

A grade of C or higher must be attained in both of these required related courses.

Recommended

  • CAS PY 352, 371, 406, 421, 410, 452, 482, 581

Graduate Option

This option provides students with a comprehensive and rigorous education in classical and modern physics. It is well suited for students intending to pursue graduate study in physics or a closely related field, or those planning to enter a technical physics-related career upon graduation.

Unless otherwise indicated, all courses are 4-credit hours.

Prerequisites

  • CAS MA 123 and 124, or 127
  • CAS PY 251, 252, 351, 355 (or PY 211, 212, 313, 355)

Both mathematics and physics should normally be started in the freshman year.

Principal Courses

  • CAS PY 405, 406, 408, 410, 451, 452, and 581
  • An additional physics course is also required. This may be any physics course at the 300 level or higher with the exceptions of CAS PY 313, 351, 401, 402, 482, 491, and 492.

A grade of C or higher must be attained in all principal courses.

Required Related Courses

  • CAS MA 225 and one other mathematics course at the 200 level or higher chosen in consultation with the student’s physics advisor.

A grade of C or higher must be attained in both of these required related courses.

Recommended

  • CAS PY 352, 371, 401, 402, 421, 482, 543, and 551.

Students planning to pursue a graduate program in physics or a closely related discipline are strongly encouraged to enhance their mathematics education with some or all of the following: CAS MA 242, 411, 412, and 561. Entering freshman physics students who have some calculus background normally complete their requirements for the major in the following sequence:

Freshman Year

  • CAS PY 251 and 252 (PY 211 is a permissible alternative to PY 251, and PY 212 is a permissible alternative to PY 252.)
  • CAS MA 123 and 124 or—with prior credit for MA 123—MA 124, 225 (Well-prepared students may substitute MA 127 or 129 for MA 123 and 124.)

Four course selections remain open for CAS requirements, BU Hub requirements, and electives.

Sophomore Year

  • CAS PY 351 (offered fall only). PY 313 is a permissible alternative
  • CAS PY 352 (optional; offered spring only)
  • CAS PY 355 (offered spring only)
  • CAS MA 225 or MA elective (offered fall only)
  • CAS MA elective (either semester, or during junior or senior year)

Four or five course selections remain open for CAS requirements, BU Hub requirements, and electives.

Junior Year

  • CAS PY 405, 406
  • CAS PY 408 (offered fall only)
  • CAS PY 451 (offered spring only)
  • CAS MA elective (either semester, or during sophomore or senior year)

Three or four course selections remain open for CAS requirements, BU Hub requirements, and electives.

Senior Year

  • CAS PY 410 (offered spring only)
  • CAS PY 452 (offered fall only)
  • CAS PY 581 (offered fall only)
  • CAS PY elective (either semester)
  • CAS MA elective (either semester, or during sophomore or junior year)

Four or five course selections remain open for CAS requirements, BU Hub requirements, and electives.

Guidelines for transfer students or students deciding to become physics majors after the first semester can be found on the department website.

Well-prepared students may be able to take advanced undergraduate courses earlier than the above schedules indicate. They should consult with their advisors and with the course instructors in pursuing this possibility. Students wishing a slower pace may postpone some of the 400-level classes to their senior year. Again, consultation with a student’s physics advisor is required.

Honors in the Major

Honors in the major may be earned through the successful completion of directed research in the senior year, including a written thesis and a formal oral examination by a committee of faculty members. Please see the complete guidelines for Honors in Physics.