Programs and Requirements

Programs and Requirements

 

Undergraduate Programs

Wake Forest students Aryatara Shakya ('19), left, and Emily Kim ('17), center, work with physics professor Daniel Kim-Shapiro in his lab in Olin

The Wake Forest Physics Department offers an outstanding educational program for the undergraduate student, with the option to pursue either a BS or BA degree in physics or a BS in Biophysics. The program is designed to give the student a broad understanding of physics, with the opportunity to pursue research at the forefront of biophysics, condensed matter physics, gravitation and particle physics, and medical physics. The Department thus provides a unique mix of research opportunities similar to those found at large research universities with the atmosphere of a small liberal arts university. Many of our undergraduate students have worked in our research laboratories and are co-authors on the resulting publications–visit the undergraduate alumni page for past graduates and their research topics and our Profiles page to see various research activities in which our current students are involved. Graduates from the Wake Forest Physics Department have held positions at colleges, universities, industry and government laboratories, and not-for-profit institutes (for details, see Outcomes, on the “Why Wake Forest?” page).

Details on our undergraduate programs are provided below. For more information or questions, please contact Professor G. Cook or Professor F. Salsbury, the undergraduate program advisers. Prof. Cook is the adviser for students declaring their major in odd years (such as 2020-2021) and Professor Salsbury for students declaring their major in even years (such as 2019-2020).

Physics Majors and Physics Minor

The study of physics is exciting, challenging, and brings out the student’s intellectual best. We have an ideal environment for learning physics: a small department committed to excellence in teaching in both the classrooms and the research laboratories. Majors take a set of core courses in which they learn the fundamentals of physics before they take elective courses and/or directed research.


A major typically starts with introductory Physics 123-124 in the freshman year or Physics 113-114. If you have had a good high school course, and feel that you know the material in the 123-124 course, you should discuss moving to Physics 215 with your instructor and either Professor Salsbury or Professor Cook, the advisors for physics majors. In your freshman year, you should also begin taking a sequence of mathematics courses, starting with Calculus, MST 111 and 112. It is essential that your mathematics courses parallel your physics courses during your first two years of physics study.

IF YOU ARE A SOPHOMORE WHEN YOU FIRST TAKE PHYSICS 123-124 or 113-114, YOU CAN MAJOR IN PHYSICS WITHOUT ANY DIFFICULTY. Options for starting the BS degree in physics as a freshman or sophomore, or the BA degree as a freshman or sophomore are provided below, as well as options for the BS in Biophysics.

There are four degree tracks for physics majors and one option for the physics minor:

The BS degree is for students planning careers in physics or related areas such as engineering. It provides rigorous, in-depth coverage in the areas of mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. Students also acquire knowledge of electrical circuits and the laboratory skills necessary to succeed in experimental physics. With this degree, students are well prepared for graduate studies in physics. Some of our BS majors have also gone on to study optics, medical physics, and engineering in graduate school.

The BA degree provides broad exposure to physics without the rigorous detail offered in the BS degree. BA students are well prepared for careers in science education, technical writing or journalism, or for working in science-related businesses. The physics BA degree is also a popular major for students who plan to enter professional schools such as Business, or Law or whose primary major is in another area such as mathematics or chemistry.

The BS degree in biophysics is a degree that is like the BS physics degree but with a focus on the biosciences. Students obtain a BS in Biophysics which includes a core set of biophysics and biochemistry courses that provide rigorous and quantitative training and focus, with application to the biosciences. Students obtain a knowledge base making them highly qualified to pursue research careers in the biotechnology industry or additional graduate education in biochemistry, biophysics, or pharmaceutical sciences or medical school. Students who are pursuing the physics BA degree and following the pre-health professions curriculum would complete the requirements for this degree if specific selections for required physics elective courses were chosen.

The BA/MS degree is an alternative to the BS degree for students planning on graduate study. It provides the same rigorous and in-depth coverage of core physics subjects at the undergraduate level as the BS degree does. In this program, at the end of the third year, the physics requirements for the BA degree are complete, and thus, the student may receive graduate credit for courses taken in the fourth year after the 120 credit hours required for graduation have been completed. During the fourth year of the BA/MS program, the student finishes the University requirements for the BA degree and graduates with his/her class. In the fifth year, the remaining course requirements and a thesis for the MS degree are completed. Students interested in the 5-year BA/MS degree should apply for admission to the Graduate School at the end of their junior year. This program is undergoing revisions, so if interested, consult the graduate director, Dr. Guthold, for more information.

