Committee on the Undergraduate Program (COUP) - 2003

Bulldog Days: ’03
COUP Revision of the Yale College Physics Major:
New Tracks and New Offerings starting in 2003-2004
As approved by the Yale College Faculty (3/6/03).
(Prepared by S. Barrett, (DUS), R. Shankar (Chair of Dept.), T. Appelquist (Chair of COUP).)


A Physics Department internal review of the undergraduate curriculum has been underway since the spring of 2002. The review committee (known as COUP) and the Department proposed significant changes in the requirements and the course offerings of the Yale College Physics major. These proposals were approved by the Yale College Course of Study Committee and the Yale College Faculty, and will be in effect starting in the 2003-2004 school year.

The COUP Proposal: New Physics Major Tracks and New Course Offerings-

The existing B.S. and B.A. tracks will be replaced by two new major tracks: the “Intensive B.S.” and the “B.S.”.

The Intensive B.S. will require a significant research experience; this is the recommended track for those students aiming for graduate study in physics. The B.S. will allow for (but not require) a research experience; depending upon the courses selected, this could also prepare a student for graduate study in physics.

The two new tracks are designed to enable a larger number of Yale College students to take advanced Physics courses. This will benefit both Physics majors and non-majors with an interest in physics.

The new tracks have several advantages for majors, as it will provide new options for students who start taking Physics courses in their sophomore year. It will also open up the possibility of starting “Quantum Mechanics I” in the sophomore spring, which will be a practical benefit to students pursuing research both at Yale and elsewhere (e.g., through NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate programs). Finally, through the Chairman’s Tea and the 300-level electives, students will be exploring the frontiers of physics much earlier in the program (e.g., as Freshman).

To achieve this goal, COUP proposes to:

  1. Reduce the total number of advanced courses required for Yale Physics majors to 8 (or 10 for Intensive B.S.), a number that matches the requirements of the Physics major at peer institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, and Berkeley.
  2. Provide additional, parallel tracks to get to courses like Quantum Mechanics, by offering the two new Phys 401a/Phys 402b “Advanced Classical Physics: From Newton to Einstein, I&II” courses, which are core course for the new B.S. This is an alternative to the existing Phys 410a/Phys 430b/Phys 420a track (advanced Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, and Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics), which are core courses for the new Intensive B.S.
  3. Introduce four new advanced elective courses at the 300-level, open to any student in Yale College who has completed a year of introductory-level, calculus-based physics (Phys180/181 or Phys 200/201, or Phys 260/261).

The COUP Proposal: New Physics Major Tracks and New Course Offerings-Details

The COUP proposal includes 6 new courses:

Physics 341a- “Biological Physics” (Mochrie, Fall ‘03)

Physics 343b-“Gravity, Astrophysics, and Cosmology” (Urry, Spring ‘04)

Physics 342a-“Introduction to Earth and Environmental Physics” (Wettlaufer, Fall ‘04)

Physics 344b-“Quantum and Nanoscale Physics” (DeMille, Spring ‘05)

Physics 401a & 402b-“Advanced Classical Physics From Newton to Einstein, I&II” (Baltay, Fall/Spring, starting Fall ‘03)


At the introductory level, the Physics 300 “Intermediate Physics” course will be dropped (with some changes in P200/201), and the Chairman’s Tea will be added.

This last table is a short summary of the COUP proposal for the new Physics tracks.

Introductory Courses for Physics Major

Lecture-Choose from P180/181, P200/201, or P260/261

Math- Choose to match Physics Lecture, e.g., M115/120, M120/225, or M230/230

Lab- P205Lb/206Lb

Frontiers of Physics- Chairman’s Tea

Advanced Courses for Required for Physics Major Tracks

B.S. Intensive                                                        B.S.

P301 (Math Methods) or other Adv. Math           P301 (Math Methods) or other Adv. Math

P410 (Mech.)                                                  P401 (Adv. Classical I: Mech+Stat Mech)

P420 (Stat. Mech/Thermo)                               P402 (Adv. Classical II: Stat Mech+E&M)

P430 (Elec. & Magn)                                        Advanced Elective

P440 (Quantum I)                                           P440 or AP 439 (Quantum I)

P441 (Quantum II)                                          Advanced Elective

P381Lb or P382Lb (Adv. Lab)                            Advanced Elective

P471 (senior research)                                     Advanced Elective

P472 (senior research)                                         

Advanced Elective                                                 

10 Advanced Courses Beyond Intro.                  8 Advanced Courses Beyond Intro.