As a Physics AOC at New College, you have access to top-notch facilities and equipment that are rarely available at other leading liberal arts colleges. For instance, we opened our Optical Spectroscopy and Nanomaterials Lab in January of 2012 with a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, becoming the first and only undergraduate liberal arts college in the nation to offer such a lab.
Our Physics AOC is designed to provide a thorough grounding in the central areas of physics, giving you the flexibility to pursue individual interests in depth. We offer courses and tutorials in theoretical, experimental and computational physics for majors and non-majors. Students participating in the Physics program become familiar with the facts and processes of physics and learn to think logically. Those whose interests expand beyond the introductory level will find small classes, intensive work and challenging projects. They will also find state-of-the-art equipment for doing research in the laboratory, including an atomic force microscope, a micro-Raman spectrometer, an X-ray diffractometer, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, micro-spectrophotometer and a differential scanning calorimeter. Joint or double Areas of Concentration with other disciplines are possible. For example, combinations of Physics with Mathematics or Chemistry are common. Some of our graduates go on to work for industry or government but most continue their education in graduate school.
Plus, you’ll enjoy one-on-one and small group research opportunities with faculty who are leaders in the field. Our faculty are teaching and researching everything from thermodynamics and black holes to nanoparticles, quantum mechanics and more. One faculty member even has a sub-field in the study of black holes named after him! And thanks to the advanced nature of the lab work and hands-on research projects our students do, many are given opportunities to be involved in national and international collaborations with leading research institutions in places like France, Germany, Bulgaria and South Africa.
At New College all students do a senior thesis, and Physics students frequently satisfy this capstone requirement by becoming involved in some area of a faculty member’s research. Recent research projects have included work on metal nanoparticles in thin films, Raman micro-spectroscopy of carbon nanotubes, quantum chemistry, symmetry breaking in quantum field theory, computer analysis of pendulum data, the theory of black hole confinement, computer simulation of electromagnetic wave propagation and the Pioneer anomaly. Faculty research laboratories and computer equipment are available to students engaged in research of all kinds.
Graduates of New College have continued their education in fields as varied as physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, medicine and education, and many have received full scholarships to some of the country’s top graduate programs. New College graduates have continued their education at institutions such as Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, University of Washington and Georgia Tech. For those who choose to join the workforce, a bachelor’s degree in physics is immediately useful in the job market as well, with many of our alums finding work in engineering, computer science and information technology.
The bottom line is that as a New College Physics student, you will have the opportunity to conduct graduate-level work as an undergraduate. It’s one of the reasons faculty say top research universities are thrilled to have New College graduates in their graduate school programs.
Students majoring in our Physics AOC are required to take a two-semester Introductory Physics sequence with labs, Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Modern Physics with lab, Optics, Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Mechanics. In addition to these core courses, electives are offered in Advanced Quantum Mechanics, Advanced Physics Lab, Essential Electronics, Mathematical Methods for Physicists and Solid State Physics, as well as a wide variety of tutorials and independent study projects arranged with your faculty advisor. As with all disciplines at New College, an essential part of our Physics program is undergraduate research leading to the completion of a senior thesis. Our faculty in Physics is well equipped to offer theses in a wide range of areas. See our list of student theses for examples of recent topics covered.
Some students also choose to take physics as part of a joint area of concentration, or slash AOC as we call it. Slash AOCs combine two disciplines (e.g., Physics/Mathematics) with study in each but not quite enough for a full major in either. For a slash AOC in Physics, we require the two semester Introductory Physics sequence with labs, Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Modern Physics with lab.
In addition to coursework at New College, our Physics students routinely do paid summer research at universities and government laboratories around the country as part of the NSF funded REU program. Faculty can assist students in applying for these opportunities.
Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Physics:
Seeing the Light
This course will be valuable to the nonscientist – the humanity major, the social scientist, or any other of the myriad of students who, while perhaps not mathematically sophisticated, have the curiosity and intelligence of all college students. The field of optics seemed to offer an ideal chance to expose the students to the realm of physics and physical sciences in general. A huge wealth of light and color phenomena from “the real world” will be discussed and the logical relationships that exist between these phenomena will be pointed out. The course will follow closely the book written by D. Falk, D. Brill and D. Stork with the same title “Seeing the Light”. The following topics will be covered: Fundamental properties of light; Principles of geometrical optics (shadows, reflection, refraction, dispersion); Mirrors and lenses; The camera and photography; The human eye and vision (producing the image, processing the image, binocular image and perception of depth); Optical instruments (microscopes, telescopes); Color theory and color perception mechanism; Wave optics (interference and diffraction); Scattering and polarization; Holography. The evaluation will be based on class attendance, weekly homework assignments, two midterm exams and one final comprehensive exam.
Structure of Nature
During the term we will investigate 20th century developments in two main areas of fundamental physics research, particle physics and cosmology, exploring the limits of human knowledge regarding these subjects. The development will be largely nonmathematical and concept oriented with no required prerequisites. The focus will be on the logical development of the currently accepted models of nature through examination of various particle accelerator experiments and astronomical observations over the last century. We will see how building larger and larger accelerators has uncovered a remarkably unified view of the rich structure we observe around us. The current picture appears incomplete at the present time. We will examine some of the reasons why scientists believe this to be so and will discuss some current ideas for completing the picture. Finally, our knowledge about nature at the extreme microscopic level can tell us about what might have happened in the very early universe, a remarkable connection between the very big and the very small. The evaluation is based on exams, assignments, attendance, and possible term papers. Prerequisites: None, other than an interest in science.
This course, which has absolutely no prerequisites other than a curiosity about the heavens and a willingness to work hard, is directed at students who are not necessarily concentrating in the sciences. Little mathematics will be used. We will start with a discussion of the history of astronomy and how the present notions of the sun-centered solar system developed. From there we will move into a discussion of the moon and the planets. Throughout, we will include the most recent scientific findings. We will discuss stars, supernovas, black holes, gas clouds, and galaxies. The course will conclude with the present picture of the structure of the universe. Part of the course will be naked eye and telescopic observations of the moon, the planets, double stars, and nebulae. The evaluation will be based on solutions to homework assignments, a mid-term exam, a comprehensive final exam, an optional paper, and attendance and participation in classes, workshop and observation sessions.
Selected Physics Topics for the Life Sciences
The course will attempt to make the relevance of advances in Physics to Biology and Medicine more obvious. The recent discoveries in physics and their wide applications to other fields mean that today biologist; doctors and biomedical scientists work with highly sophisticated apparatus and are compelled to be familiar with quite advanced physical concepts. Various topics like fluid properties and life on earth, physics of the human circulatory system, bioelectricity, physics of hearing, physics of vision, microscopy principles, fiber optics in medical diagnosis, lasers and photonics application in the medical field, radiation and nuclear medicine will be discussed. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework, two exams, and class attendance. Co-requisites: Physics I and II.
This is the first semester of the introductory calculus-based physics sequence. The main target audience is physics, chemistry and biology majors, and premeds. However, anyone else interested in introductory physics is welcome to join. Topics covered include kinematics in one and two dimensions, Newton=s laws of motion, work and energy, systems of particles and the center of mass, momentum conservation, gravitation, oscillations and rotational motion. Criteria for evaluation are weekly homework, exams, including a final comprehension exam, and class attendance and participation. Co-requisite: You must have had or be taking Introductory Calculus.
Honors Physics I
This course is the first semester of introductory physics (mechanics and thermodynamics) presented at a pace faster than Physics I, and with higher expectations for satisfactory completion. It fits what many students are looking for: “honors” courses moving at a faster pace, having in the class “stronger” classmates, and looking better on the transcript. The course stresses problem solving to a greater degree than Physics I. This emphasis, and the faster pace, comes at the expense of time spent on basic concepts. In recent years, Physics educators have moved in the direction of emphasizing concepts more, an area where students are perceived to be weak. The argument goes: how can Physics education be succeeding if students have not mastered all of the fundamental concepts prior to applying them? If you feel like this, then maybe Physics I is the course for you! Honors Physics moves in the other direction. The philosophy is that you learn by doing, and “doing” at this level is solving Physics problems. The argument goes that this is the best way to prepare for Physics at a higher level, with a firm grasp of the concepts following the application. If this is your philosophy, then Honors Physics is the course for you. Corequisite: Calculus I.
