Degrees & Courses - Physics & Astronomy | Benedictine College

Degrees & Courses - Physics & Astronomy

Our graduates have been highly successful in pursuing further study in graduate programs in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. Historically, about three-fourths of our graduates have successfully pursued advanced degrees. Others have accepted positions in business or industry, or at research laboratories, while some have pursued careers in law, medicine, and the religious life, for example.

Along with offering a BS in Physics, Benedictine College is one of only 15 liberal arts colleges in the US that offers an astronomy major. Among those, we are the only Catholic institution, and the only one outside of the East and West Coasts. Our astronomy majors get hands on experience with world-class telescopes, and are well-prepared for graduate study in astronomy and astrophysics.

Our Engineering Physics program leads to a bachelor’s degree that combines the strengths of our physics program with the unique academic, social, and spiritual atmosphere of the college. Additionally, a program leading to secondary education teaching certification in physics is available.

Transfer students pursuing a major in Physics, Astronomy, or Engineering Physics must take a minimum of 40% of the coursework required for the major at Benedictine College.


The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a wide variety of courses and programs that examine and employ the laws of nature from both theoretical and applied perspectives. The courses are of value and importance to all liberally educated persons. Introductory level courses are available for students interested in any discipline, as well as for those students with specific interests in science or engineering regardless of their background or preparation. Intermediate level courses are available for students wishing to concentrate in scientific or technical fields, and a broad spectrum of advanced courses for students planning to pursue in-depth studies of physics, astronomy, engineering or related fields are provided. The department emphasizes hands-on experience and laboratory work in its programs.

Astronomy Courses

ASTR-1300 - The Sun and Solar System

This course is designed primarily for students not majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics, and includes discussions of the Sun and the major constituents of the solar system (planets, comets, minor planets, meteors, etc.) as well as theories of solar system formation and the possibilities of life on other planets. Special attention will be given to the historical development of astronomical ideas and to recent developments in planetary astronomy stemming from space probe missions. Weekly laboratory experiences or telescopic observations of the Sun and planets supplement classroom work.

ASTR-1400 - Stars and Stellar Systems

This course is designed primarily for students not majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics who are interested in the structure and evolution of individual stars, star clusters, and galaxies. Specific topics of discussion include the endpoints of stellar evolution (white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes), binary star systems, x-ray astronomy, and quasars and exploding radio galaxies. A detailed investigation of the various cosmological theories describing the structure of the universe will also be made. Throughout the course careful attention will be paid to the methods used to arrive at our current level of understanding of the universe. Weekly laboratory experiences or telescopic observations of stars, star clusters, and galaxies supplement classroom work.

ASTR-4100 Introduction to Astrophysics

A calculus-based introduction to stellar structure and nucleosynthesis. This course will follow the evolution of a star from its “birth” by condensation from the interstellar medium to its “death” as a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole. Discussions of the equations of hydrostatic equilibrium, the theory of radiative transfer, nuclear processes at the centers of stars, models of stellar interiors, mass loss from stars, and degenerate stellar configurations will be included. Offered in alternate years. Prerequisite: PHYS-3200

ASTR-4200 Solar System Astrophysics

This course covers planetary interiors, planetary atmospheres, natural satellites, the interplanetary medium, the formation and evolution of the solar system, comets, asteroids, and other aspects of our astronomical knowledge of the solar system. Offered in alternate years. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110

ASTR-4300 Galaxies & Cosmology

This course covers our own galaxy, other galaxies, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the evolution of the universe. Important topics on galaxies are the structure and dynamics of our galaxy, the stellar populations of our galaxy and other galaxies, the interstellar medium, the existence of dark matter, and the properties of different types of galaxies. Major topics in cosmology are galaxy clustering, the Big Bang Theory and its derivatives, the structure of space-time, and the possible futures of the universe. Offered in alternate years. Prerequisite: PHYS-3200

Physics Courses

PHYS-1100 Concepts in Physics

This one-semester, algebra-based course covers a wide range of physics topics including Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, optics, and modern physics. The conceptual and historical aspects of these topics are also discussed. There are three lecture sessions and one lab session per week.

PHYS-1200 Acoustics

Acoustics is the study of the production, propagation, and perception of sound in its various forms (speech, music, noise, etc.). This course covers the fundamentals of acoustics and their application to music and other areas such as environmental sound and sound reproduction systems. It is recommended to music majors and others interested in sound. No formal background in music or college-level mathematics or science is required. There are three class meetings and a lab period each week.

