Skip Ribbon Commands Skip to main content
Before Fall 2011
There are two paths to the BS degree:
  • Standard Path (pdf), for majors declaring prior to 09/10.
  • Alternate Path (pdf), for transfer students who start in the Winter quarter before 03/10--summer attendance required.  
The following documents will also be useful:
In each academic year every undergraduate physics major who either has completed the required 200-level courses in physics or who has begun physics courses beyond the 200-level must:

Minimum Requirements for a Physics Major at the UW

- Students who entered earlier than Autumn 2006 may satisfy the earlier requirement. See your Adviser.

Physics Requirements

Core Courses​

Physics 121, 122, 123, 224, 225, 227, 228, 321, 322, and 334

Advanced Modern Physics​

Physics 324

Advanced Labs

Two of Physics 331, 335, 431, 432, 433, or 434

Research & Seminars

Three credits of Physics 401, 402, 403, 485, 486, 487, 491, 492, 493, 494, 495, and/or 496​


Mathematics 124, 125, 126, 308, and 324. Alternatively, Mathematics 134, 135, 136, and 324.​

Physics Electives

Two  Upper Division courses in Physics or Cognate Subjects from the approved list (a minimum of 6 credits is required.​

Related Sciences

Nine credits selected from Physical or Biological Sciences other than Physics or Mathematics, or from the history or philosophy of science, in addition to any courses in these fields taken to satisfy requirements.​

Progress Requirements

Minimum Requirement in UW Courses​

At least 12 credits of the physics courses presented to satisfy the major requirement must be in physics courses numbered 300 or above taken at the University of Washington.

(Note: These fall far short of what is desirable. Almost all physics majors will find that they need to complete considerably more than a minimum program to achieve their personal goals. Suggestions for electives beyond this minimum are given in later sections)

Language Skills
English Composition (5 cr) and Foreign Language (0-15 depending on the placement)

Reasoning & Writing in Context
Quantitative/symbolic reasoning (QSR; 5 credits; may be fulfilled by Math/Physics courses) and additional writing courses (10 credits)

Areas of Knowledge
General-education courses to include at least 20 credits in each of the following three areas: Visual, Literary & Performing Arts (VLPA); Individuals and Societies (I&S); The Natural World (NW; may be fulfilled by Math/Physics courses)

Free choice; as many credits as necessary to bring the total to 180 (including the Major credits)

(Note: To be awarded a baccalaureate degree from the College of Arts & Sciences, a student must fulfill requirements in the following areas: Language Skills, Reasoning and Writing in Context, Areas of Knowledge, and a Major. All required courses must be taken for a numerical grade. In addition, the student must present at least 90 credits outside the major department and must meet minimum GPA requirements of 2.0)

Description of Requirements

Core Physics Courses

All physics majors are required to complete 48 credits in basic physics courses with grades of 2.0 or better. This requirement forms a "core" which includes an introduction to all the principal areas of physics. It provides an essential foundation for later work in all areas of physics as well as in other sciences and technologies.

The required core courses are:

Physics 121 Mechanics (5) 
Physics 122 Electromagnetism and Oscillatory Motion (5) 
Physics 123 Waves (5) 
Physics 224 Thermal Physics (3) 
Physics 225 Modern Physics (3)

These five courses are the basic physics sequence for students majoring in physical sciences and engineering, and for many biological science majors. They treat all the principal fields of physics at a relatively sophisticated level. They use the student's concurrently developing skills in differential and integral calculus.

An "honors" section of Physics 121 is available in Autumn Quarter with "honors" sections of 122 and 123 following in Winter and Spring Quarters. Physics majors are encouraged to enroll in this section. It provides a deeper, enriched background in physics for those with a deeper interest in the subject.

Physics 227, 228 Elementary Mathematical Physics (3, 3)
These courses introduce a variety of important applications of mathematics to physics. They are a very important preparation for later courses such as Physics 321 and Physics 324. They are a part of the second year physics program. It is very difficult to graduate in four years if they are postponed.

Physics 321, 322 Electromagnetism (4, 4)
Intermediate work in the theory of the electromagnetic field. These are the first physics courses to make full use of the student's now sophisticated background in mathematics. In addition to the study of electricity, magnetism and relativity, they introduce the student to advanced mathematical techniques in physics. The field theory treated here is the model for most other physical theories.

Physics 334 Electric Circuits Laboratory (3)
This course provides a solid background in the analog and digital electronics used throughout physics. (Though it carries a 300-numbers, it is intended to accompany the 200-level physics courses and to be completed in the sophomore year. Postponing it a year may cause severe scheduling problems, and often leads to a diminished program.) This course is usually offered in Summer Quarter as well as during the academic year.

Advanced Modern Physics

All physics majors are required to complete at least one 300- or 400-level lecture course in modern physics with a grade of 2.0 or better. This requirement is to ensure that all majors have at least minimum contact at a professional level with those areas of physics which are of greatest current interest.