Physics I Laboratory
Physics I Laboratory will focus on experiments involving fundamental principles and key applications of classical mechanics. It is intended to cover many of the topics introduced in Physics I. The lab will provide hands on exposure to many physical systems involving basic mechanics. For example, we will conduct experiments measuring position, velocity, and acceleration of moving objects as well as rotational inertia and other properties of rotating systems. Many of the experiments will use state of the art computer interfacing and automated data acquisition systems in the new dedicated introductory physics laboratory in the Heiser Natural Sciences Complex. The course meets one afternoon per week and is evaluated using a combination of exams and weekly lab reports. Co-requisite: Enrollment in Physics I. Lab Fee Required.
This is the continuation of the introductory physics sequence. Topics this semester include the electric field of stationary charges, Gauss’ Law, work and energy, the electrostatic potential, capacitance, electric current, magnetic fields, Faraday’s law, Maxwell’s equations, reflection and refraction, geometrical optics, and interference and diffraction. The criteria of evaluation are the same as in Physics I. Pre-requisites: Calculus I and Physics I. Co – Requisite: Calculus II.
Honors Physics II
This course is the natural continuation of Honors Physics I. Topics covered will include all of the material conventionally covered in Physics II as well as additional material on waves, optics, special relativity, and other special topics such as basic quantum mechanical concepts. Material will be covered at an accelerated pace relative to Physics II and the mathematical sophistication involved will be considerably deeper.
Physics II Laboratory
Physics II Laboratory continues Physics Laboratory I. The lab will feature the material being covered in the lecture course Physics II; basic electrostatics, DC and AC electronics, magnetic fields, optics, and basic spectroscopy. Many of the experiments will continue to use the computer interfacing developed in the first semester of the course. The course meets one afternoon per week and is evaluated using a combination of exams and weekly lab reports. Prerequisites: Physics I and Lab and co-enrollment in Physics II. Lab fee required.
In this course we will study the major breakthroughs that occurred in physics during the early 20th century. We will begin with Einstein’s special theory of relativity and continue on to study the various physical phenomena that led to the development of quantum mechanics; such as blackbody radiation, Compton scattering, the photoelectric effect, and the discrete spectrum of Hydrogen. We will examine Schrödinger’s wave equation that governs the evolution of quantum systems and solve it for some simple cases. Criteria for evaluation are weekly homework, exams, including a final comprehension exam, and class attendance and participation. Prerequisite: Physics I and II.
Modern Physics Laboratory
In this lab we will repeat some of the modern physics’ classic experiments. Included will be photoelectric effect, the Millikan oil drop experiment, spectroscopy, the Michelson interfero-meter, diffraction grating, the measurement of e/m for electrons, electron diffraction, the Frank-Hertz experiment, and X-ray diffraction. In addition to experimental technique, we will emphasize the place of these experiments in the history of science. In the past, this course has drawn both physics majors and non-majors. The course will be evaluated on the basis of the completion of the experiments in the course, and the submission of a clear lab notebook. Prerequisites: Physics I and II. Lab fee required.
This course begins by covering many of the subjects introduced in Physics I at a greater level of mathematical sophistication. First, we will study Newton’s equations of motion for a variety of systems and their solution using several types of coordinate systems. Following this, we will investigate the more powerful lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations of classical mechanics using calculus of variations. This more general approach allows equations of motion to be formulated in terms of generalized coordinates and provides the most direct connection to quantum mechanics and modern fundamental theories of physics. Evaluation is based on exams, weekly homework assignments, attendance, and class participation. Prerequisites: Physics I and Physics II.
Statistical mechanics makes the connection between the microscopic and the macroscopic thermodynamic behavior of systems. It is the foundation of the behavior of all gasses, liquids, and solids. This includes phase transitions and critical points. We will begin by developing the Boltzmann-Gibbs equation. From this, we will derive the rules of thermodynamics. A previous knowledge of thermodynamics, while helpful, is not essential. Prerequisites: Physics I and II.
