Physics forms a foundation for all other sciences. Four introductory physics sequences and two introductory laboratory sequences are open to freshmen, as well as several physics courses on diverse topics for non–science majors. Placement in some courses depends on the student’s preparation or on concurrent enrollment in an appropriate mathematics course.

Introductory Courses with No Calculus Requirement

These courses are designed for non–science students with little or no background in physics. None have a college-level mathematics requirement. Each course may count toward the distributional requirements in science and/or quantitative reasoning. Expected offerings for 2016–2017 include:

Course List

PHYS 100, Energy Technology and Society

PHYS 101, Movie Physics

PHYS 112, Practical Electronics

PHYS 120, Quantum Physics and Beyond

Calculus-Based Physics Lecture Courses

The four introductory physics course sequences listed below are calculus-based. Students should have the appropriate background in mathematics to take these courses. Sir Isaac Newton developed calculus while trying to describe the world around him; it is the natural language of physics. Students enrolled in one of the calculus-based introductory courses will be invited to a series of Chairman’s Teas, which provide an opportunity to discuss topics on the frontiers of physics with faculty and peers. Completion of an introductory sequence also prepares students for a series of 340-level electives, which cover special topics of interest to both majors and nonmajors.

For reference, please see the Guide to Selecting the Best Physics Course for You.

  • PHYS 170 and PHYS 171, University Physics for the Life Sciences, are for students who are interested in the medical and biological sciences. Knowledge of differential and integral calculus at the level of MATH 112, Calculus of Functions of One Variable I, or equivalent is a prerequisite for PHYS 170 and PHYS 171. MATH 115, Calculus of Functions of One Variable II, should be taken concurrently with PHYS 171.
  • PHYS 180 and PHYS 181, University Physics, are for students with some previous background in physics and mathematics who plan to major in the physical sciences. Calculus at the level of MATH 112 is a prerequisite; MATH 115 and MATH 120, Calculus of Functions of Several Variables, should be taken concurrently.
  • PHYS 200 and PHYS 201, Fundamentals of Physics, are for students with a strong background in mathematics and physics who plan to major in the physical sciences. Calculus at the level of MATH 115 is presumed; MATH 120 and either MATH 225, Linear Algebra and Matrix Theory, or MATH 222, Linear Algebra with Applications, are generally taken concurrently.
  • PHYS 260 and PHYS 261, Intensive Introductory Physics, are for students who have excellent training in physics and mathematics and a flair for mathematical methods and quantitative analysis. One of the following: MATH 120, ENAS 151, Multivariable Calculus for Engineers, PHYS 301, Introduction to Mathematical Methods of Physics, or MATH 230, Vector Calculus and Linear Algebra I/ MATH 231, Vector Calculus and Linear Algebra II, or the equivalent should be taken concurrently.

Laboratory Courses

  • PHYS 165L and PHYS 166L, General Physics Laboratory, do not require a strong high school physics laboratory preparation. Related lecture courses are PHYS 170, PHYS 171, or PHYS 180, PHYS 181. Many students take the lecture courses first, and then take the laboratory sequence in a subsequent year.
  • PHYS 205L and PHYS 206L, Modern Physical Measurement, are for students who plan to major in the physical sciences. The related lecture courses are PHYS 180, PHYS 181, or PHYS 200, PHYS 201, or PHYS 260, PHYS 261. Students are advised to start this laboratory sequence in the spring of the freshman year or the fall of the sophomore year.

PHYS 170, PHYS 180, PHYS 200, and PHYS 260 are taught at the same time so that students are easily able to change levels if necessary.

The following table summarizes some important information about the lecture and laboratory courses described above.

  Meets Medical School Requirement Acceptable for Physics Major Math Taken Concurrently
PHYS 050 - PHYS 120 no no none
PHYS 170, PHYS 171 yes yes MATH 115
PHYS 180, PHYS 181 yes yes MATH 115, MATH 120
PHYS 200, PHYS 201 yes yes MATH 120, and MATH 225 or MATH 222
PHYS 260, PHYS 261 yes yes One of MATH 120, ENAS 151, MATH 230 or MATH 231, or PHYS 301
PHYS 165L, PHYS 166L yes yes -
PHYS 205L, PHYS 206L yes yes -

Questions about placement should be addressed to the director of undergraduate studies (DUS) at a meeting in the fall for all freshmen interested in the Physics major. Details will be listed in the Calendar for the Opening Days. Further information about undergraduate physics at Yale can be found on the departmental Web site.