Physics & Astronomy Courses

Our curriculum covers all the physics and astronomy needed to get a complete undergraduate physics or astronomy degree and then some. We start with the basics, of course, and then we jump into the more advanced material so you get experience with all the amazing ideas that physics and astronomy have developed over the past century. The list below is a synopsis of our course offerings. To see how these fit into a 4-year plan, look at our course maps.

ASTR-101 & 101L: Introduction to Astronomy. A tour of space, the laws that govern its form and function, and of the tools we use to study them. The lab includes the chance to make observations using our on-campus telescope as well as telescopes we have remote access to around the world.

PHYS-141 & 141L: Mechanics and Thermodynamics. Start off with the physics that started it all: Newtonian mechanics. Learn about motion, forces, energy, momentum, and heat.

PHYS-142 & 142L: Waves, Electricity, and Magnetism. A survey of the physics that enables your smartphone and most of modern technology, from the motion of charges under the influence of electric fields, to the use of magnetic induction to remotely power circuits, to the electromagnetic waves that are used for wireless communications.

PHYS-243: Atoms & Nuclei. An introduction to modern physics, including quantum mechanics, relativity, condensed matter, and elementary particles.

PHYS-245: Experimental Physics III. Perform interesting experiments to measure the speed of light, observe and analyze gravity acting between two normal-sized objects, manipulate plasma, measure the charge of an electron, and more.

PHYS-246: Data Reduction and Error Analysis. Improve your data analysis skills by learning about measurements, uncertainty, curve-fitting, and statistics.

PHYS-250: Mechanics. The next step in understanding motion in normal (“classical”) situations, adding in complexity to better model real-world physics, including drag, non-inertial reference frames, rotation, oscillations, energy analysis, and orbital mechanics. Students are also introduced to scientific programming.

PHYS-345: Experimental Physics IV. Use modern electronics and detectors to study cosmic rays, antimatter annihilation, radioactive decay, elemental analysis, and more.

PHYS-360: Thermal Physics. Learn the physics needed to analyze systems that contain large numbers of particles, such as entropy, statistical mechanics, free-energies, heat engines, phase transitions, and probability.

PHYS-371: Electromagnetic Fields. Go deeper into understanding static electric and static magnetic fields and their interactions with materials.

PHYS-372: Electromagnetic Waves and Physical Optics. Now add in dynamics, with oscillating electromagnetic waves, radiation fields, waveguides and special relativity.

PHYS-381: Advanced Mechanics. Discover a completely different way to understand energy and motion, allowing previously intractable problems to be analyzed and understood.

PHYS-421 & 422: Quantum Mechanics I & II. Learn about the strange and cool physics of the quantum realm, including superposition, the uncertainty principle, wave mechanics, spin, bonding, atoms, and more.

PHYS-430 & 430L: Nuclear Physics (and Lab). Take a close look at the physics of the nucleus, radioactivity, bonding energies, and fission.

PHYS-440: Condensed Matter Physics. Explore the physics of solids and liquids, including crystal structures, electron transport, device physics, vibrations, magnetism, and much more.

ASTR-221: Observational Astronomy. Get training on how to use our on-campus optical telescope to perform scientific studies of the stars.

ASTR-252: Stellar Astrophysics. A look at how stars function and evolve, and at the space between the stars.

ASTR-253: Galactic Astrophysics and Cosmology. Get the “big picture” of the universe, including galactic structure and evolution, the structure of the universe, and cosmological models.

ASTR/PHYS-445: Senior Project. A capstone experimental project in which you put together all the experimental, analysis, and communications skills you’ve been learning into a project of your own design (guided by a mentor). People have studied pollution from tailpipes, weather affects on cosmic rays, radon levels in basements, the electronic structure of conductors using the Hall effect, the flight characteristics of frisbees, model rocket engines, photometry studies of binary star systems, the light variation of asteroids, and much more.

PHYS-499: Colloquium. Our weekly social and scientific gathering to listen to talks and ask questions of visiting researchers talking about their current research, our students presenting about their summer work or their senior projects, alumni reporting back about what they have been doing since Valpo, and our own faculty presenting on our scholarship. Demo shows are also common, as are short demonstrations just before colloquium.