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Physics & Astronomy


The Physics and Astronomy Department at Carthage offers courses that introduce students to the fundamental physical principles that govern phenomena of the natural world.

In studying physics, students gain high levels of competency in computing, mathematics, problem solving, analysis, and conceptual model building. Scroll down to read descriptions of the Physics courses offered at Carthage, or click on the following links for additional resources.


  • PHY 1000

    Physics for Future Presidents (NLAB)

    This course presents a topical introduction to the key principles and concepts of physics in the context of the world events and natural phenomena that confront world leaders and that require informed decisions and responses. Energy, health, counterterrorism, remote sensing, space programs, nuclear proliferation, and a host of other modern challenges have technological and scientific dimensions, the understanding of which is essential to avoiding disastrous policy decisions. This course considers the application of physics to these societal challenges. The material is covered at a level and pace that a future world leader should be able to handle; the emphasis is on the development of physical reasoning skills, and not on detailed, mathematical problem solving.
    Prerequisite: High school algebra

  • PHY 1030

    Astronomy (LAB SCI)

    A study of astronomy beginning with its historical roots and leading to our current understanding of the sun and other components of the solar system, stars, galaxies, and the universe. Students study the night sky and methods used by astronomers. Lecture and laboratory. Some evening laboratories may be required.
    Prerequisite: High school algebra

  • PHY 1050

    Cosmology (NLAB)

    A study of the people and ideas that have shaped our current view and understanding of the cosmos. Topics will include astronomy of ancient civilizations, the development of the Copernican solar system, the size of the galaxy and the cosmological distance ladder, relativity and black holes, Hubble and the expanding universe, big-bang cosmology and the history of the early universe, exotic particles, dark energy, and the fate of the universe.
    Prerequisite: High school algebra

  • PHY 1200

    Fundamental Physics (LAB SCI)

    This course covers fundamental physical principles including descriptions of mechanical, electrical, wave, and atomic phenomena. The course highlights ways in which physical principles are used to describe and understand the vast array of observable phenomena in the universe. Students will study applications of physics to a range of important historical and contemporary scientific and technological questions. This course is intended for potential Physics majors or students planning further study in the physical sciences. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in MTH 1120 or departmental approval

  • PHY 2100

    Physics I (LAB SCI)

    This course provides an introduction to the essentials of mechanics, heat, and sound for students with no prior training in physics or chemistry. PHY 2100 in combination with 2110 is the preferred sequence for majors in health and life sciences. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: High school algebra

  • PHY 2110

    Physics II (LAB SCI)

    This non-calculus-based course provides an introduction to electricity and magnetism, light, and atomic physics, with many examples and applications drawn from biology and medicine. PHY 2110 is specifically targeted to majors in health and life sciences. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: PHY 2100

  • PHY 2200

    General Physics I (LAB SCI)

    This course provides a calculus-based introduction to 3-D kinematics, Newton's laws, simple harmonic motion, mechanical properties, rotational kinematics, and heat. PHY 2200 is required for physics majors, engineering students, and chemistry majors, and it can be counted as an elective toward a math major or minor. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisites: PHY 1200 or CHM 1020 with a grade of C- or better, MTH 1120 with a grade of C- or better, and concurrent enrollment in MTH 1220, or departmental approval

  • PHY 2210

    General Physics II (LAB SCI)

    This course is a continuation of PHY 2200 and provides a calculus-based introduction to electricity, magnetism, light, and wave phenomena. This course is required for physics majors, engineering students, and chemistry majors. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2200 and MTH 1220 with a C- or better

  • PHY 2300

    Modern Physics (LAB SCI)

    This course introduces relativity, quanta, wave-particle duality, atomic physics, and spin. Quantum mechanics is introduced and applied to the hydrogen atom and periodic table. Properties of the atomic nucleus and radioactivity may also be discussed. Mathematical and physical tools essential for upper-level physics courses will be introduced. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: PHY 2210 with a grade of a C- or better, or departmental approval

  • PHY 3100

    Optics (NLAB)

    Addresses optical phenomena across the electromagnetic spectrum. Topics include propagation of light, lenses and mirrors, and optical systems. Optics suitable for IR, Visible, UV, and X-ray regimes will be considered.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 with a grade of C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2020, or departmental approval

  • PHY 3120

    Electronics (LAB SCI)

    Study of the principles of operation of thermionic and solid state devices and their function. Topics from both analog (electronic components, power supplies, amplifiers) and digital circuits (Boolean algebra, logic gauges, demultiplexers, shift registers) will be covered. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: PHY 2110 or 2210, or departmental approval

  • PHY 3170

    Introduction to Computational Physics

    This course introduces computational physics: the set of techniques and algorithms necessary to represent physical systems on the computer, determine their properties, predict their behavior, and visualize the results. The course covers these topics as a series of projects, including studies of the stability of structures like bridges, the motion of objects like stars in galaxies, the behavior of continuous systems like sound waves or fluids, and understanding the limitations of such studies. These studies are carried out with tools commonly used in scientific programming and introduces software development best practices.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 and MTH 2020 OR PHY 2210 and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2020

  • PHY 3200

    Mechanics (NLAB)

    Study of particle dynamics in inertial and accelerated reference frames, gravitational potential, motion in a central force field and an introduction to Lagrangian methods.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 with a C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2020, or departmental approval

  • PHY 3300

    Thermodynamics (NLAB)

