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Undergraduate Programs

Physics Major

  • Click on physics course numbers to see descriptions and any pre-/co-requisites.
  • All course descriptions can be found here


Physics is the study of how nature works, from the unimaginably small world of sub-atomic particles to the marvelously huge world of galaxies and black holes. It is a basic science that can and must have an important impact on the problems facing modem society. Physicists help attack these problems directly through research and indirectly through teaching, both at the secondary and the university levels.

The course requirements are designed to meet these objectives as well as to provide a degree of flexibility to suit the career plans of the individual. A wide range of courses is available, and physics students often work individually with faculty members on special topics of mutual interest. Western Michigan University has an active Undergraduate Research Program. Students, working with faculty members on research problems, can apply for financial support while they pursue their projects.

The arts and sciences (LEC) physics major prepares a student for graduate study in physics and other related fields (astronomy, biophysics, etc.) or for professional employment in physics. This program is also recommended if you want to major in physics as an undergraduate and then enter a graduate professional school (medical, law, etc.).

Classroom instruction in the Department is conducted by a faculty of well trained physicists, the majority with Ph.D. degrees. Most of the faculty are actively engaged in research in a specialty such as atomic physics, nuclear physics, solid state physics, and applied physics. The work of the Department is supported by a highly trained technical staff.

While research is considered important, the Department prides itself on the high quality of its teaching. The Department is large enough to offer strong, well-rounded programs of study and small enough to provide good communication between the faculty and the students.

The best high school preparation for a physics major is a balanced academic program with a good foundation in mathematics. Coursework in physics and other sciences is desirable but not required.

Transfer credit from other colleges and universities is granted for courses that parallel those at Western Michigan University.

Admission to the University is processed by the Office of Admissions and Orientation. For current requirements, consult the current Undergraduate Catalog, or contact the admission office. Write or call (269) 387-2000.

Generous gifts by the families of Dr. Paul Rood and Dr. Nathan Nichols have made it possible to grant partial scholarships to outstanding men and women majoring in physics. These stipends can be continued throughout the student's undergraduate career, assuming satisfactory progress is made toward a degree. In addition, other scholarships may be available for Rood and Nichols scholarship awardees. Further information about financial aid and scholarships is available from the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. Write or call (269) 387-6000.

Required Courses

University Physics I 4 hrs
University Physics I Laboratory 1 hr
University Physics II 4 hrs
University Physics II Laboratory 1 hr
Introductory Modern Physics 4 hrs
Introductory Modern Physics Lab 1 hr
Thermodynamics 3 hrs
Electronics 4 hrs
Waves and Optics 3 hrs
Analytical Mechanics 3 hrs
Electromagnetism 4 hrs
Quantum Mechanics 3 hrs
Advanced Laboratory 3 hrs

Required Cognates

CHEM 1100 General Chemistry I 3 hrs
CHEM 1110 General Chemistry Laboratory I 1 hr
CHEM 1120 General Chemistry II 3 hrs
CHEM 1130 General Chemistry Laboratory II 1 hr
MATH 1700 Calculus I, Sci. & Eng. 4 hrs
MATH 1710 Calculus II, Sci. & Eng. 4 hrs
MATH 2720 Multivariate Calculus and Matrix Algebra 4 hrs
MATH 3740 Differential Equations and Linear Algebra 4 hrs
MATH 5720 Vector Calculus and Complex Variables 4 hrs
NOTE:  MATH 1220 - Calculus I can be substituted for MATH 1700, and MATH 1230 - Calculus II can be substituted for MATH 1710.

Computer Programming Requirement

The Department requires LEC Physics majors to be proficient in a computer programming language before graduation. This requirement may be met by demonstrating proficiency or passing CS 1110 (Introduction to Computer Science I) with a grade of C or higher. Higher level courses such as CS2100 (Script Programming in Python) can be substituted with permission of the undergraduate advisor. Further programming experience is encouraged.

Baccalaureate Writing Requirement

Students who have chosen the Physics major will satisfy the Baccalaureate Writing Requirement by successfully completing PHYS 4660 Advanced Laboratory.