Quantum Mechanics follows Modern Physics in the development of the theoretical framework that radically changed classical physics at the turn of the century. This theory was motivated by numerous conflicts between classical concepts and experimental results in atomic systems. Quantum mechanics has numerous ramifications for both chemistry and physics where small-scale physical systems are relevant. The class will focus on techniques for solving Schrödinger’s wave equation in a variety of physical situations. The class will begin with several one-dimensional examples that exhibit the crucial properties inherent in all quantum systems. We will then see how quantum theory fits naturally into the framework of linear algebra where operators acting on a vector space of particle states replace classical observable quantities such as energy and momentum. Next, we will solve for the three-dimensional Hydrogen atom states, which serves as a model for more complex atomic and molecular quantum systems. Special topics will include Bell’s theorem on hidden variables and the Einstein-
Podolsky-Rosen paradox regarding locality of wave function collapse. Recent experiments have been conducted that rule out any underlying deterministic local theory of nature and support the quantum mechanical picture. The course will be evaluated by in-class exams, weekly homework as well as class participation and attendance. Prerequisite: Modern Physics.
Electricity and Magnetism
This course is intended primarily for students concentrating in physics or mathematics. It begins with vector calculus then moves into electrostatics. Thereafter follow the fundamentals of current and resistance, capacitance and dielectrics, magnetic fields, and Faraday’s Law. Emphasized throughout will be the mathematical techniques essential not only in this course, but in a wide variety of settings in physics. These techniques include infinite series, uniqueness theorems, and the solution of boundary value partial differential equations. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam Pre-requisites: Physics I and II. Not required, but most helpful would be the upper level course Mathematical Methods in Physics.
Optics constitutes one of the most important areas of physics. Indeed, advances in Optics have led the way in a revolution in the communications and computer industries. The course starts with geometrical optics, including plane surfaces and prisms, spherical surfaces, lenses and mirrors. Then it proceeds with vibrations and waves, superposition of waves, interference of two beams of light, interference involving multiple reflections, Fraunhofer, and Fresnel diffraction. There will be a section discussing the electromagnetic nature of light, dispersion, polarization, reflection and double refraction. This course will consist of both lectures and labs. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam, and weekly lab reports. Prerequisites: Physics I and II and labs. Not required, but most helpful are Electricity and Magnetism and upper level mathematics such as Calculus III. Lab fee required.
Computer Simulation Methods
This course teaches solving scientific problems with a computer. Being able to do this is an essential skill not just in Physics, but also in other disciplines. In this class, we will stress seven elements of computer programing: 1) programming language, 2) programming style, 3) computational algorithms, 4) appropriate data structures, 5) graphical representation, 6) use of other people’s code, and 7) computational speed. A number of example problems and simulations will be done this semester depending somewhat on student interest, but weighted towards Physics and related disciplines. The computer language will be Java. Prior knowledge of this language, or another computer language, might be helpful, but is not required. We will use the most modern paradigms of computers, including Object-Oriented Programming. But, through workshops and instruction, we will certainly help students perhaps new to computer programming. Prerequisites are Physics I and II, and Calculus I and II, or consent of the instructor.
Advanced Electricity and Magnetism
This course is a second semester follow-up to Electricity and Magnetism. It will begin with an overview of the Maxwell equations both in vacuum and in the presence of matter. A detailed study of electromagnetic waves will follow. The potential formulation will then be covered in which the physical fields are derived from scalar and vector potentials. This approach will then be applied to a study of radiation properties of accelerated charges. The final section of the course will involve a study of the relativistic nature of Electromagnetism and the covariant formulation of the Maxwell equations in the context of special relativity.
Advanced Physics Laboratory
The advanced Physics Lab provides third and fourth year physics and chemistry students with an opportunity to develop their technical and analytical skills and to explore new physical phenomena. Students are expected to use both their hands and their heads. The lab is intended to bridge the gap between the conventional undergraduate lab and a research lab. Thus the experiments are considerably more complex and much more comprehensive. Four experiments will be completed. The evaluation will be based on lab notebook and lab reports. Pre-requisites: Modern Physics Lab.