Possible choices include:

Physics 324 Quantum Mechanics (4)
Physics 315 Applied Modern Physics (3)

The following courses have prerequisites Physics 323 and 325 (or permission):

Physics 421 Atomic and Molecular Physics (3) 
Physics 422 Elementary Particle Physics (3) 
Physics 423 Solid State Physics (3)​

Advanced Laboratory Work

All physics majors are required, in addition to Physics 334, to complete at least two 300- or 400-level physics laboratory courses with a grade of 2.0 or better. This requirement is to ensure that all majors have a minimum contact with professional-level experimental physics. The importance of this requirement is illustrated by the fact that most physics majors spend a large part of their careers in experimental work.

Possible choices include:

Physics 331 Optics Laboratory (3) 
Physics 335 Electrical Circuits II (3) 
Physics 431 Modern Physics Laboratory (3) (Condensed Matter)
Physics 432 Modern Physics Laboratory (3) (Atomic & Molecular)
Physics 433 Modern Physics Laboratory (3) (Nuclear & Particle)
Physics 434 Application of Computers to Physical Measurement (3)

In unusual circumstances, and with approval prior to enrollment, Physics 401, 402, 403 Special Problems, may be accepted as fulfilling this requirement. This is most often in cases where the work includes three or more credits of independent experimental work in physics research laboratories. The student's role must be more than just that of an aide about a laboratory.​

Research and Seminar Courses

All physics majors are required to complete at least three credits of physics research or seminar.  Possible choices include:

Physics 401, 402, 403 Special Problems (1-30) 
Physics 485, 486, 487 Senior Honors Seminar (1, 1, 1) 
Physics 491, 492, 493 Independent Research (1-3, 1-3, 1-3) 
Physics 494, 495, 496 Seminar on Current Problems in Physics (1, 1, 1)

Any of these courses may satisfy the writing requirement provided they involve both written and oral presentation, with the work done according to the conditions specified by the College of Arts and Sciences for writing course credit. When this is done the student ordinarily should enroll for three credits, not one.​

Courses In Calculus

All physics majors are required to complete courses in integral and differential calculus to the minimum level essential for advanced work in physics. This includes work in the calculus of single and multiple variable functions, vector analysis, and differential equations.

The following mathematics courses are sufficient to fulfill this requirement:

Math 124, 125, 126 Calculus with Analytical Geometry OR Math 127, 128, 129 Calculus for Mathematical Sciences (5, 5, 5)
Math 308 Linear Algebra with Applications (3) 
Math 324 Advanced Multivariable Calculus I (3)

Alternative ways of fulfilling this requirement are described in the Required and Recommended Mathematics Chapter.)

Students who contemplate advanced study in physics, other sciences, or engineering are advised to take, in addition to the above:

AMath 401, 402, 403 Introduction to Methods of Applied Mathematics (4, 4, 4) or similar courses in applied analysis such as Math 427, 428, 429 Topics in Applied Analysis (3, 3, 3)​

Electives in Physics and Cognate Subjects​

The Department of Physics requires that every student complete a major requirement consisting of at least 54 credits in a single field or in approved cognate subjects. The four requirements already listed add up to only 48 credits. Hence, the student must complete at least 6 more approved credits with grades of 2.0or better in upper division courses in Physics or cognate subjects. (The requirement of 2.0 or better grades applies only to the minimum of 54 credits, not to courses elected beyond this requirement.)

So that students may have maximum freedom to plan programs suitable to their personal goals, these remaining credits may be selected from the list of Approved Electives in Physics and Cognate Subjects. This list includes advanced courses in physics plus nearly 200 courses in other sciences and engineering which are related very closely to physics. Although only 4 credits in elective courses are required, most students will want to complete considerably more to fulfill their personal goals. Physics graduates, in fact, have completed an average of 18 more credits in physics plus 41 credits in other sciences and in engineering.

The exact choice of electives always will depend on personal interests and career plans. Physics Advisers can be of assistance in many cases, but every student will need to devote substantial personal effort to working out a satisfactory plan.​

(A minimum of 6 credits are required)

In many cases, courses included in this list are open to students who have completed the specified physics and mathematics courses required for a bachelor's degree even though they may not completed the prerequisites listed for the courses. This is possible because the physics and mathematics courses have been judged to be roughly equivalent to the specified prerequisites. In case of doubt, the instructor of the course should be consulted (courses in brackets are prerequisites).

Additional courses may be approved in some cases on an individual basis. Students who seek approval of a course not listed should consult with Professor Van Dyck in the Physics Department.

Aeronautics and Astronautics:
AA 300, 301, 302 Aerodynamics (4, 4, 4); AA 310 Orbital and Space Flight Mechanics (4); AA 311 Atmospheric Flight Mechanics (3); AA 321, 322 Junior Lab (2, 2); AA 330, 331, 332 Structural Analysis (4, 4, 4); AA 400 Gas Dynamics (3) [302]; AA 402 Fluid Mechanics (3) [302]; AA 430 Finite Elemental Structural Analysis (3) [332]; AA 480 Systems Dynamics (3)

ASTR 321 The Solar System (3); ASTR 322 The Contents of Our Galaxy (3) ; ASTR 323 Extra galactic Astronomy and Cosmology (3); ASTR 422 Interstellar Material (3)-was 423