The physics minor is for students who wish to obtain some experience in physics, beyond the two introductory courses. Students may minor in physics by completing 17 hours in physics. These 17 hours must include the following courses: 113 or 123 (General Physics I), 114 or 124 (General Physics II), 215 (Elementary Modern Physics), and 262 (Mechanics). MST 205 (Linear Algebra and Differential Equations) is a prerequisite for PHY 262, and MST 113 (Multivariable Calculus) is a co-requisite for PHY 262. MST 121 and 251 may be substituted for MST 205. Students may substitute CHM 341 in place of PHY 341 as an elective and those hours will count towards the 17 hours in physics.

Academic requirements for Majors: No student may be a candidate for a degree with a major from the physics department with a grade less than a C in General Physics without special permission of the Department. Graduation with a major from the Physics department also requires a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 in all physics classes. In addition, all major students, except for the BS Engineering, must take the ETS Major Field Test in Physics during their senior year, or as determined by the department and communicated by the major adviser(s). All BS majors declared during or after Fall 2017 must earn a minimum grade of C in MST 205 or in the substituted MST 121 and 251 courses. All BA and BS Biophysics majors who declare during or after Fall 2019 also must earn a minimum grade of C in MST 205 or in the substituted MST 121 and 251 courses. At least one course in computer science is strongly recommended for all majors.

The BS Major

The BS major in physics requires 38 hours in Physics and must include the following courses: 113 or 123, 114 or 124, 215, 230, 262, 265, 266, 301 (twice), 337, 339, 340, 341, 343, and 344. The remaining three hours may be satisfied with any other 300-level course(s) in the department. In addition, MST 205 (with a grade of C or better), MST 113, and one math elective are required. The math elective can be satisfied by any 3-hour 200 or higher-level mathematics, statistics or computer science course except MST 381, 391 and 392, STA 383, 391 and 392, and CSC 391 and 393. At least one course in computer science is strongly recommended for all majors.

Students may substitute MST 121 and 251 in place of MST 205. Students may wish to consider pursuing a minor in mathematics. Students may also substitute CHM 341 in place of PHY 341, and those hours will count towards the 38 hours in physics. Students must earn a minimum grade of C in MST 205 or in the substituted MST 121 and 251 courses.

BS major in physics starting freshman year

Typical schedule:

Year Fall Spring
Course Hours Course Hours
Freshman General Phy 113 or 123*
Calculus MST 111
4
4
General Phy 114 or 124*
Calculus MST 112 
4
4
Sophomore Elem Mod Phy 215
Intermediate Lab 265
Diff Eqn & Lin Alg MST 205
3
1
4
Mechanics 262
Intermediate Lab 266
Electronics 230
Multivariable MST 113
3
1
3
4
Junior Analytical Mech. 337
Elec. & Mag 339
Quantum Phys 343
Physics Seminar 301
1.5
1.5
3
0.5
Elec. & Mag 340
Quantum Phys 344
Physics Seminar 301
3
3
0.5
Senior Physics Seminar 301**
PHY/MST elective
0.5
3
MST/PHY elective
Physics Seminar 301**
Thermodynamics 341
3
0.5
3

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for physics majors.

**Four semesters of physics seminar is encouraged but only two semesters are required.

BS major in physics starting sophomore year

Typical schedule:

Fall Spring
Year Course Hours Course Hours
Sophomore General Phy 123* or 113
Calculus MST 111
4
4
General Phy 124* or 114
Calculus MST 112
4
4
Junior Elem Mod Phy 215
Intermediate Lab 265
Diff Eqn & Lin Alg  MST 205
Physics Seminar 301**
3
1
4
0.5
Mechanics 262
Intermediate Lab 266
Multivariable MST 113
Electronics 230
Physics Seminar 301**
3
1
4
3
0.5
Senior Analytical Mech 337
Elec & Mag 339
Quantum Phys 343
MST/PHY elective
Physics Seminar 301**
1.5
1.5
3
3
0.5
Elec & Mag 340
Quantum Phys 344
PHY/MST elective
Thermodynamics 341
Physics Seminar 301**
3
3
3
3
0.5

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for physics majors.

