Major Explorations: Physics & Astronomy

Welcome to Physics & Astronomy

Physics and Astronomy are for everyone. They require no special prerequisite knowledge or skills, just an interest in how things work and a willingness to be challenged.

Welcome to the Physics & Astronomy Department!

This page is intended for first-year and transfer students interested in studying physics and/or astronomy along with non-majors hoping to explore the subjects.  We strive to create a welcoming and inclusive departmental climate in which all students feel capable of succeeding, are comfortable being their authentic selves in departmental spaces and have access to the full curriculum. Our commitment to physics and astronomy as liberal arts subjects leads us to stress the conceptual, historical, and philosophical context in which the important ideas of contemporary physics and astronomy arose. 

First Courses in Physics and Astronomy

There's a physics and astronomy course for every student at Amherst. Many of our 100-level courses have no prerequisites.  These include PHYS 102 - Geometry and Relativity, PHYS 108 - Science and Music (offered Spring 2023), PHYS 109 - Energy, PHYS 113 - Space, Time, Matter and the Cosmos (offered Spring 2023), ASTR 110 - Observing the Sky, ASTR 111 - Exploring the Cosmos (offered Fall 2022 and Spring 2023), and ASTR 112 - Alien Worlds

With a prerequisite of one semester of calculus (or placement), PHYS 123 - The Newtonian Synthesis is a strong option for a student that wishes to rigorously explore space, time, and motion. PHYS 116 - Introductory Physics is another great option.  Both 116 and 123 have a laboratory component and count towards the Physics and Astronomy majors; they also satisfy medical school requirements. If a student has placed out of PHYS 116 and/or 123, they should consult their advisor or chair about whether PHYS 117 - Electromagnetism and Optics or PHYS 125 - Oscillations and Waves might be good options. 

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For Transfer Students

Transfer students interested in majoring in Physics or Astronomy should discuss their previous coursework with their major advisor or the Department Chair to determine which courses meet the major's requirements and what courses still needed to be completed.