2019-2020 Undergraduate Course Catalog 
    Dec 05, 2023  
2019-2020 Undergraduate Course Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Physics, B.S.

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Director of Undergraduate Studies

Matthew LaHaye
201 Physics Building



Marina Artuso, Stefan Ballmer, Steven Blusk, Duncan Brown, Simon Catterall, Walter Freeman, Jay Hubisz, Matthew LaHaye, John Laiho, M. Lisa Manning, Alan Middleton, Liviu Movileanu, Alison Patteson, Joseph Paulsen,  Britton Plourde, Matthew Rudolph, Peter Saulson, Eric A. Schiff, Jennifer Schwarz, Tomasz Skwarnicki, Mitchell Soderberg, Paul Souder, Sheldon Stone, Gianfranco Vidali, Scott Watson, Denver Whittington

Physicists idealize the behavior of matter and energy in terms of mathematical representations called the “fundamental laws of nature” and seek to explain the properties of nuclei, atoms, molecules, and systems of these particles (gases, liquids, crystals, etc.). Undergraduate courses provide a background in classical physics, quantum mechanics, and laboratory techniques.

The department offers coursework leading to either a B.A. or a B.S. degree. The B.A. degree program is an excellent liberal arts major that requires fewer credit hours in the major than the B.S. program. The B.S. degree is the recommended choice for students contemplating graduate work in science and engineering.

Other information about physics can be found on the Internet at physics.syr.edu.

Student Learning Outcomes

1. A student will be able to explain phenomena occurring from sub-atomic to cosmological distance scales using qualitative physical principles. 

2. A student will be able to apply mathematics and logic to solve problems associated with natural phenomena. 

3. A student will be able to explain the experimental underpinnings of physical laws. 

4. A student will be able to employ basic laboratory and technical skills to solve physics problems as a result of formal laboratory course work and research opportunities with faculty. 

5. A student will be able to utilize modelling software and numerical methods to solve complex problems.

B.S. Degree Requirements

The B.S. degree is intended to provide a deep understanding of physical principles and the ability to solve challenging technical problems. Many students who complete the B.S. pursue graduate work in physics or other scientific or engineering disciplines or medical school, while others directly go on to use these skills in a variety of technically-oriented careers.

The B.S. degree in physics requires at least 38 credits of physics coursework, including at least 30 credits of upper-division physics courses (numbered 300 or above). The required course work for the B.S. includes:

Upper-division PHY electives

The B.S. degree requires at least 4 additional credit hours of upper-division coursework beyond the required core of physics coursework. There are typically several courses offered each year in addition to the possibility of receiving credit for research, theses, or the seminar in physics education. Students considering graduate work in physics are encouraged to take PHY 525 (Electromagnetics II) and PHY 568 (Quantum Mechanics II).

Students are also encouraged to take an introductory lecture and lab course from another scientific discipline, including chemistry, biology, or earth science.

For sample syllabi, see the Physics departmental courses web page.

B.S. with distinction

A B.S. with distinction is awarded to students who complete the B.S. program with 36 credit hours or more of upper-division physics courses and who achieve a 3.4 grade point average in their physics coursework. A B.S. with distinction is noted on a student’s official transcript.

B.S. - Option in Biological and Medical Physics

Sophisticated biophysical technologies are increasingly employed in medicine and other health professions; examples include ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, fiberoptic endoscopy, and laser surgery. Moreover, the rapidly advancing knowledge in the biomedical fields depends on biophysical concepts and methods, notably electrophysiology, pharmacological kinetics, and biomolecular structure determination. Accordingly, there is need for health care professionals and life scientists with ample training in the physical as well as biological sciences.

The following interdisciplinary option under the B.S. in physics is designed for students who are adept at the mathematical problem solving and conceptual aspects of physics, and who are interested in careers in biology, biological physics, medical physics, or medicine. Students with demonstrated proficiency in both physical and biological sciences will have special advantages not only for admission to and performance in graduate and professional schools, but also for their subsequent careers. More specifically, such training would be particularly relevant for the following fields of medicine: cardiology, neurology, ophthalmology, and radiology.

The following course sequence and variations meet the general prerequisites for medical school admission established by the Association of American Medical Colleges and also apply for careers in most of the other health professions. Courses followed by an asterisk are specifically required for admission to most medical schools.


Honors Program students should register for research in a biophysics laboratory, under the auspices of BIO 460 [3], CHE 450 [3], or PHY 490 [3]. For students intending to apply to M.D./Ph.D. programs, such experience in a biophysics research laboratory is strongly recommended.

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