PHYS-1300 Our Strange Universe

Ideas such as time travel, black holes, and multiple universes may sound rather fantastic, but modern physics tells us that these may in fact be a reality in our world. This course aims to introduce non-science majors to the theories of special relativity, general relativity, and quantum mechanics that form the foundations of modern physics. Particular attention will be paid to the many surprising and counter-intuitive consequences of these theories.

PHYS-1400 Earth Science

This course introduces the student to the fields of geology, oceanography, and meteorology and applies knowledge from these areas to environmental concerns. Topics interrelating these fields, such as air and water quality, and climatic effects of pollution are explored.

PHYS-1500 Physical Geography

This course covers the major systems of the global physical environment, along with their distributions and dynamics. Major topics include atmosphere and climate, earth structure and materials, landforms, fluvial and glacial systems, and vegetation patterns. We will also discuss the interrelationships between these systems and their relevance to human activity. The laboratory exercises expose students to a variety of techniques used to study the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere.

PHYS-1600 The Origins of Major Theories in Science

The student will be introduced to major hypotheses in several different areas of natural science by reading original writings by the creators of these hypotheses. After examination of the original hypothesis in its original context and with its original implications, the student will examine the current status of this hypothesis as a central paradigm in our modern understanding of the natural world. Thus, the student will be exposed to central ideas in very different areas of our modern understanding of nature.

PHYS-2000, PHYS-2010 College Physics I & II

A two-semester, algebra-based course sequence designed for biology and biochemistry majors and other majors or other career paths that do not require a calculus-based course. Mechanics, thermodynamics, sound, electricity, magnetism and light will be discussed. Three lecture-discussion sessions and a two-hour laboratory each week. 

PHYS-2100 Classical Physics I

This is a calculus-based course designed for students in the sciences and engineering. Mechanics, including Newton’s laws of motion, work and energy, collisions, rotational motion, gravitation, fluid mechanics, and the laws of thermodynamics will be discussed. Three lecture/discussions and one two-hour lab a week. Prerequisite/corequisite: MATH-1300

PHYS-2110 Classical Physics II 

This is a calculus-based course designed for students in the sciences and engineering. Electrostatics, DC circuits, magnetic fields and forces, electromagnetism, waves, sound, and geometrical and physical optics will be discussed. Three lecture/discussions and one two-hour lab a week. Prerequisite: PHYS-2100

PHYS-3100 Historical Readings in Natural Science

Students in this course will learn about major developments in our understanding of nature by reading works written by the people responsible for those developments. Following the method of a Great Books course, the class sessions will generally follow the Socratic Method, where questions are asked and discussion between the students and the instructor and among the students is guided by the instructor to help the students uncover the significance of the readings. In addition, the students will be given insight into the scientific method and how major changes occur in science by reading The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Prerequisite: Accepted into the Honors Program.

PHYS-3200 Relativity & Atomic Physics

Einstein’s postulates of Special Relativity, including relativistic mechanics and relativistic electromagnetism, will be treated analytically. Discussion of general relativistic theories will be presented. Modern physics concepts including wave/particle dualism, atomic theory, introductory quantum mechanics, and the hydrogen atom will be discussed. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110

PHYS-3201 Modern Physics Laboratory I

A series of lectures on the treatment of experimental uncertainties will be alternated with experiments illustrating many important concepts in modern physics, such as e/m of the electron, the speed of light, and x-ray spectroscopy. Corequisite: PHYS-3200

PHYS-3210 Nuclear & Elementary Particle Physics

Radiation, nuclear decay processes, fission, fusion, particle accelerators and detectors will be treated. Elementary particle theory, including quark and gauge theories will be discussed. Prerequisite: PHYS-3200.

PHYS-3211 Modern Physics Laboratory II

Lectures on the treatment of data will continue and alternate with experiments in radioactivity, gamma ray spectroscopy, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics. Corequisite: PHYS-3210.

PHYS-3500 Electronics

This is an experimentally-oriented course that explores the theoretical and applied aspects of electronic circuit components and circuits, digital electronics, integrated circuits, and electrical machines with some treatment of microcomputer interfacing techniques need in laboratory data acquisition and management. Prerequisite: PHYS-3500.