Advances in electronic devices have been the key to many recent scientific discoveries. They also lie at the heart of the high tech revolution which is sweeping the world. This course is designed as an introduction to building electronic circuits from the ground up. Emphasized will be solid state devices, such as transistors and operational amplifiers. This course will consist of both lecture and labs. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final comprehension exam, and weekly lab reports. Pre-requisite: Physics I and II and Introductory Physics Laboratories. Lab fee required.
Mathematical Methods for Physicists
This course is intended to provide a brief introduction to some mathematical concepts which appear repeatedly in physics. These topics include vector manipulation, the theory of coordinate systems, vector calculus, the series representation of functions, linear algebra, differential equations, and complex numbers. Used in the course is the computer language Mathematica, which will be introduced. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework assignments, class attendance and participation, a midterm and final exam. Prerequisites: Introductory Physics and Calculus.
Solid State Physics
Solid state physics is the largest research area in physics, and deals with the subject of materials. This subject matter is essential for an understanding of many areas of research in both physics and chemistry. This course will cover the following topics: waves in crystals and the reciprocal lattice, thermal vibrations of the crystal lattice, free electrons in crystals, electrical conductivity and band theory, semiconductors, amorphous materials and superconductivity. Criteria for evaluation: weekly homework and exams, including a final exam. Pre-requisite: Physics I and II are required; Modern Physics is suggested.
Quantum Mechanics II
This course continues Quantum Mechanics I, looking at several additional topics. These topics include particle statistics (Fermions and Bosons), atoms and the periodic table, approximation schemes such as perturbation theory and variation principles, the WKB approximation, scattering theory, and Bell’s theorem. The evaluation is based on weekly homework assignments, a midterm exam, a comprehensive final exam, and class attendance and participation. Prerequisite: Quantum Mechanics I.
For a complete list of courses, click here.
Thomas Bell, Ph.D. ’64 is a scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Center at NASA and a senior meteorologist in the Laboratory for Atmospheres.
New College is proud of the many Physics graduates who have contributed to the field. Here’s a sampling of some of our graduates:
Sample of Graduate Schools Attended by NCF Students in Physics
Each academic experience builds toward your senior thesis project. It’s required for graduation, and our students tell us that while it’s demanding, it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. Here are some thesis projects in Physics:
“Lorentz Violating Extensions of the Nuclear Shell Model” by Steven Wilcox
“Phase Transitions of BaTiO3 Nanoparticles Studied by Differential Scanning Calorimeter” by Emily Myers
“Investigating the origin of the Pioneer anomaly through Java computer modeling” by Kathleen Kiker
“Experimental Thermal Analysis of Aqueous Al2O3 Nanofluids” by Katherine McAlpine
“Monte Carlo Simulations for Lorentz Violating Bose-Einstein Condensates” by Brenton Boland
“Water Purification in the Global South” by Meagan Patrick
“Sudoku Scheming: Am Algebraic Combinatorial Approach to Discovering Properties of Sudoku Graphs using Association Schemes” by Ziva Myer
“Measurement of the Proton Spin Structure Function g1 with Data from the EG1-DVCS Experiment” by Christopher Pedersen
“Simulating Electromagnetic Wave Propagation using Multi-Scale Time-Domain Methods and Iterative Algorithms” by Kerry Keys
“Sequestration and Stabilization: Taming the Black Hole” by Patrick Dees
“Thickness and Refractive Index Measurements of Transparent Thin Films” by Andrew Hammer
“Micro-Raman Study of Filled Double-Walled Carbon Nanotubes” by Tom Hartsfield
“Optical Properties of Noble Metal Nanoparticles in Dielectric Thin Films” by Robin Jacobs-Gedrim
