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Physics Department Goals and Objectives

The Department of Physics seeks to provide students with an understanding of the major concepts and a competence with the methods that define contemporary physics.  In classical physics this includes a thorough grounding in the areas of classical mechanics, thermodynamics and electricity and magnetism.  The curriculum also offers at least an advanced introduction to other important sub disciplines, such as atomic and nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and relativity.  Physics majors also acquire a variety of mathematical skills, including at a minimum linear algebra and multivariable calculus, and a familiarity with the computer software in general use in the field.  Students also learn the fundamentals of experimental design, data analysis and the operation of the basic types of instrumentation found in a modern physics lab.  The small size of Vassar, and of its Physics Department in particular, means that physics is learned in a collegial setting that encourages collaboration with faculty and other students.  The department maintains a strong tradition of educating students with diverse backgrounds. Finally, students are encouraged to pursue interests in the liberal and to see physics as part of a multidisciplinary approach to the world.A significant portion of the non-majors enrolling in physics courses are those who need a basic grounding in physics in order to pursue another discipline.  These include those majoring in astronomy, chemistry and biochemistry and those who are preparing for medical or dental school.  Many students majoring in mathematics, computer science, biology and geology also find physics courses useful.  For this class of non-majors the same goals as those for the majors apply, but the expectation is that they would not pursue the various aspects of physics beyond the introductory and intermediate levels.  For those non-majors who are outside the sciences the department from time to time offers courses that introduce important conceptual or philosophical aspects of physics, such as the courses on particle physics and optics, or examine areas in which physics relates to one of the liberal arts, as in the course on the science of sound.In general the disciplinary goals set by department as outlined in the first question could be defined as those required to continue the study of physics at the graduate level or to pursue successfully a related field, such as engineering.  The physics courses, especially at the advanced levels, are designed to include those topics that will be essential to those students who choose to do advanced research.  In addition, students are strongly encouraged to learn how to do research by participating in research projects through the URSI program at Vassar, through similar programs at other institutions or through independent research.