PHYS-4100 Mechanics I

Newtonian mechanics will be studied, emphasizing physical concepts and mathematical techniques essential for most other advanced physics courses. Topics covered include motion of particles in one, two, and three dimensions, vector algebra, mathematical methods, and motion of systems of particles. PHYS-4100 and PHYS-4110 are offered in alternate years. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110 and MATH-3110.

PHYS-4110 Mechanics II

A continuation of PHYS-4100, treating motion of rigid bodies, gravitation, moving coordinate systems, the vibrating string problem, fluid mechanics, Lagrange’s and Hamilton’s methods, and tensor algebra. PHYS-4100 and PHYS-4110 are offered in alternate years. Prerequisite: PHYS-4100

PHYS-4200 Mathematical Methods for Physics

Basic mathematical topics and techniques used in the study of physics are examined. This includes topics such as infinite series, complex analysis, matrices, tensor analysis, the calculus of variations, recursion relations, Legendre polynomials, and Bessel functions. Prerequisites: PHYS-2100 and MATH-1350

PHYS-4300 Optics

This course introduces the principles of geometrical and physical optics. Topics of discussion include the laws of reflection and refraction, paraxial theory, polarization, interference, diffraction, fiber optics, and lasers and holography. Offered in alternate years. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110 and MATH-1350.

PHYS-4301 Optics Laboratory 

Experiments demonstrating the phenomena of geometrical optics, polarization, diffraction, and interference will be performed to supplement the material covered in PHYS-4300. The experiments will use equipment such as the laser, spectroscope, charge coupled device (CCD), photodiode array, high resolution spectrometer, fiber optics, and computer modeling. Offered in alternate years. Corequisite: PHYS-4300

PHYS-4400 Thermodynamics

This course is an introduction to thermodynamics and its applications. Topics include temperature, heat, work, the three fundamental laws of thermodynamics, and an introduction to statistical mechanics. Applications pertinent to both physics and engineering majors will be covered, including gas laws, heat engines, and chemical equilibria. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110, MATH-2300, and CHEM-1210

PHYS-4457 Methods for Teaching Secondary Physics 

This course acquaints the student with special techniques, current technologies in teaching strategies, and devices for teaching the natural sciences and evaluating student progress in the classroom and laboratory; the planning and presentation of laboratory work and material; the use and maintenance of equipment, and the selection and purchase of laboratory supplies. Some consideration will be given to the journals, handbooks, and other technical literature useful in teaching science. Lecture: two hours. Prerequisites: EDUC-3357 and EDUC-3358

PHYS-4600 Electricity & Magnetism I

The physical and mathematical concepts underlying our understanding of electrostatic fields are developed. Topics covered include a review of vector calculus, the electrostatic field in a vacuum and in dielectric media, and energy and force relationships for the electrostatic field. An extensive investigation of methods of solution of the Laplace and Poisson equations is also made. PHYS-4600 and PHYS-4610 offered in alternate years. Prerequisites: PHYS-2110 and MATH-3100

PHYS-4610 Electricity & Magnetism II

As a continuation of PHYS-4600, this course develops the mathematical and physical concepts of magnetostatic fields, which, when joined with those of electrostatics, lead to Maxwell’s equations. This course also serves as an introduction to theories of wave propagation in free space and conducting media, and radiation (electrodynamics). PHYS-4600 and PHYS-4610 offered in alternate years. Prerequisite: PHYS-4600

PHYS-4620 Plasma Physics

This course is an introduction to the physics of the plasma state, including discussions of the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) equations, MHD waves and stability, plasma confinement and fusion, cold plasma theory, and the kinetic theory of plasmas. Offered in alternate years. Corequisite: PHYS-4610

PHYS-4620 Condensed Matter Physics

Crystal structure, the reciprocal lattice, thermal and electrical properties of metals and insulators, optical properties, semiconductor theory, and superconductivity will be discussed. Offered in alternate years. Prerequisite: PHYS-3200

PHYS-4800 Quantum Mechanics

This course is a general introduction to quantum mechanics. Topics discussed include wave-particle duality, Schröedinger’s equation, the square well, potential barriers, the harmonic oscillator, parity, angular momentum and spin, hydrogenic atoms, and approximation techniques. Corequisite: PHYS-4100