- Quality Faculty
There's nothing like learning a subject from distinguished practitioners. (Actually, that's a great reason to do almost anything at Princeton). This is a place where you could (eventually) take General Relativity from professors who write papers on the subject, and spend part of a summer in our hands-on electronics course, taught by professors who have worked on some of the most sophisticated experiments in the world.
- Future Opportunities
An undergraduate education in physics leads naturally into a wide range of professions: physics, engineering, biology, medicine, patent law -- even politics, as exemplified by New Jersey's own Congressman Rush Holt. Almost every technical field draws strongly on physics for its underlying theory and experimental techniques.
- Individual Attention
Princeton has an excellent faculty-student ratio in physics: it's only slightly less than one-to-one! This has a particularly positive effect on junior and senior independent work.
- Research Opportunities
The department has an excellent record of involving interested students in research, both during the academic year and through summer jobs. It is not uncommon for senior theses to spring from summer work.
- Commitment to Teaching
There is a strong commitment to teaching at all levels in the department. We have multiple tracks for introductory physics and a curriculum of more advanced courses that will serve you well whether you are aiming for graduate school in physics, or have a pre-med orientation, or intend to go into business, industry, or public affairs.
All these are good reasons; but the best reason to get an undergraduate degree in physics is because you enjoy it and you want to learn the subject. Here's a small sample of what you might find out in the course of four years in our department:
- Why does Mercury's orbit precess?
- Why do most metals superconduct at very low temperatures?
- What does the "collapse of the wave function" have to do with quantum measurement?
- What does it mean to say that an electron has spin 1/2?
- How do you describe turbulence?
In short, physics is a great education. An old aphorism says that an undergraduate education should teach you how to think. We'll do more than that: we'll teach you how to think like a physicist!
A lot of the questions that prospective undergraduates are most interested in can be answered by looking through the departmental web pages, particularly the ones on the Undergraduate Program. Here we'll hit some of the highlights.
- What makes Princeton different from other undergraduate programs?
In brief: the junior and senior independent work. This is the way that our majors get deeply involved in some aspect of physics. Each of two junior papers aims to understand some interesting aspect of current research. The senior thesis is most often an effort to actually contribute to current research. The thesis invariably represents the student's highest effort to come to grips with science as a living, breathing subject, and published papers sometimes result. The independent work engenders closer interaction between faculty and students -- not only in the independent work itself, but in summer research opportunities and research-related discussions. In short, we're conditioned to regard undergraduates as potential collaborators.
- What research goes on in the department?
The best way to find out is to check out our Research web pages. There is a broad, fast-paced effort in both experimental and theoretical physics. We encourage undergraduates to get involved, both through their independent work and through summer jobs. Most summer jobs pertain to experimental projects that we're involved with, like the ACT project (observational cosmology) or the CMS experiment at the LHC (on high energy particle physics).
- What physics course would I take on arrival at Princeton?
Most incoming freshman interested in physics take PHY 103 (freshman mechanics) or the "honors" variant, PHY 105. The honors course splits off from the main course after about 3 weeks, giving us the opportunity to determine what is best for you using information beyond test scores. People who have done well on AP Physics C and have taken an additional year of college level physics may opt for PHY 205 or PHY 207 (advanced mechanics). We try to be flexible enough to accommodate any background.
- What are the requirements for a physics major?
This is a question best answered by consulting the web pages describing the Undergraduate Program, in particular the Program of Study. The short answer is that you need eight departmental courses (starting with quantum mechanics, PHY 208), plus your junior and senior independent work. The prerequisites for the departmental courses are, roughly, three physics courses and two math courses at the freshman and sophomore level. While we think it's important for all our physics majors to master the fundamentals of modern physics, we also try to make our undergraduate program broad enough to accommodate students who also have interests in related fields, like math, chemistry, biology, and even philosophy, history, and public policy.