A set of core physics courses is required of all physics majors; in addition, a variety of elective courses enable students to select a program to suit their interests and their educational and employment objectives. Laboratory courses in both introductory and advanced physics include experience with electronics, classical and modern optics, solid state physics, and atomic and nuclear physics. Special courses and reading courses provide the opportunity for study in advanced areas normally offered only in graduate programs. Physics majors also have an unconstrained elective course each semester.

This page contains an outline of the physics courses that a typical Harvey Mudd Physics Major takes. The program offers many options, so you can design a course of study to match your particular interests. People interested in studying abroad should also consult the study abroad page for more information.

Information about the Joint Mathematics-Physics Major

The schedule listed below shows the required courses and when they are customarily taken by students who take Physics 23 in their first semester at the College. Those who begin with Physics 51 may wish to take some courses earlier than listed here; those taking a semester abroad may end up postponing some courses by a year. This schedule is simply a guide to the possible ways to complete the physics major. Be sure to discuss your options and choices with your advisor.

core a required course in the Common Core
requirement a technical requirement for all physics majors
elective an optional course
HSA a course partially fulfilling requirements of the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts program
Fall Spring
All students take Physics 23Special Relativity (1.5) in either the first half or the second half of the semester (opposite Writ 1). Most students take Physics 24Mechanics and Wave Motion. Students with very strong backgrounds in mechanics may place into Physics 24AMechanics and Wave Motion, which spends less time presenting material and focuses more on challenging application problems.
Physics 23 — Special Relativity (1.5) Physics 24 — Mechanics and Wave Motion (4) or Physics 24A — Mechanics and Wave Motion (3)
PE (1)  
Fall Spring
Students aiming to keep open the option of majoring in physics should take Mathematics 82Differential Equations and Physics 51Electromagnetic Theory and Optics, in addition to the required Engineering 79Introduction to Engineering Systems. If at all possible, they should also take Physics 50Physics Laboratory. Optional courses accessible to students at this level include:
Physics 51 — Electromagnetic Theory and Optics (3) Physics 52 — Quantum Physics (3)
Mathematics 82 — Differential Equations (3) Physics 54 — Modern Physics Lab (1)
Engr 79 — Introduction to Systems Engineering (3) Physics 64 — Mathematical and Computational Methods for Physicists (3)
HSA (3) Core 79 — STEM and Social Impact: Climate Change (3)
Elective (3) HSA (3)
  Elective (3)
Fall Spring
Upper division theoretical physics courses, including theoretical mechanics and statistical mechanics, are generally more demanding than prior courses and rely on mathematically more sophisticated approaches to solving physical problems. In addition, electronics lab is the first lab course in which each student has her or his own lab station. Plan your course load carefully to get the most out of this semester.
Possible additional courses this semester include
This is perhaps the best semester for studying abroad, if you are so inclined. Both Physics 116 and Physics 134 can be taken in the senior year without cramping your schedule. See your advisor for more information on preparing for foreign study. For those remaining on the HMC campus, this is a good semester to consider taking an upper-division half-course. Possibilities include In general, Physics 154Fields and Waves and Physics 156Classical Field Theory are offered in alternate years. Check availability with the department chair. Also consider taking a unit or two of research this term. Drop by professors’ offices to find out what opportunities are available.
Physics 111 — Theoretical Mechanics (3) Physics 116 — Quantum Mechanics (3)
Physics 133 — Electronics Laboratory (1) Physics 134 — Optics Laboratory (2)
Physics 195 — Physics Colloquium (0.5) Physics 196 — Physics Colloquium (0.5)
Physics 117 — Statistical Mechanics (3) Physics half course (2)
HSA (3) HSA (3)
Elective (3) HSA (3)
Elective (3) Elective (3)
Fall Spring
Research or clinic work is a major focus of this semester. It is important to budget sufficient time to get the most out of these experiences. Students applying to graduate schools should allow time for researching schools, completing applications, and preparing for the graduate records exam [GRE], offered in October and November. This work is equivalent to roughly 3–4 units. NB: Covid-19 has led ETS to cancel the fall subject tests in 2021. Possible half courses Research is a focus of this semester. For those heading to graduate school, have your frequent flyer number handy and budget time for trips to visit schools. This is also the time to take Physics 154Fields and Waves or Physics 156Classical Field Theory, which you will find especially useful preparation for graduate work in many fields. For those looking for jobs, plan on spending time identifying companies, preparing your resume, and interviewing. [You’re most welcome to take Physics 154 or Physics 156, too!]
Possible full courses this term: Possible half-courses this term:
Physics 151 — Electromagnetic Fields (3) Physics 194 — Physics Clinic (3) or Physics 199 — Senior Thesis in Physics (1-3)
Physics 193 — Physics Clinic (3) or Physics 199 — Senior Thesis in Physics (1-3) Physics 196 — Physics Colloquium (0.5)
Physics 195 — Physics Colloquium (0.5) HSA (3)
HSA (3) HSA (3)
HSA (3) Physics 154 — Fields and Waves (3) or Physics 156 — Classical Field Theory (3)
Elective (2 or 3) Elective (3)
  Elective (3)
Listed below are the nine optional programs for physics majors. Required courses are indicated with “”; courses which may be used to satisfy a requirement are indicated with “”, and options are listed in the column at the right. Note that “Half-Courses” refers to upper-division half-courses, numbered above 100. However, Astronomy 62 or Physics 84 may substitute for a half course provided that it is not used to fulfill another requirement.
Option Half-Courses 117 154 156 181 Research / Clinic Other Requirements
Standard 2 R
Applied Physics 2 RC
Astrophysics 2 R Astronomy 62; Physics 181 or Astronomy 101
R Physics 174; Physics 181 or an approved biology laboratory; three of [two approved biology courses, Physics 117, Chemistry 56 (Carbon Compounds)]; thesis research in Physics or Biology
Chemical Physics
R Chemistry 51 (Physical Chemistry); Physics 161; an Advanced Physical Chemistry course (Chemistry 161, Chemistry 163, Chemistry 164, Chemistry 167, or Chemistry 168); Physics 181 or an approved chemistry laboratory; thesis research in Chemistry or Physics

Education 170G (“Introduction to Public School Teaching”, CGU, fall only), taken in the junior year or earlier; Physics 183 (or Physics 184) (3 units); 9 units of approved technical electives. Recommended courses include Astronomy 62, Physics 166, Physics 170 or Computer Science 42 or 60, Biology 108, and Chemistry 51 (Physical Chemistry) or 103 (Chemical Analysis). Those wishing to proceed into CGU’s teacher training program may wish to take Education 300G in their eighth semester.
R Either Physics 117 or Physics 154; Physics 166; one approved geology course
Mathematical Physics 1 RC Physics 117, Physics 154, or Physics 156; 2 additional courses, to be chosen from Physics 117, Physics 154, Physics 156, and mathematics courses numbered 100 or higher that are not included in the physics major requirements. Note: Physics 170 can be substituted for Physics 133 in this option provided Physics 170 is not used to meet the physics half-course requirement.
Physics and Computers

RC Physics 117 or 2 physics half-courses; Physics 170; Computer Science 42 or 60; 2 of [Math 165 (Numerical Analysis), Engineering 155 (Microprocessor-Based Systems), any CS course numbered 70 or higher]. Students planning a career or graduate studies in computer applications to problems in physics or engineering would particularly benefit from Physics 117 and Mathematics 165 (Numerical Analysis). Students planning graduate studies in computer science should take Computer Science 105 (Computer Systems) and additional computer science courses as time permits.

Changes to any of the above programs may be requested by petition to the Department of Physics.