“Microsolvation of the Cyanyl Radical: Competition Between Hydrogen Bonding and Electrostatic Non-Covalent Interactions” by Jacob Bloom
“Raman Studies of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes Suspended in Polystyrene” by Ross DeMike
“Numerical Analysis of the Spring Pendulum System using MATLAB” by Matthew Brannock
“Experimental Study of Polyaniline Chemical Actuators for Bending Silicon Wafers” by Denise Hoover
“Raman Spectroscopy of Te Filled Double-Walled Carbon Nanotubes” by Michael Aldridge
“Lepton Pair Production Due to e-e+ Pair Annihilation in the Presence of Spontaneous Lorentz-Symmetry Violation” by Raul Briceno
“Rutherford and Bremsstrahlung Scattering in the Presence of Lorentz Symmetry Violation” by Colwyn Gulliford
“Raman Spectroscopy of PbI2 Double-Walled Carbon Nanotubes” by Bryan DeBono
“Star Formation and Metallicity in High EQW(Ha) Galaxies: A Search for Metal-Poor Candidates” by Jennifer E. Pollack
“Surface Plasmon Resonance of Noble Metal Nanoparticles in Thin Film Dielectric Matrices” by Rose Ruther
“The Physics of Tachyons” by Tim Sanchez
“Thin Gold Films Sputter Deposition and Optical Characterization” by Tik Sun
“Technology and Creativity: The Role of Compositional Tools in the Shaping of Music” by Audrey R. Troutt
“Study of the Helical Field Coil and the Ohmic Heating Coil Systems in the Compact Toroidal Hybrid” by Emily Dangelmaier
“Carbon Nanoparticles” by Peter Dow
“The Nonrelativistic Limit of Fermionic Operators with Lorentz Violation” by Homer F. Wolfe
“Implementation of Density Functional Theory and Application of DFT to the Chlorine/Benzene Adduct” by Steven Edge Wheeler
“Using Homotopy Groups to Detect Topological Defects with Applications to a Loentz-Violating Theory” by Selena Lee
“Coil Impedance in the Presence of an Axially Symmetric Conductor” by Dustin Soodak
“Curved, Periodic Crack Patterns in Thin Sol-Gel Films” by Keely Willis
“Quantum Chemistry & Methyl Transfer” by Robert Sidney Cox, III
“Simulating Emulating: Associative Memory in Spiking Neural Networks” by Brian Hallmark
“Trucking: The Vehicle Routing Problem and Improvement Graph Local Search” by Abram Steele-Feldman
Heiser Natural Sciences Complex includes teaching and research labs for Chemistry, Biology, Computational Science, Mathematics and Physics. The complex is home to a new state of-the-art Optical Spectroscopy and Nano-Materials Laboratory. The lab was funded through a multi-year grant from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. It is the largest federal grant in New College’s history. The faculty believe the lab gives students a rare opportunity to be involved as researchers and as co-authors on scientific papers. Learn more.
The Physics program has space for laboratory work at all levels, including a specially equipped laser lab with vibration-sensitive equipment mounted on Newport pneumatic isolation tables. In addition, the Physics program contains a computer lab as part of its dedicated introductory lab, allowing access to software such as Maple. These labs are equipped to support full semester courses in the Physics I and II Labs, Modern Physics Lab, Electronics Lab and Optics Lab.
Beyond the regular course level, there are laboratories for doing advanced projects. These include measuring the speed of light with a rotating mirror apparatus, measuring the strength of gravity with a Cavendish setup, studying crystal structure with X-rays, making electronic measurements on semiconductors, performing optical experiments with lasers, doing precision optical interferometry, analyzing acoustical signals with a spectrum analyzer, making nuclear counts with a multichannel analyzer, and measuring optical spectra with a UV-VIS miniature fiber optic apparatus. Physics has two computer-controlled optical telescopes, a Meade 10.5″ LX200, and a Meade 127ED 5″ refractor. Additional state-of-the-art equipment includes an atomic force microscope, a micro-Raman spectrometer, an X-ray diffractometer, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, micro-spectrophotometer and a differential scanning calorimeter.
Physics students have expanded their studies outside of the class through ISPs, tutorials, and thesis work, and our professors provide many hands-on opportunities for students:
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