**Four semesters of physics seminar is encouraged but only two semesters are required.

The BS major in physics requires 38 hours in physics. The remaining three hours may be satisfied with any additional 300-level course(s) in the department including research, Phy 381. These courses may be taken at any time after the necessary prerequisites have been satisfied.

The BA Degree

The BA degree in physics requires 25 hours in physics and must include the following courses: 113 or 123, 114 or 124, 215, 230, 262, 265, and 266. The remaining six hours may be satisfied with any other 300-level courses in the department except 301 or 381. In addition, MST 205 (with a grade of C or better),  and MST 113 are required. Students may substitute MST 121 and 251 in place of MST 205. Students may also substitute CHM 341 in place of PHY 341 and those hours will count towards the 25 hours in physics. At least one course in computer science is strongly recommended for all majors.

BA major in physics starting in the freshman year

Typical schedule:

Year Fall Spring
Course Hours Course Hours
Freshman General Phy 123* or 113
Calculus MST 111
4
4
General Phy 124* or 114
Calculus MST 112 
4
4
Sophomore Elem Mod Phy 215
Intermediate Lab 265
Lin alg & Diff Eqn MST 205
3
1
4
Mechanics 262
Intermediate Lab 266
Electronics 230
Multivariable MST 113
3
1
3
4
Junior Physics Seminar 301** 0.5 Physics Seminar 301** 0.5
Senior 300 Level Elective
Physics Seminar 301**
3
0.5
300 Level Elective
Physics Seminar 301**
3
0.5

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for physics majors.

**Physics Seminar is encouraged, but not required.

BA major in physics starting in the sophomore year

Typical schedule:

Year Fall Spring
Course Hours Course Hours
Sophomore General Phy 123* or 113
Calculus MST 111
4
4
General Phy 124* or 114
Calculus MST 112 
4
4
Junior Elem Mod Phy 215
Intermediate Lab 265
Lin alg & Diff Eqn MST 205
Physics Seminar 301**
3
1
4
0.5
Mechanics 262
Intermediate Lab 266
Electronics 230
Multivariable MST 113
Physics Seminar 301**
3
1
3
4
0.5
Senior 300 Level Elective
Physics Seminar 301**
3
0.5
300 Level Elective
Physics Seminar 301**
3
0.5

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for physics majors.

**Physics Seminar is encouraged, but not required.

Physics for students planning careers in medicine, law or business

A major in physics is ideal for students planning careers in medicine, law, or business. Careers in medicine include allopathic, naturopathic and osteopathic medicine, dentistry, podiatry, optometry, and veterinary medicine. Backgrounds in physics are especially useful in our society which is rapidly becoming more and more dependent on technology. Students interested in a career in medicine have several choices:

  • The 25 hours required for the BA degree leaves ample elective hours which can be used to take courses required or recommended for admission to the professional school of choice. Study toward the BA degree may be started by taking Physics 123-124 or 113-114 in either the freshman or sophomore year.
  • With careful planning, students can complete a BS degree in physics, as well as the requirements for medical school. Please consult the appropriate Physics undergraduate advisor, Professor G. Cook or Professor F. Salsbury, for early planning.
  • Pre-health professions students should consider the BS Biophysics Major. Students who are following the pre-health professions curriculum would complete the non-physics requirements for this degree.

