Why Study Physics?
Why Study Physics?
The goal of physics is to understand how things work from first principles. We offer physics courses that are matched to a range of goals that students may have in studying physics -- taking elective courses to broaden one's scientific literacy, satisfying requirements for a major in the sciences or engineering, or working towards a degree in physics or engineering physics. Courses in physics reveal the mathematical beauty of the universe at scales ranging from subatomic to cosmological. Studying physics strengthens quantitative reasoning and problem solving skills that are valuable in areas beyond physics.
Where do I start?
- Students who have never studied physics before and would like a broad introduction should consider one of the introductory seminar courses in Physics or Applied Physics. Those interested in astronomy and astrophysics might enjoy PHYSICS 15, 16 or 17, which is intended for nontechnical majors.
- Students considering a career in science or engineering should start with the PHYSICS 20 & 40 series or PHYSICS 61, 71, 81.
- The PHYSICS 20 series assumes no background in calculus, and is intended primarily for those who are majoring in the biological sciences. However, such students who have AP credit in calculus or physics should consider taking the PHYSICS 40 series, which will provide a depth and emphasis on problem solving that is of significant value in biological research, which today involves considerable physics-based technology.
- For those intending to major in engineering or the physical sciences, or simply wishing a stronger background in physics, the department offers the PHYSICS 40 series and PHYSICS 61, 71, 81. Either of these will satisfy the entry-level physics requirements of any Stanford major.
- PHYSICS 61, 71, 81 courses are intended for those who have already taken a physics course at the level of PHYSICS 41 and 43, or at least have a strong background in mechanics, some background in electricity and magnetism, and a strong background in calculus. To determine whether you are prepared for PHYSICS 61, take the the Physics Placement Diagnostic.
- The PHYSICS 40 series begins with mechanics, which is offered in both Autumn and Winter quarters, and continues with electricity and magnetism in both Winter and Spring quarters, and thermodynamics and optics in Autumn quarter.
- PHYSICS 61, 71, 81 courses begin in the Autumn quarter (only) with special relativity and a deeper dive into mechanics.
- While most students are recommended to begin with mechanics in the PHYSICS 40 series (PHYSICS 41), those who have had strong physics preparation in high school (such as a score of at least 4 on the Physics Advanced Placement C exam) may be ready to start with PHYSICS 45 in Autumn quarter (and then take PHYSICS 43 in the Winter quarter), or to start with PHYSICS 61 in the Autumn. You will be individually advised on the best entry point into either the PHYSICS 40 series or PHYSICS 61, 71, 81 on the basis of your score on the Physics Placement Diagnostic, which is available online.