Physics drops B.A. option



The physics major will undergo significant changes next year, following a review by the Physics Committee on the Undergraduate Program.

Physics majors will no longer have the choice between a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. The department will instead offer only a bachelor of science degree, and students will eventually have to choose between a standard or intensive track within the major. The number of required courses for both tracks will also decrease. Pending formal approval, the department will offer six new courses, four of which will be elective courses.

“The whole goal was to see what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong with the undergraduate major,” Physics Chairman Ramamurti Shankar said. “We feel satisfied that we really did something rather than just talking about it.”

The standard bachelor of science track is intended for students who are pursuing a physics major for basic training, but who are not planning to go on to graduate school, Shankar said. The intensive bachelor of science track is meant to prepare students for graduate school in physics.

Students in the intensive track will be required to take 10 courses beyond the prerequisites, whereas the existing bachelor of science requires 12, Physics Director of Undergraduate Studies Sean Barrett said. The standard bachelor of science will require eight advanced courses, as opposed to the existing bachelor of arts, which requires 11.

Shankar said the reason for the reduction in course requirements was to allow students to pursue other interests and choose to be physics majors later in their Yale careers.

“We don’t want to tell them too much what they should take,” Shankar said. “This means that people can change into physics later on and not from day one.”

The four new elective courses will likely be taught in a cycle of two years, Barrett said. Starting next fall, professor Simon Mochrie will teach “Biological Physics,” followed in the spring by professor Meg Urry’s “Gravity, Astrophysics, and Cosmology.” In fall 2004, professor John Wettlaufer will teach “Introduction to Earth and Environmental Physics,” and in spring 2005, professor David DeMille will teach “Quantum and Nanoscale Physics.”

“We didn’t have any electives like this in physics,” Barrett said. “Everything we offered was core.”

Physics professor Thomas Appelquist, who led the review, said the new courses would require faculty commitment.

“We are going to be using all hands available to do this,” Appelquist said.

Barrett said the introductory courses will be supplemented by Chairman’s Teas, in which faculty members or guests will speak to students in small groups about important topics in physics, such as the Nobel Prize for that year.

“We think that by making it a more focused and intimate chance to meet with a faculty member outside of the classroom you will really see an improvement in the introductory courses,” Barrett said.

Magdalena Slosar ’03, who is pursuing a bachelor of arts in physics, said she thought the B.A. degree was good for people who are interested in other academic areas in addition to physics.

“I feel that what I am doing is really B.A. work and not what I think of as a B.S.,” Slosar said.

Barrett said the intensive major will require a research project, whereas students in the standard major will not be required to do a research project but can choose to do one.

Eric Hundman ’05 said his main complaint with the major was that there were so many required courses, he could not explore other disciplines his freshman and sophomore years.

“If I decided right now to be a physics major, I just couldn’t do it,” Hundman said.

Hundman said he liked the idea of a smaller number of courses required for a bachelor of science degree.

“I’m not entirely sure I want to go into research, and that seemed to be what the B.S. was,” Hundman said.

The department will also offer parallel tracks of the classical physics sequences, Barrett said. Students in the bachelor of science intensive track will take the same three-course classical physics sequence, while students in the standard track can take the new two-semester “Advanced Classical Physics from Newton and Einstein” course, taught by physics professor Charles Baltay. Both tracks will prepare students for studying quantum mechanics, Barrett said.

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