Atmospheric Sciences
ATM S 301 Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences (5); ATM S 340 Introduction to Thermodynamics and Cloud Processes (5); ATM S 431 Atmospheric Physics (5) [301]; ATM S 441, 442 Atmospheric Motions I, II (3, 5) [301]

Ceramic Engineering
CER E 411 Vitreous State (4); CER E 420 Colloidal Ceramics (3); CER E 470 Refractories (3)

CHEM 335, 336, 337 Honors Organic Chemistry (4, 4, 4) [155, 160, or 162]; CHEM 455, 456, 457 Physical Chemistry (3, 3, 3); CHEM 460 Spectroscopic Molecular Identification (3); CHEM 461 Physical Chemistry Lab (2-3) [455]; CHEM 463 Spectroscopic Techniques for Structural Identification

Chemical Engineering 
CH E 310 Material and Energy Balances (4); CH E 326 Chemical; Engineering Thermodynamics (4) [310, CHEM 456]; CH E 330, 340, 435 Transport Processes (4, 4, 4)

Civil Engineering 
CIVE 342 Fluid Mechanics (4); CIVE 379, 380 Elementary Structures (3, 3) [ENGR 320]

Earth & Space Sciences (previously Geophysics) 
ESS 413 (previously GPHYS 403) Geophysics: The Earth (3); ESS 414 (previously GPHYS 404) Geophysics: Fluids (3); ESS 415 (previously GPHYS 405) Space and Plasmas (3) [Phys 321] ; ESS 416 (previously GPHYS 406)Geophysics: The Atmosphere (3) [404]

Electrical Engineering 
EE 436 Medical Instrumentation (4); EE 445 Nonlinear Systems Analysis (4); EE 467 Antennas: Analysis and Design (4); EE 481 Microwave Electronic Design (4); EE 482 Semiconductor Devices (4); EE 488 Laser Electronics (4)

ENGR 343 Environmental Radioactivity (3)-was 305; ENGR 360 Introductory Acoustics (3)

Geological Sciences 
GEOL 474 Introduction to X-Ray Crystallography (3); GEOL 476 Isotope Geology (3)


Materials Science and Engineering

Mechanical Engineering 
ME 323 Thermodynamics II (4); ME 331 Introduction to Heat Transfer (4); ME 333 Introduction to Fluid Mechanics (4); ME 352 Mechanics of Solids (3); ME 373 Introduction to System Dynamics (5); ME 431 Advanced Fluid Mechanics (3); ME 469 Applications of Dynamics in Engineering (4); ME 470 Mechanical Vibrations (3); ME 473 Instrumentation (3) [373]

Metallurgical Engineering 
MET E 421 Metallurgical Processing (4); MET E 462 Mechanical Behavior of Metals (3)

OCEAN 401, 402 General Physical Oceanography (3, 3)

PHYS 315 Applications of Modern Physics (3); PHYS 323 Electromagnetism (4); PHYS 324, 325 Quantum Mechanics (4, 4); PHYS 328 Statistical Physics (3); PHYS 331 Optics Lab (3); PHYS 407, 408, 409 Physics by Inquiry (5, 5, 5); PHYS 421 Atomic and Molecular Physics (3); PHYS 422 Nuclear and Elementary-Particle Physics (3); PHYS 423 Solid-State Physics (3); PHYS 424, 425, 426 Mathematical Physics (3, 3, 3); PHYS 427 Applications of Physics (1-3, max 12); PHYS 428 Selected Topics in Physics (1-3, max 12); PHYS 431, 432, 433 Modern Physics Lab (3, 3, 3); PHYS 434 Application of Computers to Physical Measurement (3); PHYS 441 Quantum Physics (4); PHYS 500-599 [Any Graduate Course]

Related Sciences

In addition to the work in physics, mathematics, and cognate subjects already described, all physics majors are required to complete at least 9 credits in physical or biological sciences (excluding physics and mathematics), history of science, or individually-approved engineering courses. This requirement is to ensure that all who receive the B. S. degree in physics have at least an introduction to some other branch of science at the college level.

Courses taken to fulfill this requirement may include introductory courses in any of the approved areas (unlike courses taken to satisfy the electives requirement ). Courses from the list of Approved Electives in Physics and Cognate Subjects also may be applied to this requirement if they fall into the categories listed above. However, courses used to fulfill this requirement may not also be used to fulfil the elective requirement.

Courses taken to fulfill the "related science" requirement may be used to satisfy the College of Arts and Sciences natural science distribution requirement if they appear in the appropriate list of Distribution Courses. That is, the same course may satisfy both requirements at the same time.

Engineering courses are approved for fulfilling this requirement only on an individual basis. Approved engineering courses must not have significant overlap with courses in physics or mathematics, nor may they be courses in computer programming.

Satisfactory Progress

A. Complete at least 15 credits of course work in fulfillment of the departmental degree requirements exclusive of credits earned by repeating courses in which acceptable credit has been earned previously.


B.  Complete satisfactorily an approved part-time program of study. Students who do not satisfy this requirement will be dropped as physics majors unless exempted explicitly by the Physics Undergraduate Committee. Students dropped for this reason may petition this committee for readmission to the major.