Physics has been defined as the study of that part of Nature which can be understood in mathematical terms. Physicists use mathematics to help them comprehend the enormous complexity of the world: to them, as to Galileo, "mathematics is the language of Nature."


As our knowledge of the physical world becomes deeper, more of it becomes amenable to mathematical formulation, and hence part of physics: for example, atoms used to be regarded as the domain of the chemist alone, while now atomic physics is at the core of the physics curriculum. Mathematics also advances, and becomes able to tackle problems previously thought to be beyond its scope. The great physicist Richard Feynman said in 1963 that he could not conceive of a mathematical description of a cloud, but at that very moment Benoit Mandelbrot was developing the mathematics of "fractals," which turned out to provide just that description. As a result, new branches of physics, such as condensed matter physics and non-linear dynamics, are continually coming into being, as are hybrids with other sciences, for example, chemical physics, geophysics, biophysics and psychophysics.

It has been truly said that without chemistry there would be no life: but without physics there would not be anything at all. The first half of the 20th century saw a revolution in physics, in which "classical" physics, which reigned supreme in 1900, was replaced in the domain of the very large by relativity and in that of the very small by quantum theory. This revolution was comparable in its philosophical implications to the great scientific revolution of the 17th Century (also, primarily, the work of physicists and astronomers). However, just as the latter did not significantly affect the consciousness of the general educated public until the following century, so the profound changes in our view of the world that this century's revolution requires, though the subject of much popular writing, have yet to be fully assimilated. Physics is not just a branch of technology but is one of the humanities, in the sense that its study is one road towards an understanding of our place in the Universe. This may be one reason why so many leaders in the struggle for freedom of thought have been physicists: Albert Einstein, Andrei Sakharov, Edward Condon, Yuri Orlov, Irina Ratushinskaya and Fang Lizhi, for example.

Learning outcomes for Physics

Students graduating with a B.A. in physics from Dartmouth go on to careers in business, industry, law, teaching, and medicine, as well as to graduate school in physics, astronomy, history of science, and earth science.

The physics major at Dartmouth is designed to provide students with a solid foundation in analytic thinking, problem solving, and the fundamentals of physics. The introductory courses are offered at a number of levels: you can begin a physics major at Dartmouth even if you've never had any physics before. There are also introductory sequences designed for students with advanced placement in just math, or in math and physics both. Later on, a wide variety of upper level electives allow each student to tailor the physics and astronomy major to match their own interests.

Students who are interested in both the fundamental aspects of physics and in practical applications may want to consider the Engineering Physics major . This program offers a broad array of courses drawn from both the Physics and Astronomy department and the Thayer School of Engineering.

If you are thinking of majoring in physics and have questions, please contact the department undergraduate advisor:

    Professor James W. LaBelle
    336 Wilder Laboratory
    Phone: 603-646-2973