Pre-health professions students should visit the web page of the Health Professions program.External link icon 

The BS Biophysics Major

The Bachelor of Sciences degree in Biophysics requires 27.5 hours in physics and must include the following courses: 113 or 123, 114 or 124, 215, 230, 262, 265, 266, and two of the following: 307/325, 320, 341, and 385. A student must take Physics 381 for a minimum of 1.5 hours. Also required are Mathematics 205 (with a grade of C or better) and 113; Chemistry 111/111L, 122/122L, 280; two of the three courses Biology 114, 213, 214; and either Biology 370 or Chemistry 370. Students may substitute MST 121 and 251 in place of MST 205. Students may also substitute CHM 341 in place of PHY 341 and those hours will count towards the 27.5 hours in physics. CHM 123/123L may be substituted for CHM 122/122L. With permission of major advisor, PHY 381 may be replaced with one of CHM 391/392 or BIO 391/392/393/394 and those hours will count towards the 27.5 hours required in physics. Depending on choices made among the four electives (307/325, 320, 341, and 385) an additional hour of physics may be required. At least one course in computer science is strongly recommended for all majors.

Typical schedule:

Year BS Biophysics
Freshman PHY 123, 124* (General Physics) or 113, 114
MST 111, 112 (Calculus)
CHM 111, 111L (College Chemistry)
Sophomore PHY 215 (Elementary Modern Physics)
MST 205 (Linear Algebra and Differential Equations)
MST 113 (Multivariable Calculus)
CHM 122, 122L (Intro Organic Chemistry & Lab)
1 of 3 Biology courses:
BIO 114 (Comparative Physiology)
BIO 213 Genetics and Molecular Biology
BIO 214 (Cellular Biology)
PHY 262 (Mechanics)
PHY 265, 266 (Intermediate Lab)
Junior 1 of the following four Physics courses:
PHY/BIO 307/325 (Biophysics and Biophysical Methods & Laboratory).
PHY 320 (The Physics of Biological Macromolecules).
PHY 341 (Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics)
PHY/CSC 385 (Bioinformatics)
1 of 3 Biology Courses (listed above)
CHM 280 (College Chemistry II)
Seminar (Phy 301)**
Research (PHY 381, CHM 391/392, or BIO 391/392/393/394)***
Senior 1 of 4 physics courses (listed above for junior year)
PHY 230 (Electronics)
BIO/BMB/CHM 370 (Biochemistry: Macromolecules and Metabolism)
Seminar (Phy 301)**
Research (PHY 381, CHM 391/392, or BIO 391/392/393/394)***

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for biophysics majors.

**Physics Seminar is encouraged, but not required.

***Only 1.5hrs of research is required but more hours are commonly taken.

BA major for pre-health professions

Pre-health professions students wishing to receive a BA in physics would follow the same sequence as the BA major in physics, but could substitute other physics courses for the required biophysics courses and would not be required to conduct research (PHY 381).

BA/MS major in physics

The BA/MS five year program allows a student to earn both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science degree in five years. This program is undergoing revisions, so if interested, consult the graduate director, Dr. Guthold, for more information.

At the end of the third year, the Physics requirements (25 hours) for the BA degree are complete. The requirements for the MS degree include 24 hours of course work and 6 hours of thesis research. The 300-level math and physics courses that are taken in the senior year count toward the 24 hours of course work as long as those courses are in addition to those needed to meet the 120-hour requirement for graduation and as long as they are taken as 600-level courses. At least three of these courses should be taken in the senior year. Elective courses at the 300 level include:

Course Hours
Biophysics 307 3
Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology 310 3
The Physics of Biological Macromolecules 320 3
Bioinformatics 385 3
Computational Physics 335 3
Physical Optics and Optical Design 352 4
Introduction to Solid State Physics 354 3

Typical schedule:

Fall Spring
Year Course Hours Course Hours
Freshman General Phy 123* or 113
Calculus MST 111
4
4
General Phy 124* or 114
Calculus MST 112 
4
4
Sophomore Elem Mod Phy 215
Intermediate Lab 265
Linear Alg & Diff Eqn MST 205
3
1
4
Mechanics 262
Intermediate Lab 266
Electronics 230
Multivariable MST 113
3
1
3
4
Junior Analytical Mech. 337
Elec. & Mag. 339
Quantum Phys 343
Physics Seminar 301 
1.5
1.5
3
0.5
Elec. & Mag. 340
Quantum Phys 344
MST/PHY elective
Physics Seminar 301
3
3
3
0.5
Senior Thermodynamics 641
Physics Seminar 601
3
0.5
600-level PHY/MST elective
Physics Seminar 601
3
0.5
Hours Hours
Fifth Mechanics 711
Quantum Mech. 741
Elective
Thesis Research 791
3
3
3
3
Elec. & Mag. 712
Quantum Mech. 742 or other 700 level
Thesis Research 792
3
3
3

*Phy 123 and 124 are recommended for physics majors.