    A study of the thermodynamic concepts used to describe the macroscopic properties and behavior of systems, namely, temperature, internal energy, and entropy; and the relationship of these to microscopic behavior of systems as developed through statistical mechanics.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 with a grade of C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2020, or departmental approval

  • PHY 3470

    Mathematics for Scientists and Engineers (MTH)

    An advanced study of differential equations, partial differential equations, multiple integration, Laplace transforms, Fourier transforms, and vector analysis.
    Prerequisite: MTH 2120 with a grade of a C- or better, or departmental permission

  • PHY 3500

    Field Placement in Physics

    Enables the student to explore a possible physics career and to work in an individual, academically oriented position designed to supplement or complement the student's academic experience. All field placements require faculty supervision and regular meetings between the student and the instructor.
    Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor

  • PHY 3550

    Internship in Physics

    An internship enables students to gain practical experience in physics. Such internships are longer in duration than field placements. All internships require faculty supervision and regular meetings between the student and the instructor.
    Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor

  • PHY 4000

    Senior Thesis Seminar

    Work on a research topic under the supervision of staff members. Students learn the research techniques and presentation skills necessary to successfully complete a Senior Thesis in physics. Seminar is required of all senior Physics students. Students may not receive credit more than once.
    Prerequisite: Senior standing

  • PHY 4010

    Senior Thesis Research

    Engage in physics research under the supervision of staff members, complete a Senior Thesis in physics, and present thesis to an audience of faculty and students. This course is required of all senior Physics students.
    Prerequisite: PHY 4000

  • PHY 4100

    Astrophysics (NLAB)

    Covers key elements of the field of astrophysics. Topical areas may include stellar atmospheres, structure and evolution, galactic structure, interstellar matter, general relativity, and cosmology.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 with a grade of C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2020, or departmental approval

  • PHY 4110

    Observational Astrophysics (LAB)

    Covers the observational research used by astrophysicists to study the universe. Students will conduct observation projects using equipment at Carthage, Yerkes Observatory, and other facilities. Observational techniques include imaging, image analysis, and other methods appropriate to student projects. Lecture and laboratory.
    Prerequisite: PHY 4100 or departmental approval

  • PHY 4120

    Experimental Physics (LAB)

    An advanced laboratory course for senior physics majors. Students are expected to draw heavily upon their previous course work in physics and mathematics, and to apply their acquired skills and knowledge in planning and carrying out significant experimental work in physics. Laboratory, six hours scheduled; additional time will be required.
    Prerequisites: Senior standing and successful completion of at least 22 credits in Physics

  • PHY 4150

    Physics of Global Climate Change (NLAB)

    This course is designed to provide an understanding of the science of planetary climates for students with a background in physics and/or geography. Emphasis will be placed on the physical processes that control the state of Earth's climate, which include the roles of energy and moisture, atmospheric circulation, and atmosphere-ocean interaction. Cross-listed in Geography.
    Prerequisite: GEO 3700 or PHY 2200

  • PHY 4200

    Quantum Mechanics (NLAB)

    A study of the principles of quantum mechanics. Schrodinger theory and operator algebra are applied to the study of such problems as potential wells and barriers, tunneling, the harmonic oscillator, and the hydrogen atom.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 and MTH 2020 with a grade of C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2120, or departmental approval

  • PHY 4300

    Electricity and Magnetism (NLAB)

    The study of the electric and magnetic effects of charges and currents leading to a presentation of Maxwell's equations and including such topics as electrostatic fields, electrostatic and magnetic energy, and potential theory.
    Prerequisites: PHY 2210 and MTH 2020 with a grade of C- or better and concurrent enrollment in MTH 2120 or departmental approval

  • PHY 4500

    Independent Study in Physics

    A student can conduct independent study in a topic of interest in physics. It is understood that this course will not duplicate other courses regularly offered in the curriculum, and that the student will work in this course as independently as the instructor believes possible.
    Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor

  • PHY 4900

    Independent Research

    An opportunity for students to conduct original research in physics. Suitable topics are those that require substantial library and/or laboratory research, reading, and in-depth study.
    Prerequisite: Permission of the instructor

  • PHY 4990

    Senior Thesis Completion

    Students should register for PHY 4990 during the semester that they plan to complete their Senior Thesis.

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2018), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • Scheduled to open in fall 2018, a new residential tower will offer suite-style housing and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about The Tower

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wings, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • 96% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit Career Services.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. 95% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Computer science students watch Prof. Mark Mahoney’s recorded lecturers in their free time, so he can nearby “when they do their real learning,” he says. He has company: Physics professor Brant Carlson’s quantum mechanics video playlist has been viewed more than 170,000 times. 

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • As a freshman in the highly selective Honors Program, learn how to gain expertise in anything from music to forest ecology. After that, tackle a contemporary social, economic, or political problem. If you like, you can live on an Honors-only floor of a Carthage residence hall. 

    • In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Carthage was named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our athletic and recreation center, student union, computer labs, audiovisual production suite, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 10 years. Our new science center caps it off.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from archaeology to athletic training, neuroscience to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of our students receive financial aid, a hefty chunk of which is scholarships and grants — including $1.25 million annually from the Presidential Scholarship Competition and numerous Merit Scholarships. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” says biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 30 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from 75% tuition up to full tuition, room, and board. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about the Carthage core.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 12:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 120 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Chemistry Club, to Frisbee and Latin Belly Dancing. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • Imagine presenting your original research at an international conference — as an undergraduate. Carthage is dedicated to undergraduate research. Learn more about current opportunities.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked No. 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …