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Physics & Astronomy


The Physics and Astronomy Department offers classes 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. A strong physics background is essential preparation for many science careers, such as engineering, astronomy, meteorology, and medicine.

Current students: You should follow the official College Catalog from the year you entered Carthage and work with your advisors and the department chair to ensure all requirements are met.

Physics Major

The physics major requires 56 credits, which must include:


  • PHY 1200 Fundamental Physics* (4 credits)
  • PHY 2200 General Physics I (4 credits)
  • PHY 2210 General Physics II (4 credits)
  • PHY 2300 Modern Physics (4 credits)
  • PHY 2970 Portfolio Seminar A (1 credit)
  • PHY 3960 Portfolio Seminar B (1 credit)
  • PHY 3970 Portfolio Seminar C (1 credit)
  • PHY 4120 Experimental Physics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4960 Portfolio Seminar D (1 credit)
  • PHY 4970 Portfolio Approval (0 credits)
  • MTH 1120 Calculus I (4 credits)
  • MTH 1220 Calculus II (4 credits)
  • MTH 2020 Differential Equations (4 credits)
  • MTH 2120 Multivariate Calculus (4 credits)

*With departmental approval, students may substitute CHM 1020 or EGR 1100 for PHY 1200.


In addition, physics majors are required to take 16 credits of coursework at the 3000 level or higher. With approval of the department chair, up to 8 credits may be selected from an approved list of science courses outside the Physics and Astronomy Department. The physics major elective courses may be selected to accommodate a wide variety of interests and career objectives. Students are encouraged to develop individual plans in consultation with a faculty advisor.

Astrophysics Concentration
Students with an interest in astrophysics or the space sciences may choose to pursue the astrophysics concentration within the physics major. This graduate school preparatory track is a variant of the physics major that includes the following upper-level elective classes:


  • PHY 3100 Optics and Waves (4 credits)
  • PHY 4100 Astrophysics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4110 Observational Astrophysics (4 credits)


  • PHY 3200 Mechanics (4 credits)
  • PHY 3300 Thermodynamics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4200 Quantum Mechanics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4300 Electricity and Magnetism (4 credits)

Traditional Graduate School Track
Students intending to pursue advanced degrees in physics should take electives that cover the core material required for admission to graduate school. These include:

  • PHY 3200 Mechanics (4 credits)
  • PHY 3300 Thermodynamics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4200 Quantum Mechanics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4300 Electricity and Magnetism (4 credits)

Pre-Engineering Track
Students planning to pursue graduate education in engineering should consult a faculty advisor to select course electives that support their intended engineering specialty.
Learn more about Carthage’s 3+2 Dual Degree Engineering Program

Teaching Physics at a Secondary Level
Students planning to teach physics at a secondary level should include these recommended electives in their coursework for the physics major:

  • PHY 3120 Electronics (4 credits)
  • PHY 3200 Mechanics (4 credits)
  • PHY 4150 Science of Global Climate Change (4 credits)


Physics Minor

The physics minor consists of 24 credits.


  • PHY 1200 Fundamental Physics* (4 credits)
  • PHY 2200 General Physics I (4 credits)
  • PHY 2210 General Physics II (4 credits)
  • PHY 2300 Modern Physics (4 credits)


Students must also take two additional courses (8 credits) of 3000 level or higher in the Physics and Astronomy Department.

*With departmental approval, CHM 1020 may be substituted for PHY 1200. 



Honors in the Major

Honors are awarded at the discretion of the Physics and Astronomy Department. Students are eligible for Honors in Physics if they: maintain an overall GPA above 3.5 and a physics GPA above 3.3 at graduation, undertake scholarly physics research or a substantial engineering design project that is presented in public or published, complete an honors thesis, and receive the formal recommendation of the department.

Current students, remember: You should follow the official College Catalog from the year you entered Carthage and work with your advisors and the department chair to ensure all requirements are met.

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2021), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • The Tower, Carthage’s newest residence hall, provides some of the best views on campus — if not in the Midwest! In addition to #carthageviews of the lake from seven stories up, residents enjoy suite-style living and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about all housing options.

    • 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.

    • More than 90% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit The Aspire Center.

    • 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. More than 90% 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. 

    • Carthage has ranked as a top Fulbright producer for four of the past five years. Read about Carthage Fulbright winners.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our science center, student union, athletic and recreation center, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 15 years.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors, and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from marketing to neuroscience, nursing 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 more than 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.

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    • 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,” recalls biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 35 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from $25,000 up to full tuition. 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 Intellectual Foundations.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 13:1, 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 130 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Fencing to Frisbee, Chem Club to Stand Up Comedy. 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.

    • 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 in the Top 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 …