Engineering

Many physics majors pursue careers in engineering. Our students frequently become mechanical, civil, electrical, biomedical, and acoustical engineers. For options for pursuing a career in engineering, see our Engineering page.

 

Current Courses

Visit our Courses page.

Future Undergraduate Physics and Related Course Offerings

Spring 2020
Physics Relevant Math Courses
Physics 109 Astronomy Math 111 Calculus I
Physics 110 Introductory Physics Math 112 Calculus II
Physics 113 General Physics I Math 113 Multivariable Calculus
Physics 114 General Physics II Math 121 Linear Algebra 1
Physics 115 The Physics of Music Math 251 Ordinary Differential Equations
Physics 120 Physics and Chemistry of the Environment Math 352 Partial Differential Equations
Physics 124 General Physics II Honors
Physics 230 Electronics
Physics 262 Mechanics
Physics 266 Intermediate Laboratory II
Physics 301 Physics Seminar
Physics 307 Biophysics
Physics 340 Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 325 Biophysical Methods Laboratory
Physics 341 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
Physics 344 Quantum Mechanics
Physics 354 Solid State Physics
Physics 363 Condensed Matter Seminar
Physics 381 Research
Physics 391 Special Topics: Computational System Biology also CSC 387
  Fall 2020
Physics Relevant Math Courses
Physics 109 Astronomy Math 111 Calculus I
Physics 110 Introductory Physics Math 112 Calculus II
Physics 113 General Physics I Math 113 Multivariable Calculus
Physics 114 General Physics II Math 121 Linear Algebra 1
Physics 123 General Physics I Honors Math 205 Linear Algebra & Differential Equations
Physics 215 Elementary Modern Physics Math 251 Ordinary Differential Equations
Physics 265 Intermediate Laboratory I
Physics 301 Physics Seminar
Physics 320 The Physics of Biological Macromolecules
Physics 337 Analytical Mechanics
Physics 339 Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 343 Quantum Mechanics
Physics 352 Physical Optics and Optical Design
Physics 363 Condensed Matter Seminar
Physics 381 Research

 

Spring 2021
Physics Relevant Math Courses
Physics 109 Astronomy Math 111 Calculus I
Physics 110 Introductory Physics Math 112 Calculus II
Physics 113 General Physics I Math 113 Multivariable Calculus
Physics 114 General Physics II Math 121 Linear Algebra 1
Physics 115 The Physics of Music Math 251 Ordinary Differential Equations
Physics 120 Physics and Chemistry of the Environment Math 306 Advanced Mathematics for the Physical Sciences
Physics 124 General Physics II Honors
Physics 230 Electronics
Physics 262 Mechanics
Physics 266 Intermediate Laboratory II
Physics 301 Physics Seminar
Physics 340 Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 341 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics
Physics 344 Quantum Mechanics
Physics 363 Condensed Matter Seminar
Physics 381 Research

Fall 2021

Physics Relevant Math Courses
Physics 109 Astronomy Math 111 Calculus I
Physics 110 Introductory Physics Math 112 Calculus II
Physics 113 General Physics I Math 113 Multivariable Calculus
Physics 114 General Physics II Math 121 Linear Algebra 1
Physics 215 Elementary Modern Physics Math 205 Linear Algebra & Differential Equations
Physics 123 General Physics I Honors Math 251 Ordinary Differential Equations
Physics 265 Intermediate Laboratory I
Physics 301 Physics Seminar
Physics 310 Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology
Physics 337 Analytical Mechanics
Physics 339 Electricity and Magnetism
Physics 343 Quantum Mechanics
Physics 363 Condensed Matter Seminar
Physics 381 Research

 
Notes for Biophysics majors:
All relevant biology courses (114, 213, and 214) are offered every semester.
BIO/BMB/CHM 370 is offered every semester. CHM 111 is only offered in Fall semesters and CHM 122 and CHM 280 are only offered in Spring semesters.