Choose a First Course

Choose a First Physics Course

Students interested in exploring physics as a possible major or as a foundation for other sciences should start in Physics 100, which explores special relativity and quantum mechanics (without calculus). 

Following Physics 100, students would normally take courses in Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism. We offer two different "tracks" of this two-semester sequence:

Track #1 - Physics 104/Physics 106 (Fundamentals of Mechanics, Electricity, Magnetism, and Optics)

Track #2 - Physics 107/Physics 108 (Principles and Applications of Mechanics, Electricity, Magnetism, and Optics)

The topics covered in these two tracks are substantially the same, differing largely in the level of sophistication used in presenting the material:

Classical Mechanics (Physics 104 or 107): These courses serve as an introduction to the basic techniques used by physicists to interpret and understand physical phenomena. The world of "classical mechanics" is explored; the central goal of classical mechanics is to understand how the motion of objects is influenced by the interactions between them - how things move and why they move. Classical mechanics deals with macroscopic objects moving at "ordinary" speeds - the oscillations of a pendulum, the propagation of a water wave on the ocean's surface, the orbit of a planet around the sun. A quantitative description of motion is first developed, followed by a study of some basic forces in nature. The concepts of energy, momentum, and angular momentum, central unifying principles in all branches of physics, are introduced.

Electromagnetism (Physics 106 or 108): These courses in classical physics concentrate on the fundamental forces of electricity and magnetism - with the important exception of gravity, all of the forces that we experience in our daily lives are electromagnetic in origin. The electric and magnetic forces are entirely responsible for the structures and interactions of atoms and molecules, the properties of all solids, and the structure and function of biological material. Our technological society is largely dependent on the myriad applications of the physics of electricity and magnetism - e.g., motors and generators, communications systems, the architecture of computers. After developing quantitative descriptions of electricity and magnetism, their inter-relations are explored, leading to an understanding of light as an electromagnetic phenomenon. The semester ends with a study of optics.

Here's a brief description of the two tracks, along with some suggestions to help you decide which track is best for you:

  • The basic difference between the tracks is the level of sophistication used in presenting the material; the 107 / 108 track is more advanced than the 104 / 106 track. Although both tracks use calculus, it plays a more integral role (no pun intended!) in 107 / 108. (Physics 107 has a one semester calculus pre-requisite, while 104 has a one semester calculus co-requisite.)
  • Both tracks satisfy the requirements for medical school. Pre-medical students should enroll in the track that best suits their backgrounds and academic interests.
  • While it is usually helpful to have had a physics course in high school, it is certainly not a requirement for either 104 or 107 - no prior knowledge of physics is assumed in either course. In fact, our experience has been that the strength of one's mathematics preparation is often a better predictor than one's physics background in determining which is the appropriate track.
  • For students who have had a strong physics preparation in high school, examinations for exemption from Physics 107 and Physics 108 are offered. The Department does not accept AP credit for exemption from 107 or 108. 

In addition to these year-long introductory sequences, we teach a number of one-semester "special topics" introductory courses, e.g., Einstein’s Century: Physics in the Last 100 Years (PHYS 101) and The Physics of Marine Mammals (PHYS 103). Our offerings vary from year to year -- please see the Wellesley catalog for current offerings.