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!

We teach many 100-level courses with no prerequisites. These include  PHYS 222 - Understanding Space/Time (Fall 2024),  and ASTR 112 - Alien Worlds (Spring 2025).

If you're looking to rigorously explore space, time, and motion, we recommend PHYS 123 - The Newtonian Synthesis (every Fall). PHYS 116 - Mechanics (every semester) is another great option. Both PHYS 116 and PHYS 123 have a laboratory component and count towards the Physics and Astronomy majors; they also satisfy medical school requirements. If you're a pre-med student who placed out of PHYS 116/123, PHYS 117 - Electromagnetism and Optics (every semester) or PHYS 125 - Oscillations and Waves (every Fall) might be good options. Check with your advisor or the Department Chair for help choosing.

If you are interested in a potential major in our department, see our specific advice on Getting Started in the Physics Major and Getting Started in the Astronomy Major. Those pages also have more information to help you differentiate our five 100-level courses with calcululus pre-requisites (PHYS 116/117/123/124/125).

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.