Welcome Students! (Info on first physics courses for this fall)

Special welcome to new UR students in the class of 2017!  Also, welcome back to all of our returning students!  For those of you interested in a first physics course, here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know.

Prospective physics majors and engineers typically start with Physics 131 in the fall and 132 in the spring.  (Physics 131 is mostly about mechanics; Physics 132 is mostly electricity and magnetism.)  This fall there are four sections of physics 131, and one section of physics 132 available.    Physics 131 requires Calc. 1 (Math 211) as a prerequisite, or co-requisite (taken at the same time).  Physics 132 requires Calc. 2 (Math 212) as a pre- or co-requisite.  It’s very important for physics majors and engineers to finish 131 and 132 during the first year, so they can take physics 301 in fall of sophomore year.  Physics 301 is only offered in the fall, and is a prerequisite for all of our upper level courses; missing 301 can mean basically falling a full year behind, making it very difficult (though not impossible) to complete the major.

Pre-med students and other science majors also take Physics 131 and 132, and these courses fulfill the science requirement for non-science majors, so even if you’re not sure what you’re majoring in, keep these courses in mind.

Students with strong high school physics backgrounds can skip Physics 131 and start right away with Physics 132.  In exceptional cases, very strong students can even skip Physics 132 and go straight into our sophomore level courses.  Usually, this is determined by AP tests; receiving actual course credit on your transcript for physics 131 or 132 is determined by official university policy, requiring a 4 or 5 on the Physics C Mechanics or E&M AP test, respectively.  However, the question of what course you should take is really separate from the question of AP credit; if you can demonstrate that you know the physics, we are happy to let you skip a course, whether or not you have taken a particular AP exam.  (This especially applies to international students who don’t have easy access to AP exams.)   If you have a strong physics background but didn’t take the right AP exam, email us or talk to one of the physics faculty when you arrive.  In general, we want you in the physics course that’s right for you, and check marks on official pieces of paper aren’t a big deal to us.

For students who aren’t planning to major in a science, we offer Physics 125, a survey of conceptual physics.  This course fulfills the general-education science requirement, but it does not fulfill prerequisites for more advanced science courses.

Finally, I’ll point out that there’s one physics-related first-year seminar this fall:

The Five (or Ten) Best (Physics) Experiments Ever!: This course will examine the people and stories behind some of the key experiments in physics.  We will focus on experiments which have radically altered our views of the world or universe around us or which have radically altered our civilization by the technology they enabled. Inspired by and loosely based on the text “The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments” by George Johnson the course will explore great physics experiments from history as well as some of the more amazing experiments underway.

Like all first-year seminars, this course is open to all first-year students, not just science majors. But I thought I’d mention it, because someone who’s read this far down into this post might be particularly interested in a topic like this.

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Matt Trawick holds a B.A. from Oberlin College and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He was a postdoctoral fellow and later a lecturer at Princeton University before coming to the University of Richmond as an assistant professor in 2004. His research interests include block copolymers, nanotechnology, and atomic force microscopy.